Tuesday, 7 February 2012

TripAdvisor: Faking it

This landed in our inbox the other day and we thought it was worth sharing!

From The Good Hotel Guide, Adam Raphael writes an interesting piece about TripAdvisor.

TripAdvisor: Faking it

TripAdvisor’s founder, Steve Kaufer, was in London recently to try to counter the bad publicity his hotel recommendation website has been receiving. In a round of media interviews, he made some good points. One was that TA's popularity with travellers around the world shows that it is meeting a real need. Many hoteliers also benefit from the travel website's recommendations.

Mr Kaufer chose, understandably, to skate over the criticisms of how his business operates. Claiming that only 'a handful' of reviews on TA's website are fake, he dismissed the Advertising Standards Authority inquiry into his company’s methods as a minor marketing problem. 'No big deal,' he said. 'We will remove the website’s tag line: “Reviews you can trust”.' Just as well. They can't be trusted.

Quite how many of the 60 million reviews on TA’s website are collusive or malicious is unclear. Kwikchex, a reputation- management company, claims that one in four is phony. Based on our experience in checking readers' reviews, we suspect it could be more. No one really knows, least of all TripAdvisor. One of the more revealing answers that Mr Kaufer gave was that his company employs just 'a couple of dozen' people to monitor whether reviews are genuine. So it is able to check only those reviews flagged by TA's programmes as suspect.

Just how easy it is to circumvent these computer defences has been shown repeatedly by newspapers. Hoteliers know that the best way to dupe TA is to send a strongly positive but not totally over-the-top report. And if this requires too much skill, there are lots of PR companies, which for a small fee, will submit bogus five-star reviews which they guarantee will not be flagged.

The ethical borderline between a hotel encouraging guests to write to TA and commissioning a fake review is often narrow. Recently TA published a list of 'the best 15 B&Bs in Britain'. Only one of these B&Bs features in the current Good Hotel Guide. There appears to be only one conclusion. Either we are doing a bad job, or these B&Bs listed as the best are even better at cultivating review sites.

Another TA practice which irritates many in the hospitality trade is the way it chooses to feather its own nest. The Dulaig, which has an entry in the Guide, has been ranked for the past three years by TA as the best B&B in Grantown-on-Spey. But if you go to TA’s website, you are told: 'We don’t have room rates for this hotel.' Instead, travellers are directed to B&Bs which have signed up for online booking services with TA’s associated companies such as Expedia. Good business or sharp practice? As TA purports to be a website battling for the consumer, I would say it is the latter.
Adam Raphael
Good Hotel Guide Newsletter, Issue 33 - February 2012

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