Tag Archives: tripadvisor

TripAdvisor Acquires Holiday Watchdog Review Site

TripAdvisor Acquires Holiday Watchdog Review Site

TripAdvisor today announced it has acquired Holiday Watchdog, http://www.holidaywatchdog.com/, another user-generated travel site in the U.K.

“Holiday Watchdog nicely complements existing content in the TripAdvisor Media Network,” said TripAdvisor CEO Steve Kaufer. “The acquisition is designed to strengthen TripAdvisor’s position as the predominant travel planning resource and adds another strong brand to the TripAdvisor Media Network, a collection of travel media sites.”

Holiday Watchdog will be operated out of TripAdvisor’s London office and there are no near-term plans for integration of content with other TripAdvisor® Media Network sites. The founders of Holiday Watchdog will work through a transition period but have chosen not to stay with TripAdvisor long-term. Terms of the acquisition are not being disclosed.

TripAdvisor claims that Holiday Watchdog will continue to be operated as an independent site.  However, TripAdvisor has  a history of quashing potential competitors before they become a real threat to its virtual monopoly.  Remember TravelLibrary?  Probably not, but it was a user-generated review site competing with TA in the early days, running neck-and-neck for reviews in many markets, until TA bought it and effectively smothered it.  Its review content these days is almost all copied over from TripAdvisor and its previously active “Review” community has largely drifted away.

TripAdvisor Shares Down

TripAdvisor shares finished down on its first day trading on the Nasdaq yesterday.

The company, whose split from Expedia has been expected throughout 2011, is trading under the symbol TRIP.

 

On launch yesterday Stephen Kaufer, TripAdvisor CEO, rang the Nasdaq opening bell.  The shares were offered at $30 but fell sharply to a low of $27.51,  ending the day at $27.67.

The breakup of Expedia and TripAdvisor has created two distinct companies, although TripAdvisor continues to receive referral fees by promoting Expedia travel businesses on its website.  But free to trade independently of Expedia, TripAdvisor is now in a stronger position  to negotiate deals with other travel agencies.

 

TripAdvisor PR Firm Faked Travel Blogs

TripAdvisor PR Firm Faked Travel Blogs

TripAdvisor has appointed Edelman PR in the UK to defend it against increasing criticism and legal challenges over the credibility of its reviews.

Edelman has been briefed to monitor the hospitality and political landscapes, passing on the message that the site is a ‘trusted source’ and communicating the benefits of TripAdvisor to the UK tourism industry.

How strange that in order to defend its waning credibility TripAdvisor should choose the PR agency that set up fake blogs in the USA to promote another client.

Wal-Marting Across America

A few years ago the Wal-Marting Across America blog documented the supposed adventures of Jim and Laura, a couple traveling the country in a recreational vehicle and camping in Wal-Mart parking lots.

Along the way they chatted with happy Wal-Mart employees, like the guy whose company health insurance saved his son’s life, or the woman who worked her way up from cashier to corporate manager.  Everywhere they parked up they met happy Wal-Mart employees – a surprise as Wal-Mart was notorious for being stingy with wages and benefits.   The blog turned out to be a fake, its pro-Wal-Mart message an invention of the Edelman PR firm.

http://www.businessweek.com/bwdaily/dnflash/content/oct2006/db20061009_579137.htm?campaign_id=rss_topStories

Shortly after,  three contributors to two other blogs were also identified as Edelman employees working for Wal-Mart.

http://www.marketingvox.com/more_fake_walmart_blogs_edelman_fesses_up-022878/

The story of Edelman and Wal-Mart became instant folklore in the world of PR and marketing.  Clearly someone at Tripadvisor has a great sense of humour to employ the same company for this particular PR task!

Beware blogs and people posting stuff in praise of TripAdvisor, folks!

TripAdvisor Partners with Toprural, Interhome, Stayz and AKENA

TripAdvisor Partners with Toprural, Interhome, Stayz and AKENA

TripAdvisor has announced partnership deals with vacation rental websites  Interhome, Stayz, Toprural and AKENA Technologies which operates MediaVacances.com.

TripAdvisor’s existing rental property inventory includes subsidiaries FlipKey and Holiday Lettings. Since Holiday Lettings was acquired by TripAdvisor in 2010, owners already listed on the site have expressed concern that Holiday Lettings began displaying TripAdvisor reviews without consulting with them first.

