An Owner’s Story

An Owner’s Story

Fake Reviews on TripAdvisor

In the beginning there was a phone call …

A week ago we were retiring to bed for the night (the time was just after 10.00pm – we retire and rise early as we have to prepare guest breakfasts from 7.00am onwards) when we noticed that the answering machine was picking up a call (after 10.00pm it picks up calls immediately on the first ring).

This person called SIX TIMES within the space of 5 minutes and was answered by the machine each time, but did not leave any message. On the final call, thinking that perhaps it was an emergency, we picked up and an Australian voice – without apologising or introduction – demanded to speak to an Australian couple who were staying with us. I said that they had retired to bed and I could not disturb them unless it was an emergency, to which the caller replied that I should just put him through. I explained that we were not a hotel and so did not have phones in the guest rooms. He hung up on me.

Fake Review Number One

The following day I happened to be looking at our listing on TripAdvisor and saw the following fake review.
In the screenshot, our response is shown at the top – the fake TripAdvisor review is below.(CLICK TO ENLARGE):

Fake Review #1

Realising that this came from the caller from Australia posing as a guest, I immediately wrote our response and contacted TripAdvisor via the Management Panel to tell them about this review (plus another fake review about the same time – more about that later). I was dismayed to receive an email from TripAdvisor saying that “the situation is currently under investigation and a final determination will be made once the investigation is complete. Please allow up to 14 days for this process to be completed” – and in the meantime the fake review would remain in place for all to see.

“14 days?” I thought to myself, “Come on, TripAdvisor – surely you can do better than that – or do you simply not care?” All it took in this particular case was to check the IP address and date of submission of the review to see that the fake reviewer could not have been in France one evening and posting from Australia a few hours later! 14 days? It should have been resolved in one minute.

Furthermore, TA would not enter into any correspondence with us over the matter. “You will not be contacted with the details of the investigation as this information is proprietary.”

What a wonderfully transparent investigation process – not!!!

Further salt was rubbed in to the wound by the fact that our management response did not appear until 4 days after the fake review – considerably longer than it took for the fake TripAdvisor review to appear!

Trip Advisor Forum – thread pulled

I thought this process unnecessarily drawn out and unfair to us and other owners in the same position, and so I posted a message on the TripAdvisor forum called “Help us make TripAdvisor better!”. The post was entitled “Fake and Defamatory Reviews”: I proposed that where an owner challenges a fake review – either the person did not stay there, what they have said is untrue, or they have confused one accommodation with another – then the review should be “sandboxed” i.e. suspended until TripAdvisor can complete investigations. Just leaving fake or malicious reviews on view for up to two weeks was unfair, I argued. I made no mention of our particular case.

Unfortunately, some other TA forum members did refer to our particular fake reviews, and so TripAdvisor pulled the thread on the grounds that it called into question TA policy (God forbid anyone should do that!) and related to a specific review on TA.

Whoopee! Some progress at last!

Finally, today, Friday 25th September, this first fake review has been withdrawn, having been on view for all to see since the week before. Thank you for that, TA, but really it should not take that long and you should adopt a “sandbox” policy for dodgy reviews under investigation. You can’t just assume all reviews are genuine until proved false – in fact, I can imagine situations where it is IMPOSSIBLE for an owner to prove a review is false, even when he knows it is …

That’s not the end of it – worse to come

At the same time as the Australian review, we saw another bizarre and inexplicable review, posted by someone 15 months after they claimed to have stayed here!

We were surprised to find one stinky review on TripAdvisor relating to our property – not least because all our previous reviews had been very positive about us – but to find TWO posted in quick succession knocked us for six.

Fake Review Number Two

Here’s the other fake review (CLICK TO ENLARGE):

Who Are You Really, "tee111 from Midatlantic"?

Who Are You Really, "tee111 from Midatlantic"?

Again I posted a management response and reported that the review was false, and got the usual acknowledgment emails as for the first one. I argued that this review was as fishy as the other, on the following grounds:

  1. It seems unlikely that a genuine guest would wait 15 months to post a review after such an allegedly awful experience.
  2. Checking our spreadsheet booking records, we could not find a June night in either 2008 (or indeed 2009) when we had only one room occupied – we had at least two rooms booked, usually three, every night in June.
  3. We retire to the kitchen each morning and leave our guests to enjoy their breakfast alone in the dining room, so we can’t possibly engender a bad atmosphere over breakfast. We have no recollection of any incident of this sort and would never let it happen.
  4. As we recognise neither the reviewer nor their description of their visit, plus it is so long since they visited and they say they were here only one night, we believe we’ve either been confused with someone else or it’s another deliberate fake.

