|TripAdvisor Reviews Branded 'Malicious and Bogus.'|
By Michael Georgeson, Manager National Operations
Tuesday, 22nd May 2012
Ballina Beach Village Holiday Park on the NSW north coast has recently entered the debate over TripAdvisor saying that the online travel advisory service needs to do more to ensure the reviews they post are genuine.
ABC North Coast recently reported the property’s comments that guests regularly try to extort money in return for positive online reviews.
The Ballina property also confirmed that efforts to have negative comments removed from the TripAdvisor site have been fruitless. This is certainly consistent with feedback from Accommodation Association members who report a high level of frustration with the site resulting from inappropriate reviews – both negative and in fact, positive as well.
The Association regularly takes calls from frustrated operators commenting that “malicious”, “bogus” and “vexatious” reviews have been placed on TripAdvisor. In a recent case presented to us, the site was used in a personal attack on a property manager via a review where the manager was accused of inebriation (amongst other complaints) whilst on duty.
In this case, the property was able to identify that the reviewer was the disgruntled former partner of the manager. Despite having this fact pointed out to TripAdvisor, the site refused to remove the review. The property was fortunately able to go directly to the reviewer and have the listing removed. However, this case underscores the lack of control and severity of attack that is possible.
The possibility for abuse can mean that TripAdvisor has the strong potential to undermine a business and damage it quite substantially. This potential has been realised quite acutely in at least one UK case, where a targeted campaign was launched by an individual posting negative bogus reviews on a restaurant they had not even visited. Whilst it is unfortunate that this is not the only example, it is amongst those which have led to legislative changes in the UK.
The issues are not limited to these negative reviews and the potential for attack either - even the positive reviews have pitfalls which may be questioned. Ghost-writing opportunities are available for the posting of reviews, in some cases specifically identifying TripAdvisor and the process to generate numbers of reviews from multiple profiles. On the flipside of this, is the fact that in at least one case (again in the UK), a previously number one ranked hotel on TripAdvisor, was ‘red flagged’ for allegedly ‘writing their own reviews’.
Telegraph.co.uk has reported that the ‘Riverside Hotel and Restaurant’ in Evesham, Worcestershire was ‘red flagged’ when at least one, possibly more guests, enthusiastically wrote their reviews while still in the hotel. The ISP ID of the property popped up and led to TripAdvisor’s action and reportedly devastated the property’s business.
To date, the advice of the Accommodation Association to members has been to attempt to respond to reviews through TripAdvisor. However, the consistent feedback from operators is that getting a response from the site operators is difficult, and when successful, responses to reviews can be heavily moderated, with one member saying the final response allowed was almost pointless.
It is here where there is a strong concern that the process is weighted against operators, with their responses more likely to be moderated than those of the reviewer. Regardless, at this stage a measured response via TripAdvisor seems the only productive means of engagement with reviewers.
Danella Rockley, Senior Operations Manager at FreeSpirit Resort & Holiday Park Management whose property, Treasure Island, has recently been acknowledged by TripAdvisor says, “Legit negative reviews, can be used to improve all aspects of your business, they are not always about someone complaining. Everyone should take the time to stand back and read the review without emotion and see the review for the facts.”
The Association has engaged in preliminary discussions with TripAdvisor whilst we investigate the impact of the service on the industry and are presently looking at possible solutions to provide more extensive education on the subject. In the meantime, we are conducting a survey of accommodation providers to assess the impact to operators, in order to establish how best to deal with the issue moving forward.
Industry operators are invited to complete the survey here and any accommodation providers with feedback on their TripAdvisor experiences are asked to pass on their thoughts to Michael Georgeson, Manager National Operations. ( michael.georgeson (at) aaoa.com.au )