With its new partners TripAdvisor’s vacation rental empire will exceed 200,000 properties.

“We are thrilled to partner with these leading vacation rental sites, as each brings exceptional properties and a tremendous amount of local market expertise to the TripAdvisor community. Our goal is to offer travelers the best listings from partners who know the locations best,” said Christine Petersen, president of TripAdvisor for Business. “Our partnership with these global brands demonstrates our belief and commitment to vacation rentals as an important accommodation option for travelers, and we’re looking to partner with elite vacation rental companies worldwide with the aim of enhancing the traveler experience.”

However, the use of anonymous reviews on websites is currently under challenge in the UK where the use of unverified reviews for marketing purposes appears to be in breach of the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) non-broadcast code, which states that marketers must be able to show a review is authentic by proving it was made by an identifiable and potentially contactable person.

About TripAdvisor’s new Partners

Toprural

Toprural has one of the largest rural vacation rental databases in Europe and is the leading rural tourism site in Spain.  Toprural has over 50,000 accommodation offers in 10 European countries.  TopRural already allows users of its sites to post reviews without verifying the identity of the reviewer or whether they stayed at the rental in question.

Interhome

Swiss based Interhome includes 32,000 holiday apartments, homes and chalets in 29 countries worldwide.

Stayz Group

The Stayz Group is the largest holiday rental group in Australia, with 40,000 property listings in 1,400 locations

AKENA 

AKENA Technologies, based in France, owns several vacation rental websites, including MediaVacances.com (France), MediaVacanze.com (Italy), MediaVacaciones.com (Spain), MediaVakanties.com (Netherlands) and MediaFerias.com (Portugal).

AKENA also operates ski websites such as Winter-Sports.com (UK), Sports-Hiver.com (France), Sport-Invernali.com (Italy) and Esquiland.com (Spain).

Challenge to Use of TripAdvisor Reviews in Marketing

Challenge to TripAdvisor Reviews in Marketing

In a challenge to the use of anonymous reviews in marketing and publicity, Kwikchex claims that existing advertising rules mean TripAdvisor reviews cannot be used for marketing purposes.

A growing number of hotel and tour operator websites have been including TripAdvisor content to help promote their product - e.g. Holiday Lettings, Visit Scotland, Accor Hotels, Thomson holidays.

Owners have expressed concern that sites like Holiday Lettings, on which they have already paid to advertise, are now displaying TripAdvisor reviews without asking the property owner’s permission.  Holiday Lettings was acquired by TripAdvisor in 2010.

In its complaint against the use of TripAdvisor reviews in marketing and advertising Kwikchex cites the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) non-broadcast code, which states that marketers must be able to show a review is authentic by proving it was made by an identifiable and potentially contactable person.

From the CAP Code section 3.45 relating to endorsements and testimonials:

Marketers must hold documentary evidence that a testimonial or endorsement used in a marketing communication is genuine, unless it is obviously fictitious, and hold contact details for the person who, or organisation that, gives it.

Kwikchex co-founder Chris Emmins said: “It’s absolutely apparent that reviews are not being verified and that they are being used for promotional purposes. We think that verifying testimonials is key to fulfilling the requirements of the CAP code.”

The code allows testimonials and endorsements to be used by third parties (such as Holiday Lettings, Thomson et al) from a “published source” such as TripAdvisor without permission of the author, but the code then also places responsibility on the originator of the review to authenticate it.

In the submission Kwikchex makes reference to a number of cases in which it believes the CAP code is being breached, including the use of TripAdvisor reviews on the Accor, Thomson and VisitLondon websites.

How to Fake TripAdvisor Reviews

If you want to pressure TripAdvisor into improving security and verifying its reviews properly, please read then Tweet this post or post a link on Facebook.   Shortlink   http://wp.me/pS2vC-Hj 

Creating a Fake ID on TripAdvisor

A Fake Reviewer

I’ve occasionally mentioned how easy it is for unscrupulous owners to fake reviews of their own or of their competitor’s business if they wish to do so.  It is not necessary for them to employ someone else to do it, though that is an approach taken by some of them.