We also pointed out that parts of the house description correspond well, in fact some phrases word-for-word, with what one can see at a glance on the room descriptions of our website, but it is inaccurate and differs from what a guest will find here in several important and verifiable respects.

  1. The property is neither on the “edge of a tiny village” nor “isolated” : the property is actually in the centre of the village, just 100 yards or so from the village shops, bar and restaurant. Our west garden wall backs onto the Mairie. We’re 5 miles from the major town of Alençon.
  2. The village is large rather than “tiny”, with an infant and junior school, a senior college, playing fields, tennis courts, basketball ground, fire station, a small supermarket, a bar and restaurant, a hairdresser, a farm shop, an interior design shop and more.
  3. The rear garden is not “small” by any reasonable person’s standards as it covers a couple of acres with a fishing lake of 3000 square yards. The front garden adds another half acre.
  4. Everyone has their own idea of what constitutes a “small room” but our smallest bedroom is 14m², which is 2m² larger than the “3 Epis” requirement for Gites de France, to which we belong. That excludes the bathroom which adds another 5m². Not palatial but big enough for most reasonable people – no-one has EVER commented on the rooms being small before. The largest room is 25m² (18+7).

TripAdvisor “lose” our management response

4 days after submitting our objection and our management response (and receiving acknowledgment of both) we had heard nothing more. Zilch. No management response appeared, the fake review was not pulled by the TripAdvisor team.

On querying this with @tripadvisor on Twitter, I was told by TripAdvisor that our “Management Response for “Terribly awkward” review was not showing up in (their) queue and (could I) resubmit it“. This despite the fact that I had emails from TA acknowledging receipt of our review. To lose a management response is almost as absurd and unbelievable as the fake reviews themselves.

Trip Advisor Fake Reviews – the current situation

I immediately resubmitted a management response to Trip Advisor and resubmitted the complaint that the review was either false or a mistake – after another 4 days our response has FINALLY appeared – unfortunately not as well phrased as it might have been, as I re-wrote it in a hurry in order to expedite matters and avoid more unneccessary fudging and delays from TripAdvisor. But better than nothing, thank you, TA.

BUT THE FAKE REVIEW IS STILL THERE AND I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT TRIP ADVISOR IS DOING ABOUT IT – because, of course, TripAdvisor’s policy when dealing with owner objections is that “You will not be contacted with the details of the investigation as this information is proprietary.”

TripAdvisor Fake Reviews – update 1

On Thursday afternoon, 2nd October, 2 weeks after I alerted TripAdvisor of the fake reviews, the second malicious TripAdvisor review was finally removed. Naturally, nobody at TripAdvisor bothered to let me know!

Many thanks to all the people who have shown their support here and on Twitter.

76 responses to “An Owner’s Story

  1. ‘The Wisdom Of The Crowd’ isn’t working, more to the point, it never will. I’ve suspected for a long time that it’s a modern myth made up by the Googles and the Apples of this world, swallowed hook, line and sinker by a large part of the consumerist world.

    Feedback doesn’t work in the REAL world because most people are too afraid of their feelings to give, take or process it constructively.

    There is absolutely NO WAY it’s going to work any better in a disembodied, anonymous, protected context in what is a purely profit-driven environment (Google).

    I wanted to believe that these things could work too. But the truth is that the online world is like the offline world (riddled with corruption and greed) except without the limitations imposed by physicality. The web gives greed and corruption an instantaneous global reach and increasing freedom from accountability.

    I predict that we are going to see a withdrawal from this ridiculous myth of the ‘wisdom of the crowd’ in the next couple of years when the disease of scamming/spamming/profiteering reaches its peak. It’s almost there with 97% of all email sent being sexual spam…It will be complete when Google achieves total control of all human knowledge online (nearly there – except for those damn Chinese).

    If you think TripAdvisor is bad, go and Google ‘Unvarnished’ – the ultimate in unaccountability. :-)

    • Jeez – thanks for putting me on to that one. Just what we needed – another half-baked “review” site where unreasonable dimwits and malevolent wormbrains can dish out anonymous, unsubstantiated dirt. Is this really what the Internet is for? You’re right, “Unvarnished” sucks.

