TripAdvisor has been the subject of controversy for allowing unsubstantiated anonymous reviews to be posted about any hotel, B&B, inn, or restaurant. In USA alone, approximately 30 hotels have been blacklisted by TripAdvisor for suspicious reviews, including a Cornwall hotel that bribed guests to leave positive reviews of the hotel. While TripAdvisor and other travel review websites can be powerful marketing tools for hotels, they can also pose threats. Operators said some disgruntled or unscrupulous guests have threatened to post negative reviews of hotels unless they receive compensation—a room upgrade, a free room or even cash.

In 2015, Tripadvisor started letting users not only rate places but tag them, saying, for example that a place offers brunch, is open on Sunday, or offers delivery, takeout, etc. TripAdvisor has stated that reviews are not posted to the website instantly, but are subject to a verification process which considers the IP address and email address of the author, and tries to detect any suspicious patterns or obscene or abusive language. The website also allows the community of users to report suspicious content, which is then assessed by a team of quality assurance specialists, and TripAdvisor alerts the owner or manager of a TripAdvisor-listed establishment whenever a review is posted on their listing.

While there is little data to indicate how widespread the problem is, TripAdvisor and many hotel operators and companies are prepared to combat this kind of blackmail.
“Hotels need to accept that a small unscrupulous segment of travelers may use their social media clout to demand unreasonable concessions,” said Daniel Edward Craig, founder of online reputation management consulting firm Reknown. “Review threats can put staff in an extremely difficult position. They don’t want to cave in to unreasonable demands, but they also don’t want to be blamed for a bad review.”

In September 2011, the UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) launched a formal investigation into TripAdvisor after receiving a complaint submitted by online investigations company KwikChex that its claims to provide trustworthy and honest reviews from travelers are false. The ASA found that TripAdvisor “should not claim or imply that all its reviews were from real travellers, or were honest, real or trusted”, and as a result of the investigation, TripAdvisor was ordered to remove the slogan “reviews you can trust” from its UK web site. It changed its hotel review section slogan to ‘reviews from our community.’

TripAdvisor’s Headquarters in Needham, MA

TripAdvisor stated that the branding change had been planned for some time and that changes began in June 2011, before the ASA investigation. ASA commented that “it was concerned that consumers might be fooled by fraudulent posts since the entries could be made without any form of verification,” but recognised that TripAdvisor used “advanced and highly effective fraud systems” in an attempt to identify and remove fake content.

In 2012, an action was brought in a Sheriff Court in Scotland, by a guesthouse owner who claimed damages for malicious statements. TripAdvisor asserted that the Scottish courts lacked jurisdiction. The outcome of this case was called a “landmark victory”, as the pursuer (plaintiff) secured two points of law in the UK:

  • TripAdvisor conceded that it could be sued in the UK’s jurisdictions (having previously claimed to be outside the remit of the Scottish legal system because it is based in Massachusetts);
  • TripAdvisor’s terms of use constituted a contract, which was actionable/enforceable by the business being reviewed.

The case was found to involve issues relating to the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Act, 1977: these issues were referred to a higher court in Stornoway.

In 2012, TripAdvisor was fined $80,000 by the U.S. Department of Transportation for violating new fair trading regulations requiring taxes and fees to be shown for prices quoted for airfares.

In March 2014, TripAdvisor’s Chinese site came under scrutiny because KwikChex uncovered that a reviewer had reviewed 51 Parisian restaurants in one month, while also reviewing 50 Hotels in other countries.

In December 2014, the Italian Antitrust Authority fined TripAdvisor €500,000 for improper commercial practices on the TripAdvisor website. The Italian Authority stated that Tripadvisor and its Italian arm should stop publishing misleading information about the sources of the reviews. In June 2015, a fake restaurant created by a newspaper rose to the top of the site’s rankings in Italy.

An ex-hotel manager at Meriton says that guests were offered inducements to change ratings they left on the site.

Dietmar Doering, a German hotelier based in Sri Lanka accused TripAdvisor for its malicious reviews of his resort The Cosy Beach in Marawila. He claimed he was compelled to take legal action for the estimated damages of US$500,000.


 

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