I’ve never actually spelled out how “bad” owners trick TripAdvisor to post their own reviews, as I don’t want to encourage it.  However, another site has recently spilled most of the beans (though it included one critical error!) and TripAdvisor has responded, so perhaps it is time to reveal all.

1. How TripAdvisor currently Catches Fakes

Every time you visit a website, the site logs your IP address (the identity of the computer that you are using at the time) and places HTTP cookies on the computer or other device you’re using to access the Internet.

This means that every time you visit TripAdvisor you leave behind information that reveals where you are, what kind of Internet browser you are using, what size of screen, what pages of the site you visit, and many other details about your computer and your actions.  At the same time TripAdvisor places cookies on your computer so that you can be identified when you return to the website.

This is the “hard” information that Tripadvisor uses in its “automated checking procedures” to identify who is posting reviews – and to catch people using multiple (fake) identities.

In addition TripAdvisor relies on “soft” information from users of its website to alert it to “suspicious” reviews.   I’ve done this myself and 4 reviews were deleted from a particular property, though the property was never “red-flagged” as a result.  I suspect, though cannot be sure, that properties are only “red flagged” where “hard” information is available.

2. How Fake Reviewers avoid being caught

I do not condone or encourage the use of the following information; but if the tricks become widely known perhaps TripAdvisor will verify its reviews properly, instead of dismissing concerns about the loopholes in its security.

1. Download an IP Changer such as Easy-Hide IP or Cyberghost  to hide your real IP – there are dozens of products available, some of them free.  An alternative to the fake IP address wheeze is to use free WiFi like McDonalds, or to use an Internet café.

2. Obtain an email address using hotmail, yahoo, gmail, or any other free email.

3. Clear cookies from your machine – this varies according to the browser you are using (e.g. Internet Explorer or Firefox or Chrome).  It is best to remove only TripAdvisor cookies rather than all cookies as some contain useful information like remembering favourite pages, login IDs on particular sites etc.

4. Go to TripAdvisor (using the IP changer) and create a new TripAdvisor account using the free email address.

5. Post a review.

That’s all that is needed.  The faker can now post as many reviews as he wishes under his new identity, BUT ONLY ONE REVIEW FOR ANY PARTICULAR PROPERTY.

3. Posting Multiple reviews for the same property

Anyone who wants to post several fake reviews for the same property has to work a little harder.

To review the same property again they need to cover their previous tracks and create a new identity.  So they need another new IP address (NB some of the free IP changers only give one IP to hide behind), a new email address, then they clear TripAdvisor cookies and create another TripAdvisor account using their latest email address.  This can be repeated ad infinitum.

4. How cheats further Cover their tracks  and Make Fake Reviews Convincing

None of the following are strictly necessary, but here’s how the professional faker or the keen cheater might further cover his trail and make his fake identities and reviews more convincing.

1. They might vary browser between Firefox, Internet Explorer, Chrome and Safari.

2. They can give their identity credibility by posting a reviews about other places over a period of time before posting the review that counts, and vary their star ratings.

3. They don’t draw attention by posting a lot of reviews at once, but spread them over weeks and even months.

4. If posting for the same property more than once, they might try to change writing style and vocabulary e.g. by converting reviews to another language then back into English using Google Translate – only correcting horrible gaffes, not bad grammar.  NB Don’t post reviews in a foreign language using Google Translate – appaling translation is how I uncovered the fake reviewer I exposed.

10. Those who create multiple accounts on TripAdvisor must keep a careful record of TA identities and  log-ins, plus the associated IP addresses and email addresses.

Further Reading

Here is the recent article on  http://www.visionarydining.com/tripadvisor which prompted me to set the record straight; it is Point 4 that is at fault, where it says to clear the Internet CACHE from the computer: it should say clear COOKIES.

Here is TripAdvisor’s response:

“We cannot emphasise enough our concern about this article; the activity it promotes is illegal and is strictly against our terms of use. Whilst the article in question does not condone the fraudulent use of TripAdvisor, it’s extremely disappointing to see anything which diminishes the high levels of integrity and respect for their customers that the vast majority of those working in the hospitality industry maintain.

“We also believe the vast majority of hoteliers understand the tremendous risk to their reputation and their business if they attempt to post fraudulent information on review sites like TripAdvisor. We take serious steps to penalise businesses who are caught attempting to manipulate the system.”