  2. sshakleboltt

    Guys it has officially taken toll on our tripadvisor page. We had 15 reviews (12 excellent and 3 very good) a week back with a rank of 21. Now we have only 8 reviews and a rank of 31 (which will probably decrease again). Please help I am panicking since we depend a lot on our tripadvisor page. I have it on my website and also send it along with any reply to inquiries I receive. It hurts so bad to loose genuine reviews (some of which were more than an year old) just in a flick of time. All our reviews were very hard work (Since only 5% of people actually go back to write a review) and reflected the quality of our property. Now that this has happened, its like loosing an year of hard work!

    I am so sick and tired of TripAdvisor acting like a big bully. Can any of you help me in this regard? I’m really taking this thing to the heart.

    • sshakleboltt – From the stuff on the TA owners forum (I presume you’re on there, and if not its easy enough to join as your property is listed) their official line before they remove suspicious reviews is that they contact the reviewer in question to reverify their review.

      As you have the phone numbers (and other details?) of your reviewers maybe you could contact the reviewers in question to see if they’ve been asked to re-verify their reviews by TA – maybe they failed to do so. In theory if the reviewer checks out then TA shouldn’t remove the review. I don’t know if it works in practice.

      I suggest you go through the TA hoops, whether you like it or not, and follow their procedures through your TA owner’s management panel. I also think you should raise it on the TA owners’ forum. The forum is pants and there are 3 or 4 TA cronies on there from Canada who like to defend TA to the hilt, utterly blind to TA’s faults, but that’s the only course of action I can suggest.

      • sshakleboltt

        I’ve sent out emails to people I remember who reviewed for me and whom I’m constantly in touch with. Its a bit awkward to email guests you’ve had 2 years ago to check why for some reason Tripadvisor decided to take their review off their site.

        I’ve already had a thread on Owners forum and I think that’s also policed by “TA owns me” people and no decent answers.

        The problem as I see it is TA lack of transparency and more than that, there lack of communication with either the owner or the reviewer. If they would’ve asked me to verify these guests blatantly before taking down the reviews, I would have happily given them copies of their bill, phone numbers (or atleast email addresses), date of stay, passport copies with Indian Visa Stamps, photographs at my homestay and more! Instead they just decided to be the bigg bully and take the reviews OFF.

        The problem is, we hoteliers know how TA goes about itself. 98% of the masses don’t, and they just use TA blindly. That’s why I’m fretting over it so much. I know it would affect my business. I know TA matters, and that’s like the worst thing right now in the Travel Industry.

        I’m going through the Hoops but they just don’t reply, and when they do, they copy paste standard text with no info. I don’t know if they even manually change the name of the addressee or an automated “algorithmic” software does that for them too!

        (Thanks for you listening to my rants. I appreciate it, at least I’m not standing alone.)

  3. sshakleboltt

    Hi,

    I just stumbled upon this post. I am the owner of a property in New Delhi and want to clarify a couple of things. I DO NOT PAY to get reviews on any travel sites. If that were the case, I would not have just 15 reviews in 2 years. My digitalpoint (your screenshot has my photo!) account was hacked and a competitor was paying from my account to write fake reviews about my property!

    Can you beat that!
    Also about the bad publicity on twitter, I can give you the phone numbers of each and every person who has posted a review for my property, I don’t think any other property would be able to offer this challenge! Its good to see someone on the lookout for such stuff, but We are not one of those properties.

    • @sshakleboltt – Then you need to do something about it pretty quickly. Anyone who pays for reviews on TA deserves to be delisted forthwith. It’s a despicable practice, and this kind of ‘scam’ should be outlawed as soon as possible.

      I too can provide a telephone number, physical address and e-mail address of each and every one of our reviewers. Because we take those details at the point of booking.

      As an aside, I recently joined a Facebook Group with an agenda against the foul play practices of TA. I left when I became suspicious of the group owners’ ‘farming’ techniques to gather support for his ’cause’. He became a fan of my page, then left as soon as I joined his. Not the done thing. He blamed his ‘senility’, and unfamiliarity with Facebook. Although he’d quite happily created his own websites for his business, and Facebook page too. Hmmm. I refuse to be used by people for their own agendas, it’s selfish. I believe that a coherent group should be formed to force change upon TA. It shouldn’t be ‘me, me, me’, all the time. It has to be about US!

      I treat TA now as just another part of my business, but I will not pay for their services as I wasn’t given a choice whether I was listed or not.

      • LeChant – I could have a stab at who left a review, based on where they say they come from, but sometimes I can’t be sure as we have a high throughput of guests (being b&b rather than vacation rental). That’s the problem with anonymity and one of the reasons I dislike the TA system.

