Hotel reviews can't be trusted, TripAdvisor won't say how many

19 July 2009

It's not a revalation that'll shake the foundations of your web usage - apparently, customer reviews of products are sometimes made up by the companies responsible for them. Woah. Occasionally the dozier offenders have been caught in the act, but sometimes they're difficult to spot. The question is how many reviews on any one site are gamed, and what is the site doing about it.

TripAdvisor lives and dies by customer recommendations of hotels - the site carries over 20 million reviews for over 400,000 hotels, indexed and rated by nit-picking guests. But there's been talk recently of the warnings that TripAdvisor is attaching to some listings, stating the reviews of particular hotels are being fixed - either by individuals associated with the hotel (staff, PR companies) publishing overly positive reviews the hotel, or overly negative reviews of the competitors. They read:

"TripAdvisor has reasonable cause to believe that either this property or individuals associated with the property may have attempted to manipulate our popularity index by interfering with the unbiased nature of our reviews. Please take this into consideration when researching your travel plans."

Move along, nothing to see here, say TripAdvisor - they state these disclaimers are nothing unusual, and have been appearing since 2006 - although plenty of folks, including travel guide publishers Frommers believe they're a recent occurance.  What's concerning other travel writers are the number of warnings appearing - there are reportedly hundreds of hotels that TripAdvisor are warning people off because the reviews can't be trusted. And since attention has been focussed on the amount of warnings, there are claims that TripAdvisor are removing them. As an example, compare the screengrab in the previous link to the review as it is today. In their defense, TripAdvisor say the disclaimers have an expiration date that varies with each hotel, although they refuse to say how many warnings are currently active on the site.

For most people with half an ounce of sense it's not earth-shattering news, and TripAdvisor will remain something to refer to while shopping around, rather than a definitive resource. And with over 20 million reviews under its belt, attaching warnings to a small percentage of its reviews is unlikely to cause a significant concern, even if they represent a more widespread problem.

TOPICS:   Travel   Games   Consumer Advice

14 comments

  • Anonymous C.
    Tripadvisor once deleted an entire thread of comments about a hotel in the West Midlands just because the owner, who must have been trained by Basil Fawlty, decided to have a war with those leaving poor reviews. But the muppets that run Tripadvisor would have been better off leaving the comments by the management, as this gave a great insight into just how poor the hotel was.
  • Kevin
    You can tell in most cases which are the fake ones. The language, the background, the fact that they've not contributed to the forum, that they don't answer pm's (if you do check). Anyway even the real ones can be very biased. When choosing a hotel in the US the US reviews said it was a very long walk to the metro, an australian reviewer said it was really close. It was less than 100 metres! You use your own discretion.
  • Naricussus
    @Kevin: Somehow I don't find it surprising that a fat McDonalds-bloated yank would find 100 metres a long walk
  • Kevin
    I know :) It became very easy to edit people reviews in my mind after finding that fact out!
  • Nookster
    Will this one from the Hotel Renew sounds like pure astroturf, perhaps "DiNiko" typed this one up from the front desk PC. @DiNiko 1 contribution Larissa, Greece Jul 15, 2009 | Trip type: Couples 1/1 found this review helpful Many thanks to all Hotel "Renew" staff for contributing to what I would call dreamed vacation. Stayed there for 10 nights and I can say one thing for sure. It really felt like home away from home. Staff was friendly, very kind and helpful at all times. Service was excellent, room was spacious, very comfortable and clean. Conveniently located on the first block over Waikiki beach, yet being very quiet at night. Bottom line: Won't even think of staying elsewhere if visiting Oahu again in the future. Excellent choice - great value for money. Mahalo to all our hotel "RENEW" friends
  • Boon
    One easy way for Tripadvisor is to make the reviews from experienced users (with 100+ reviews) more prominent than those with just one or two. That will help reduce the effect of hotels self promoting themselves.
  • Robin
    @Boon - how many people will have stayed in 100+ hotels? I work in a hotel, we get a mixture of reviews - good and bad, and as far as I'm concerned as long as they are honest, there is no problem. We keep an eye on the reviews, as well as our own internal questionnaires to see what is going right, and what is going wrong. The main issue with hotel reviews, is that they are very subjective, everyone is looking for something different. In our case people seem to love it or hate it. Our potential customers can use tripadvisor to see if our hotel is the right one for them.
  • Steve
    Whilst looking for a hotel in Playa del Carmen found the following review attatched to 4 separate hotels: **** Hotel bluebli mexico city 5 Jul 2009 | Trip type: Family 0/1 found this review helpful we arrived to ***** and they gave us an old fashion key. the hotel room is so old and the shower is not clean. the staff that cleans starts making noise after 7 oclock and they wake us up. there were moskitoes in our door and the average dirt in the whole room worst hotel in playa del carmen!! food is horrible too
  • The B.
    Why on earth would you want to to Playa Del Carmen? It's full of White trash tanks trying to eat and drink as much as humanly possible whilst showing the rest of the world how obnoxious they are, much like the Brits in the Mediterranean. But yes Tripadvisor, if you read most of the reviews you can spot the fakes.
  • andrea
    Hey mr Real Bob, please focus on trip advisor and give a chance to people who like to scroll down Playa del Carmen beaches and pedestrian walkways , to do it. It is still a special place and the people you mention spend their own money how and where they prefer. I don't get your racism but i get you are one more in the list of the ones who shouldn't use the posts to express hate and inappropriate ideas.
  • Dave
    Well from personal experience of how many reviews we had that were fake trying to and suceeding in closing my friends resrt i'd say that they had over 40 fake reviews in 2 months the same 3 people who where asked to leave because they were taking drugs. Any reviewer with only 1 - 5 reviews is probably fake. I bet 99.5% of all reviews of tripadvisor are from an account with 1 contribution.
  • Sam
    Of course the reviews at tripadvisor are highly manipulated. It is not a surprise. There is no way for them to prevent that except filtering postings about one and the same hotel from one and the same IP address within a short period of time (they do that and I am sure :) ) . As Dave said in the previous message - over 99% of the reviews are from 1 contribution accounts.
  • Gianni
    It is frustrating to see my competitors adding fake reviews (you can tell when an Italian is trying to write in English from the construction of the phrase) and Tripadvisor doing NOTHING to prevent that. Also, I'm desperatly trying to add a link to my site as a "thing to do" in Tuscany and there's no way they allow my site to be listed (but at the same time identical business, also promoting on the sponsored links, are listed). I have dozens of clients willing to post their comments but they cannot. Some of them are good contributors to Tripadvisor with many reviews and they posted comments on my business on the regular forum board. Well, their comment was deleted by the staff. There must be something wrong with me probably, I don't know what to think about that and there's no way to contuct them, they bounce back your questions. These people should be well aware that they cannot behave like if they are playing a game. Clients take TA very seriously because they can kill a business with this behavior. Regards, Gianni
  • Gianni
    Last sentence was not clear sorry.. I meant: Clients take TA very seriously and they can kill a business with this behavior.

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