TripAdvisor Scandal: Are Reviewers Being Reimbursed?

Posted Jul 11th 2011 08:30 AMUpdated Jul 11th 2011 08:56 AM

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TripAdvisor

The content of the travel review site TripAdvisor is under scrutiny days after it came to light that several hotels were reimbursing visitors for positive reviews.

According to the Daily Mail, the website's administrators are looking into whether or not the Cove Hotel in Cornwall, England, gave discounts to visitors who followed instructions left in their rooms to get free upgrades by becoming "brand champions."

More than two dozen hotels around the world have already been blacklisted from the site for trying to plant fake reviews or reimburse reviewers, though that second infraction is not explicitly banned by the site's guidelines.

TripAdvisor does claim to exercise some editorial discretion, removing obvious spam and investigating instances of review fakery, but still appears to have no system allowing it to check whether posters ever actually stayed at the the properties they are reviewing.

This lack of scrutiny has apparently created a small market for faked positive feedback. Posts to public message boards have offered money to anyone willing to post pre-written reviews.

For some, compensated enthusiasm is not as big a concern as unfact-checked bile. The editor of TripAdvisorWatch, a blog devoted to documenting the problems with the review site, points out that his guest house took a big hit because of an obviously fake review written out of spite. He doesn't seem to be alone. One hotel owner is even suing a TripAdvisor reviewer for libel.

In the past, TripAdvisor has reiterated that it is a publisher of reviews, not a publication when discussing issues of libel.

Earlier this year, AOL Travel also questioned the accuracy of TripAdvisor's Dirtiest Hotels List, the ratings from which also appeared to be skewed.


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Fair Oak Farm

Of more concern is a worrying increase in reports of reviewers blackmailing small hotels, B&B's and self-catering holiday lets, threatening poor reviews or offering good reviews in exchange for a discount when the time comes to pay. Small businesses have no choice but to accept or face the consequenes, which could, in an instant, unfairly ruin a small business that has taken years and somebody's life savings to set up. To date Trip Advisor has refused to enable the reviewer to be rated, like ebay rates both buyer and seller.

Looks like it's time people rated Trip Advisor! Trip Advisor's own research proves that guests who have enjoyed their stay are far less likely to write a review so small businesses clearly want to encourage their customers to write reviews. In fact, Trip Advisor cold call and spam small businesses to register, pushing them to encorouge reviews. So where do you draw the line at how you encourage a customer to write a review?

July 16 2011 at 4:42 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
morevacations

In early June while researching resorts on Moorea, I saw this in a review: "I have to disclose that Pacific for Less offers an incentive to write reviews for trip advisor by giving gift certificates to Amazon . . . " I sent the post to content_integrity@tripadvisor.com , but to date nothing has been done and new reviews with recommendations for Pacific for Less have been posted on the Tahiti pages.

July 12 2011 at 3:13 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to morevacations's comment
Fair Oak Farm

There's nothing wrong with encouriging guests to write a review, which is why nothing would have been done. Trip Advisor ask hotels to encourage their guests to write reviews. The issue is bribing for postive reviews, which is entirely different matter. The other, more worrying, growing issue is blackmail from guests and reviewers, which to date Trip Advisor has done nothing about despite repeated reports. Holiday Lettings in the UK partnered with Trip Advisor last year and are also failing to do anything about it for those suffering, despite paying them to advertise.

July 17 2011 at 2:55 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Phil in West France

This sin't new - see http://bit.ly/qpaj3o . But there has been an explosion in fakery. Back in November 2010 when the blog article was written there were 280 hotels "flagged" - if you do the same search on google now (see link in blog) there are 13,700!!! It's likely there are 10s of thoudans of others undetected. It's rife in Asia. You can't trust TripAdvisor, annonymity means its reviews are always suspect.

July 12 2011 at 4:40 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Phil in West France's comment
Fair Oak Farm

Absolutely. Fake reviews and unrated reviewer annonymity means TripAdvisor reviews are worthless.