    • I am sure you’re right @sshakleboltt – most owners can’t give phone numbers of all the people who posted their reviews. I hope you manage to identify the competitor who hacked your forum account so as to pay people to write reviews for your property – good luck with that and keep us posted.

  4. I suffered three fake reviews which I have never managed to remove until now. I tried to contact trip advisor but the space for putting comments is not enough to write my explanations regarding the fake review, because I have to present some emails for them to see. I started reading around to see what other people are saying about Trip Advisor and revenge reviews.

    It is sad that hotel owners have to suffer because currently it seems like the customer has the right to say anything and the hotel owner or management cannot do anything to defend or put the matter right.

    I would appreciate a working solution.

    • If you challenge a review, you’re faced with a number of options for your objection. If you want to present any kind of documentary evidence (like emails) make sure you don’t use the reason ‘false review’ as TA then states it won’t accept “any unsolicited evidence” to suppport your contention if you choose this option.

  5. I don’t know if it’s a new developement in TA but I’ve seen a critical review on a hotel at Caen and there was a reply from the hotel proprietor.

  6. It seems that the UK hospitality industry at last is taking some action against “anonymous reviews” and presenting a case against TripAdvisor to the European Commission.

    Bob Cotton, chief executive of the British Hospitality Association, said that they were seeking to persuade the EU Commission to update the rules governing website reviews to ensure that they have been posted by genuine guests, and not by rivals or people out to cause mischief.

    Hospitality industry leaders in Europe recently called for the rest of Europe to adopt the same levels of review authentification that are already in operation in Germany. I wonder if TripAdvisor takes any notice of this?

    Cotton said: “Websites have a responsibility that the person has actually stayed at the hotel or dined at the restaurant. I have been having discussions in Brussels on behalf of the industry so that some sort of common sense should prevail, as it does on sites such as eBay.” He added: “You can’t ban these on-line comments – that is like de-inventing the atomic bomb – and I am in favour of all these methods of modern communication. But we need a fair crack of the whip.”

    He also said that he was aware of cases where owners had “smelt a rat”.

    “It might be that someone has picked up some business from a competitor and the competitor wasn’t very happy and they put a whole series of comments saying how bad the visit was by the people who stayed at the hotel. It can really affect a business.”

    Read more here:

    http://www.independent.co.uk/travel/news-and-advice/websites-list-of-dirtiest-hotels-provokes-anger-1885161.html

  7. I was the subject of a very defamatory & personally attacking review and sent documents to TA to prove the review was non factual.

    I was alleged to have charged for a 2 night that was cancelled at last minute, no charge was made. It was also alleged that a criminal offence took place, which CCTV evidence proved did not. TA refused to remove the review and only after legal advice was I allowed post a contradiction. What possible satisfaction could they have gained from that? if they allowed me post a contradiction they surely accepted the review to be unture, so why not remove it??

    Now another review is posted and describes somewhere else. (I) contacted the reviewer by PM and she describes the inside of an entirely different B&B, but again TA refuse to accept the documents and state that they do not accept documents from owners to prove whether a review is true or not.

    How can they claim get the truth then go, if they do not fact check reviews? Now I have decided that I have worked too hard to build up my business and my good name is at stake so I have hired a legal team who have been in contact with TA and I am going to take a case in court if necessary. TA believe I am bluffing, but I will be seeking compensation for loss of business and for damages to my good name & character. Will keep you informed.

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  10. We are launching a website in the UK in February with the aim
    of establishing a fighting fund to challenge Tripadvisor in the UK courts. We have already recruited a well regarded firm of specialist lawyers who have kindly agreed to provide some advice on a pro bono basis, but will ultimately be expensive.
    Nevertheless it is only by hauling TA into a court that anything will change, and god knows it needs to happen quickly.

    Meanwhile if you are a privately owned B & B as opposed to a Limited Company and you are based in a European country wher TA are registered as a company (They are in the UK), as a first step in the guerilla war,you have the right under data protection legislation to demand that TA reveal all the personal data they hold on you. This is not limited to what is published on their web site but should also include any internal memos or correspondence relating to you and your property.

    In the UK it costs £10. You can download the forms from the Data Protection website. Ten minutes work to fill em in and post to their UK office. You will find their address on the Companies House web site.

