TripAdvisor’s ‘bad reviews’ (part 3).

14 November 2014 | Reading time: 2 minutes

TripAdvisor, an online review platform, has dominated the travel e-commerce arena and now claims to be the largest travel site in the world, with more than 60 million members and over 170 million reviews. Readers are encouraged to post their own reviews of hotels, restaurants, attractions and destinations worldwide, online, and free of charge.

Unsubstantiated.

Recently TripAdvisor has been criticised by various government watchdogs for allowing unsubstantiated and anonymous reviews to be posted about businesses online. Interestingly, some authorities have instituted measures to restrict the availability of, and access to, misleading information provided on this site.

In this 3 part series (updated daily) some of the reactions from authorities are canvassed. In this blog, part 1 started downunder. In part 2, we flew to Italy for an assessment on its intriguing position. Today, a whirlwind tour of the UK in part 3 where some might say they are leading the way.

False mantra?

In September 2011, the UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) received complaints that TripAdvisor’s mantra of providing trustworthy and honest reviews from travellers was, in fact, 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’. As a result of the investigation, TripAdvisor was subsequently ordered to remove the slogan ‘reviews you can trust’ from its UK website.1

A new mantra.

Subsequently, TripAdvisor changed its hotel review section slogan to ‘reviews from our community.’ However, it claimed that the branding change had been planned for some time and that changes began in June 2011, before the ASA investigation. ASA recognised that TripAdvisor used ‘advanced and highly effective fraud systems’ in an attempt to identify and remove fake content but remained concerned that consumers might be fooled by fraudulent posts.2

TripAdvisor stands firm.

TripAdvisor has stated that reviews are not posted instantly, but are subject to a verification process where a ‘content quality and integrity team’ investigates the IP address, patterns and email address of the author to try to detect any suspicious patterns or obscene or abusive language. It also claims that it:

  • allows others users to report suspicious content, which is then assessed by a team of quality assurance specialists; and
  • alerts the owner or manager of a TripAdvisor-listed establishment whenever a review is posted on their  business.

While TripAdvisor asserts that it is capable of identifying fake reviews published on a large scale, concerns remain over smaller scale abuse that may still give an unfair advantage to abusers, or cause damage to their competitors. For example, reviewers can quite easily conceal their identity by creating new email addresses for the purpose of their review. Moreover, TripAdvisor is yet to develop a way of confirming that a reviewer has visited the place in question.

TripAdvisor continues to be an important facet to the tourism and hospitality industry, but clearly questions remain as to how trustworthy it actually is and as to whether it should be considered a viable online business proposition, based on its current model.

The future.

Potentially any member of the public can register  and post reviews with few or no repercussions. This creates tremendous challenges for both small and large businesses alike. Reviews that are untrue, defamatory or otherwise harmful to a business may not be detected by the existing ‘quality control’ systems implemented by TripAdvisor. Despite this, the likelihood that TripAdvisor will remain influential with the public is very high. We will continue to watch this space with interest.

1ASA Adjudication on TripAdvisor LLC
2TripAdvisor rebuked over ‘trust’ claims on review site