Bribery and Corruption- no its not the NOTW, it's TripAdvisor.com
So it’s holiday time again, and those pesky statisticians are telling us that more and more people have left it late to book a holiday this year, after uncertainty over job security and having the money to go. So if you are looking at booking a break now, perhaps you will be turning to the trusty TripAdvisor to help you find the best places to go?
Back in January we reported on the increasing number of hotelier complaints over false or misleading reviews, including Dragon Duncan Bannatyne, but now, thanks to The Times, there is more murkiness to be found. Not only can you leave a review if you are not a real person, but are merely in PR*, but you can also get paid in kind for leaving bogusly lovely reviews following reports that some hotels are offering bribes to customers.
TripAdvisor is sold as an independent source of advice on accommodation and restaurants all over the world, receiving 25 contributions, including reviews, photos and forum posts, every minute. Its own website boasts “More than 40 million honest travel reviews and opinions from real travelers around the world”. Putting aside the cynic who wonders how a hotel review site owned by a company that sells hotel rooms (Expedia Inc.) can possibly be independent, the hospitality industry is struggling with ‘honest’ reviews from ‘real travelers’. American ones, obviously.
TripAdvisor prides itself on ease of contribution- anyone can do it, all you need is an e-mail address and username, which can be entirely anonymous. Unlike reviews on sites like Laterooms.com, there is no need to have actually booked a hotel through the website, which critics say is what leaves the site open to abuse.
Adam Raphael, editor of The Good Hotel Guide, told The Times that he believes as many as half of all reviews on TripAdvisor are ‘collusive’, written by hotel owners or their friends and family, and that reviews are not checked in the way TripAdvisor protests. “I have posted several obviously bogus reviews to test the site. I picked the worst hotel I could imagine and wrote a totally over-the-top review of how brilliant it was, using a bogus name, bogus e-mail address and bogus postal address. It was so obviously bogus that if we received it at our Guide we would have thrown it straight in the bin. TripAdvisor posted it on the site within 12 hours.”
But aside from suggestions of PRs ‘doing their job’ for hotel clients, by leaving great reviews for their own clients as well as bad reviews for competitors, a new way of skewing the system has emerged. According to reports, some hotels are now offering guests bribes in exchange for good reviews on the site.
One such hotel allegedly using this practice is the Cove Hotel in Cornwall who are accused of offering meal discounts and free room upgrades to guests who left “honest but positive” reviews on the site. Lee Magner, the owner of the Cove Hotel, denied misusing the website, saying “in no way are we paying people to put positive reviews on TripAdvisor.” However, he then spoiled his indignant denial by adding “We are merely rewarding their loyalty.”
Our January poll showed that almost 65% of you, our lovely readers, confessed to regularly using TripAdvisor, along with a dash of common sense. I wonder whether common sense would now suggest taking a seriously large pinch of salt with those reviews...
*OK, people working in PR are technically still people. Just.