    If enough of you do it it will prove a major headache administratively, and possibly give them pause for thought.
    Dont just sit and complain about TA get proactive and actually do something. At the least It will make you feel a lot better

  11. I use Tripadvisor before I stay at a hotel.
    The reviews I trust more are the ones that have been posted by posters that have many reviews.
    I generally discount reviews by
    1. People who only have one post..especially if they are older posts.
    2. People who give glowing reports with nothing negative to say
    3. People who give negative reports with nothing good to say.

    My most trusted Posters are ones who have made lots of submissions..from different cities… and have both positive and negative things to say.
    It’s not likely they are the Management

    • I hear what you’re saying – but I don’t think that people who’ve made only one review are likely to be owners or stooges.

      For instance, almost all our guests are unaware of TripAdvisor, never mind our listing there, until they see mention of TA on our website front page. We encourage guests to leave a review on TripAdvisor, on the basis that we’re stuck with TripAdvisor whether we like it or not, so we may as well use it to best marketing advantage if we can (that’s the only reason we mention it on our website).

      The consequence is that most of the reviews we receive are from people who only heard about TA through staying with us. As a result the majority of people who have commented on us have probably never posted on TA before. In fact would not surprise me in the least if most of them never visit TA again after posting a review about us .

    • The person responsible for our ‘malicious’ review was a first-time poster. He made similar comments afterwards on the Manoir de Maffrecourt’s listing. Never been heard of since.

      Now, I not only know that he was blatantly lying, but I know why he was lying. It was malicious in intent from the word go.

      That’s the kind of thing that should be stamped out not just on Tripadvisor but elsewhere.

      Be aware that there’s a huge potential for similar on the new Google Side Wiki too.

  12. Interesting to note that TripAdvisor has recently altered it’s logo and slogan, perhaps in response to all the flak they have received over the past year concerning their slack review checking procedures.

    No longer “get the truth. then go” it is now “The world’s most trusted travel advice”.

    So at least they no longer claim that their reviews are true! I wonder how much longer they’ll be able to claim they are the most trusted?

    • It would seem to follow that if you can not get the truth, it is not to be trusted.

      That said, I do a lot of cross referencing before booking a VR. I do look at TripAdvisor, come up with an average of the “scores”, check that out on Facebook/Second Porch, google the names and look for other reviews and find out as much about the location as possible. I do the same thing in reverse for vacation renters inquiring if I am getting “bad vibes”.

      I feel strongly if all the rental guests looking for properties in my area (Sanibel Island, Florida) did the same thing with me, I would get even more bookings, but I know that they don’t. Especially those just looking at price. For many bargain hunters, cost is the only thing that counts.

      But I do pretty well so I am not really complaining.

      It’s just a little annoying to have so much anonymity surrounding reviews and comments that can negatively or positively effect choices when they just might be a bunch of baloney.

      • I don’t know what your experience is, but I would estimate that maybe 1 in 3 of those who tell us they’re going to post a review on TA actually do so. A lot of people say one thing and do another – or nothing. My guess is that most genuine reviews are by people who are extremely pissed-off or who have had a cracking time. Not all, but most.

        I also think that whether you loved or hated somewhere isn’t necessarily down to the actual standards of the hotel – it also depends on expectations, and whether you’re a grumpy bugger by nature or an easy-going type who’s chuffed just to find there are sheets on the bed.

        I have never posted a review of places I’ve stayed. I’ve occasionally thought about it but in the end I either forgot or couldn’t be bothered!

    • I do reviews pretty often, on TripAdvisor and elsewhere. But I agree that I am motivated to do them when either I am particularly happy or particularly unhappy. I try to keep my reviews balanced, though, which ever direction I am coming from. But I must admit I do do the reviews fairly anonymously. If some one were really intent on tracking my identity they could, it’s just not that apparent on first read.

  13. You may (or may not) be interested to hear what it’s like from the other end.
    A few months ago we stayed in a self-catering cottage and had a generally pleasant holiday in adequate, if unimpressive, accommodation. We left feedback on TA that amounted to *** (average), with 4 stars for all categories except cleanliness which we gave 3 stars for. We said “yes” we would recommend to others, we complimented the property on several things and then mentioned that the decor was tired and needed upgrading.

    And that was that until just recently we received a letter threatening legal action unless we removed our “defamatory” statements immediately.

    I can understand proprietors’ frustration at malicious reviews, but this guy is asking to become known as the cottage owner with the tired decor who sues his guests – is this a smart move?

    • Based on what you say, it sounds like an utterly dumb move on the owner’s part. My response would be two words, second word “off”.

