“Online Reviews: Open Season for the Hotel Industry?”
Online, peer-to-peer review sites like TripAdvisor hold immense sway over the reputations of hotels and resorts. But with many in the industry complaining of malicious or fraudulent reviews, Chris Lo asks if these sites are doing enough to protect hotels and travellers from misleading or defamatory material.
Excerpt (from hotelmanagement-network.com)
The problem with TripAdvisor
With complaints about online review sites, and TripAdvisor in particular, coming from small hotel operators all the way up to hospitality mogul Duncan Bannatyne, what exactly is the core problem that many in the industry have with these sites?
Kwikchex, a UK-based online reputation protection firm, has launched an investigation into online reviews on behalf of its clients in the hospitality industry. For the company’s CEO and co-founder Chris Emmins, the central issue is one of verification. “The core problem with many review sites, not just TripAdvisor, is that the reviews are unverified,” he says. “If you don’t have diligence, you can’t have integrity, and if you don’t have integrity then you can’t really have trust. And that’s the issue we’re looking at.”
According to Kwikchex, the lack of any verification process for reviews leaves sites like TripAdvisor open to misuse, either by rival establishments seeking to damage the reputations of their competitors (or boost their own with fake positive reviews), or by those making defamatory accusations of serious negligence or even criminality, sometimes with financial gain in mind. For Emmins, there is a difference between honest comment (even if it is unreasonable) and a review that seems to have been written with ulterior motives.
“We only take direct action when it involves, frankly, malice,” says Emmins. “That involves things like accusations of criminality; it involves accusations of food poisoning. It’s when we see clear indications that it comes from a competitor, an ex-employee, or if it involves extortion. In other words, examples that would be held up in court as defamation.”
Emmins cites examples such as a reviewer accusing a hotel owner of assault before demanding a large cash payout to take the review down, as well as another reviewer who accused hotel staff of racism, an allegation that was later withdrawn. Other examples include allegations of food poisoning and fraud. “These are the sorts of things that can break a business, simple as that.” Kwikchex believes that at least 27,000 TripAdvisor reviews are legally defamatory.
Investigation by Kwikchex has highlighted some cities and countries that seem to be particularly inundated with fake reviews, like Hanoi, Croatia and Marrakech. “I don’t think you could trust a single thing that is on the Marrakech resource on TripAdvisor,” says Emmins. “I’d go that far; that’s how bad it is.”