TripAdvisor : “We Are Not Making This Up”

“We Are Not Making This Up” is the ironic name of the official TripAdvisor blog.  Unfortunately that is more than can be said for some of the reviews.

Another advert for fake reviews just appeared on DigitalPoint, one of several marketplaces for fake reviews. 

This is a nice little earner for any home workers with a basic knowledge of how to use proxy IP addresses, multiple TripAdvisor identities using free email addresses and a minute to delete TripAdvisor cookies from their computer each time they log on.

Here’s the advert:  http://forums.digitalpoint.com/showthread.php?t=2315716

As for those who think they can always spot the fakes, recent research by Cornell University shows that they’re only deluding themselves: http://tripadvisorwatch.wordpress.com/2011/07/28/computer-program-to-spot-fake-reviews/

TripAdvisor “Shortest Review” Competition

TripAdvisor “Shortest Review” Competition

And the South Park Memorial prize for the shortest review on TripAdvisor goes to … well, you decide.

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Funny how many of them are posted via a “Facebook” account.  Letting anyone post via a Facebook account was clearly a great step forward, opening the way for many more intelligent contributors to add their pithy observations.

Nice one, TripAdvisor.  :)

Another Hotel Sues TripAdvisor

Another Hotel Sues TripAdvisor over “Dirty” List

The owner of the Grand Resort Hotel and Convention Center in Tennessee is suing  TripAdvisor for $10 million, alleging that TripAdvisor “maliciously and wrongfully” harmed his business by placing Grand Resort at the top of its “2011 Dirtiest Hotels” list for the USA on the TripAdvisor website.

As is its policy, TripAdvisor is not commenting on this latest lawsuit other than to say “The top 10 list of dirtiest hotels is compiled based on traveler ratings for cleanliness on TripAdvisor.”

In its press release at the time, TripAdvisor said of the Grand Resort 

“The unpopular property elicited such hotel review titles as ‘Worst Hotel Stay of My Life,’ ‘Stay Anywhere Else But Here,’ and ‘Absolutely Horrible!’”

The TripAdvisor press release included a review stating:

“if you are looking for a hotel with chewing tobacco spit oozing down the halls and corridors; spiders actively making webs in every corner of your room; carpeting so greasy and dirty you wouldn’t want to sit your luggage down – let alone walk around barefoot…… by all means, stay at The Grand Resort.”

Tripadvisor went on to say:

“For the sixth consecutive year, TripAdvisor is shining a light on those U.S. hotels which have made a mark on their guests for all the wrong reasons. From TripAdvisor’s core, we believe that candid reviews — good, bad and ugly — empower travelers to see it all so they can plan and experience the best possible trips.”

However, as the reviews are anonymous there is no proof that the persons posting these or any other reviews ever visited the hotel, nor were there any checks on the veracity or accuracy of the reviews before the press release was issued.

In the lawsuit the owner’s lawyers argue that the site uses “a rating system which is flawed and inconsistent and distorts actual performance and perspective.”  It also accuses TripAdvisor of “maliciously and wrongfully contriving, designing and intending to cause respected customers to lose confidence” in the hotel.

Whatever the truth of the matter concerning this hotel, there are increasing worries over the veracity and trustworthiness of TripAdvisor reviews in general.

In the U.K. the Advertising Standards Authority and OFT have launched investigations into TripAdvisor’s claims that its reviews can be trusted, and the website has recently removed the slogan “claims you can trust” from its website.  It has been suggested that this is an attempt to pre-empt a likely judgment that it has made false advertising claims over the trustworthiness of its reviews.

TripAdvisor removes ‘reviews you can trust’ slogan from its website

TripAdvisor removes ‘reviews you can trust’ slogan

TripAdvisor recently became the target of an investigation by the ASA in Britain (see previous post) and it was speculated in certain quarters that this could lead to changes in their practice of accepting reviews without proper safeguards and checks for veracity.

I guessed that the investigation would do nothing other than lead to a change in their slogans and marketing pitches.

Looks like this process has started – so fake reviews will remain but TripAdvisor will tweak its slogans and avoid sanctions that way.  It’s called taking the easy way out.

More on this story at the Daily Mail

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/article-2036846/TripAdvisor-removes-reviews-trust-slogan-website.html