    • @ ‘O’ – you’re right. On the owner’s part, it was stupid of him to think that that’s the way to respond. To any of us ‘normal’ gite/accommodation owners/providers, that seems like a perfectly acceptable criticism, and one we would certainly take notice of, and respond to in a professional manner. We’d then look at redecorating.

      Unwittingly though, you’ve touched on one of the very points I dislike about TA in particular, but the internet in general. You yourself haven’t left many clues as to your identity, which can lead to responses such as you witnessed. I personally find it very difficult to give credibility to statements where the person making it appears to be afraid to ‘back it up’ with even basic personal details, such as a name, sorry.

      The anonymity that pervades TA, and other sites, doesn’t give much hope that any of the reviews can be taken seriously and that’s a great shame.

    • It’s hard to believe a vacation rental owner would go to this length over a relatively benign review. Perhaps they are just rattling sabers to scare you off. Even so, it’s a bad strategy and does not reflect well on them at all.

      I have written negative reviews when I felt it was honest and appropriate and have fought negative reviews (not on my own properties but on the complex where the condo is located) when I felt what was written was false. None of those false comments have yet to be deleted, and it was pretty apparent those people never stayed at the complex.

      But because TA is so reluctant to remove a blatantly dishonest review, I now have my own reservations in believing the positive write ups.

      I continue to use social media, specifically Facebook and Second Porch, to try to get honest reactions to an accommodation from a rental guest perspective. And, with my owner’s hat on, I rely on them to get a better sense of the rental guest inquiring.

  14. Hi to all…We had the same problem several times…T.A. accepts comments and also defamatory comments made by “anonymous” traveller but they didn’t publish our reply (no anonymous)…

    This is the e.mail we sent to T.A. but NO answer till now…..only 1 e.mail: “We cannot publish your reply cause it doesn’t respect our Criteria”!!!

    Our e.mail to T.A.

    We found this review in T.A. made by an anonymous which is ILLEGAL and Defamatory
    TITLE: “Believe me don’t stay there” Made on November 19, 2009
    http://www.tripadvisor.es/ShowUserReviews-g187890-d272174-r49576692-Giorgio_s_House-Palermo_Sicily.html#CHECK_RATES_CONT

    I don’t know which criteria you use to publish the reviews of Anonimows people that of course didn’t prove that stayed in the places they commented.

    the comment made was DEFAMATORY and that we are disturbed that T.A. would fail to notice this fact, specifically, that to say Mr Giorgio engaged in “stereotyping” is tantamount to calling you “a racist”, and it is unacceptable that T.A. would print such unedited comments, both in the interest of keeping your website free of inappropriate content.

    We wish that you move away that comment made by an Anonymous which is totally offensive and Illegal!

    You published: “I’m sure he will make up some crazy reasoning like he does with everyone else. Giorgio cares so much about his reputation, it’s a little crazy. Giorgio treated us terribly. He lied to us, stereotyped us, screamed at us, and worst of all – threatned us. It was insane and scary”

    Regards

    Giorgio’s House Palermo

    We also discovered …another awful comment wrote in the same way!(writing very badly about Palermo and us!)
    Comment made on July 12 by “Thetravelteacher” and (strange) the comment made on November 19 ….both persons from Canada (?) stayed in the same places in Balestrate and gave it a super rating!
    http://www.tripadvisor.it/ShowUserReviews-g187890-d272174-r34532731-Giorgio_s_House-Palermo_Sicily.html#CHECK_RATES_CONT

  15. The trouble with TA is the anonymity of the reviewers.

    This leads to false bad reviews by competitors and the aggrieved. Exaggerated, malicious reviews by disgruntled guests whose expectations can be completely out of line with what the establishment offers and who often don`t have the courage to complain at the time when something can be done. And finally many fake good reviews by establishments trying to improve their own ranking.

    I recently read of a guest house owner admitting to placing all the reviews on his place resulting in his B&B going to number one in TA ranking.

    At least with booking agents reviews (booking.com etc) you know the guest is genuine and because the site encourages reviews there tends to be more of them so extreme bad reviews are balanced with good reviews.

    • I agree with you. The fact that TripAdvisor gives priority positioning for top rated establishments also exacerbates the problem, even encourages cheating, as one bad review can knock a good place off top spot.

    • It appears that booking.com is only for hotels and all the reviews are anonymous ones written by hotel guests. That brings back the conversation to the value of anonymous reviews.