July 16 2011 at 5:24 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Denise

I send reviews to TripAdvisor, and, believe me, not too many of the places would have paid me for what I write!! It's not TA's fault if people are jerks.

July 11 2011 at 5:23 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
grundoboy

never happened for me....I always picked the crappy ones.....

July 11 2011 at 4:09 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
raven93614

I reported to TripAdvisor a B&B in Santa Barbara that used bribes, and it took FOREVER for them to respond to me. I don't think they investigated it, and I don't think they ever did anything about it.

July 11 2011 at 3:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Dz

we post about all of our carribean vacation NEVER has trip advisor or any hotel asked for a positive review

July 11 2011 at 3:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Lois

As the owner of a Travel Agent I deal with issues from clients that seem unfounded, but they feel warranted. Clients who complain about meals being cold when served. When I ask if they complained at the time of problem, they say no. They wait till they get home and complain to me. I hope that the hotel is innocent. But I do feel if there is an issue travelers should take care of problems immediately.
Then there are travelers who feel that if they complain about problems that don't really exist, they will get free stays, etc. So I've learned to listen to the complaints and take them back to hotel, cruise lines, etc. as a matter of representing my clients. Hopefully both the traveler and where they are staying, or flying, etc. will reach an amicable solution. I use TripAdvisor myself to check out what other travelers feel about their destination. But I've learnt that you can't make everyone happy on any one issues. My taste in food is defferent then yours. Americans when traveling expect a different class of service of Europeans, they seem to go with the flow.

July 11 2011 at 2:16 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
Sheila

I have used TripAdvisor several times to report on hotels where I have stayed., i.e., Fairfield Hotel in Sparks, NV and Waikiki Gateway in Honolulu. I have never posted a negative review - only positive ones. But believe, me TripAdvisor never solicited me to post a postive review about any hotel and neither has a hotel. As far as bedbugs are concerned, I always check the bedbug registry to see if the hotel I am staying at has a reported bedbug problem.

July 11 2011 at 1:40 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
The Cove Cornwall

This is a perfect example of the media trying to create a story, from nothing. It should be clearly stated that our hotel has received countless rave reviews from recognised publications such as The Times who recently voted us No 5 in their top 20 British Rooms , The Guardian in their Top 10 Hotels of the Decade, The Telegraph and countless other national publications. It should also be duly noted that The Cove Cornwall received its Certificate of Excellence from TripAdvisor on May 27th nearly 1 month prior to the set up of their Friends of The Cove Scheme. Why then should be have been in need of "bribing" customers to post positive reviews on their site? It simply makes no sense! The press are forever themselves creating "incentives" for their readers to endorse their name and products to increase their customer reach. All we were trying to achieve, was to thank our loyal return customers, Brand Champions in a tangible manner. Also, the quoted statement made by the owner Lee,Magner, used by both The Sunday Mirror & The Daily Mail are inaccurate. We would very much like to see this problem resolved and are more than happy to respond to any and all queries.

July 11 2011 at 10:43 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to The Cove Cornwall's comment
Phil Butler

Another unfortunate misunderstanding perhaps? In a matrix of totally unreliable postings (not having been substantiated properly) even the good guys are going to lose here. I feel bad any time nice people get hurt when things go wrong. If this is the case with The Cove Cornwall - then you guys are victims like the rest.

The problem I see with all the hotels bragging about being number this or that on TripAdvisor is - it's just bad PR and branding. Hitching your horse to any wagon, with wheels that could be suspect, is not exactly rocket science, now is it? There's Michelin stars, and then there is what Bob and Tom nobody next door thinks about a hotel they may or may not have seen...

I guess someone out there gets my drift. More later, when I get time to investigate further.

Always,
Phil Butler
Editor - Argophilia Travel News
Editor - Everything PR News

July 11 2011 at 4:49 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Fair Oak Farm

It's time reviewers on Trip Advisor were rated and do not remain annomynos, so the reader gets a more reliable impression of the accommodation.

July 16 2011 at 4:58 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

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