      My two properties on Sanibel Island, Florida have lots of great reviews on both TripAdvisor and Flipkey and enjoy a very high rank on both. They are all genuine reviews, but only I know that. And the reviews are essentially anonymous. I know who they are on FK as the owner has to submit the name and date of the guest and then FK sends an invitation to review. Any one can post a review, positive or negative on TA, and there is no telling what the motivation is when someone gets on there griping.

      Unless you use Second Porch or other social media where the people who are commenting are revealing information about themselves— to some degree at least— then you really don’t know who is ranting or raving as the case may be on almost all the traditional VR portal sites.

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  17. It would seem to me that TA has different people administrating the reviews, hence the discrepancy in applying ‘their policy’. In fact it would seem that their policy is very flexible and varies depending on the day of the week.

    However, as a forum owner myself, it can be difficult to decide what is allowable and what is not. If you open a forum for free speech, just how far does ‘free’ go? What can you delete? I like the idea that there is a right of reply so if a complaint is made, there should be a chance to put the other side.

    I am not defending TA in anyway, mainly because their resolution process is biased towards the review and not the owner. Also the time delay between owner response and TA’s action is too long. But detecting a false review is not an easy task.

    There should be some kind of referral system in place that allows a guest a certain amount of time to make a comment then shut that process down for them. Allowing reviews to be made 5 years later is ridiculous!

    I am not a gite owner myself but I would suggest a group action such as a petition to ask TA to change their practices to reflect the site users requirments.

    If they don’t then don’t use them anymore. If they refuse to act and remove your site from their database then you should be able to enforce it using French law, check out the CNIL website for more (WWW.CNIL.FR) – it is similar to the data protection act in the UK.

    Sorry for the length but I just wanted to add my pennies worth

    Bob

    • Unfortunately, owners do not have a choice whether their property appears on TripAdvisor or not – all an owner or manager can do if there’s a review they believe to be false, malicious or whatever is to work within the TA system to mitigate damage. There’s no way to stop people posting reviews. Since I don’t have a choice over whether I’m on or not, I’ve added pics etc of our place to present it to best effect – but I never asked to be on there in the first instance!

      • Does TA really not have any options to remove yourself from their site? I am sure this is against the law! I am sure it would go against the CNIL guidelines for websites. I would be happy to work with someone to investigate this further and find out which French agency would be responsible for enforcing a removal process.

    • From TripAdvisor’s site (reference below)

      How do I remove my listing?

      Because we want to be a complete source of travel information for our members, we will not remove a listing at the management’s request. If your property is permanently closed and you’d like to remove your listing, contact us. We accept reviews for all properties that are listed on our site.

      http://www.tripadvisor.com/help/how_do_i_remove_my_listing

      I would actually rather get the system improved and get dodgy reviews kicked off – but it does seem remarkable that they can list anyone they want without permission. I’m no legal beagle, so I’ve no idea whether they can do this.

      • I don’t want to continue this too far here but, if they carry information about a company or individual then they must abide by the data protection rules, I think that would be under EU law.

        If a individual or company requests that all information about them that has been recorded with or with out their permission and it contains personal information to be removed then it has to be. I would assume that it would have to be done in a certain time limit.

        So to all commenters here, do you want the system corrected or do you wish to leave the TA system completely and have all data deleted?

  18. Hi Phil
    Having been terribly ill for a week now, I have been following this awful story from my bed. Sadly, I have just not been up to posting a sensible comment – but I have been behind you 100% and agree with all that has been said thus far.

    I feel for you both, I really do. The problem is the internet is populated with loonies who really should not be allowed a keyboard, let alone internet access. Sites like TripAdvisor simply bring these individuals out of their silence, before the internet they probably played with their newspaper cuttings.

    Just last week, on the TripAdvisor Forum, one of my guests responded to a question that had been posed by someone. One of the regulars obviously took exception to having someone else impart some first hand experience on what he thought was his patch (he is labelled a local expert!!) and went ‘digging’. He found that the person who replied shared the surname with a person who is credited with taking a few photographs on my website. ‘Local Expert’ smelled a rat and made a rather facetious comment, which rather put off my guests, and so my guest will not ever be contributing to the TA Forum again. I complained to TA, and I left a reply on the forum – TA were not interested.

    I recognise this situation is no where near as damaging to me as your situation is to you and Jude, professionally and personally. But I think it does show TA just do not know what they are doing with inappropriate content, if they could even recognise it.

    From another Forum I belong to I know that the Forum owners/ISP are ultimately responsible for views expressed on a Forum. A Forum’s owner can be prosecuted for slanderous, libellous, racist, anti-Semitic, etc. comments. So it is their responsibility to remove such defamatory material.

    I can not believe TA reviews are any different and subject to special protection. It would be interesting to get some legal advice on your situation. If there is a review that an owner disputes, and the owner can demonstrate the interpretation offered in the review is factually incorrect – as in your case – I do not believe TA would have a legal leg to stand on.

    TripAdvisor was a good idea, so was Ebay. But all of these sites get taken over by crooks and cooks, and their owners are seduced by the money their site earns. And it is us who suffers.

    Bon courage!
    Thomas

    • Some other travel sites which allow guest reviews ask the owner (before he has seen the review and before it is published) to confirm whether the reviewer has stayed there. The review still can be subsequently published under a pseudonym. TA has no such safeguards – a serious flaw in their totally anonymous, unaccountable review method.

    • Hello
      That “expert” was me. I remember questioning the names of the poster and photographer. I can’t find the posting to see the details but I think I questioned the link by PM and not by posting on the forum.
      The posting came around the same time as several glowing and practically identical reports for Cdb Tours guiding and b&b from first time posters. That makes regulars smell rats. The poster of your report was I think a first time poster and with the name connecting made me suspicious.
      Sorry if your guest was disgruntled.
      I dont have any propriatery claim on the normandy area as expert. I give advice and learn a lot from other posters.

  19. any review on trip advisor site is there responsibility and should be dealt with fairly.
    They should be made aware that false, non proven information about a person left of their site would leave them open to libel.
    All reviews should be removed during investigation and the actual existence of the said reviewer confirmed before the review is re-placed, and then only with the permission of the gite/bb in question.
    I think trip advisor are leaving themselves wide open for libel and defamation of character lawsuits.

    • Trip Advisor has a baker’s dozen of get-out clauses and disclaimers to avoid libel suits. Here’s part of it:

      TripAdvisor takes no responsibility and assumes no liability for any Content posted, stored or uploaded by you or any third party, or for any loss or damage thereto, nor is TripAdvisor liable for any mistakes, defamation, slander, libel, omissions, falsehoods, obscenity, pornography or profanity you may encounter. As a provider of interactive services, TripAdvisor is not liable for any statements, representations or Content provided by its users in any public forum, personal home page or other Interactive Area.

      I have no idea whether anyone has ever tested them in a court of law. It would probably take a major player with the resources/legal department to bring a lawsuit of that type.

      • The problem with all their disclaimers…the businesses that are the targets have not agreed to their terms.

        This is like the twilight zone- we have had major problems with Trip Advisor. In July 08 we had an actual person from bedandbreakfast.com stay with us and she did a review on TA. At that time, we didn’t understand the devious practices of TA and we would occasionally check the site. When we noticed this particular review had disappeared (along with 4 other decent reviews) we contacted the reviewer via email asking her if it had been her review that had been removed. At the same time, we received an email from TA informing us that we had violated their policies and that we would be receiving a warning on our listing. Long story short-The reviewer contacted TA-once they realized who they were dealing with, they reinstated her review and sent her an email apologizing for the “delay” in posting her review. We have no idea who wrote the other reviews and they have never been reinstated. We were also moved to the bottom (eventhough our rating is still above the other hotels).

        The point being is that we were accused of having very similar reviews posted which their algorithm flagged…wouldn’t people staying at the same time of the year have similar experiences? Their algorithm did not work when it flagged the bedandbreakfast.com reviewer..so it has been proven to be,a that very least, unreliable & flawed. Yet they hide behind their “secret” algorithm which they developed.

        TA will not remove businesses, uses our business information and images (without our permission) for profit…how can this possibly continue to be legal?

        The laws haven’t caught up to technology, but I truly believe Trip Advisor’s days are numbered.

        Do you all know that they are now soliciting businesses to pay for a listing…doesn’t that scream suspicious?-

        This is the scenario:
        *they allow (or employ people to write) scathing reviews
        *they will not take a business off the site
        *they will not remove scathing or fake reviews
        *they will not post a business reply that hints of the validity of the review
        *they will not post a business reply that questions TA’s tactics
        *they are owned by Expedia where you click through from TA to make a reservation
        *and now they want you to pay for a listing?

        Doesn’t anyone else see the connection? Is this extortion-pay for a listing or else? How many businesses will continue to pay if bad reviews are posted? Why would a business pay for a listing if TA can’t guarantee verification of reviewers..or do they offer something else…?

        Trip Advisor has admitted to posting fake reviews-what else have they done? Are they using the same tactics as Yelp (who is being sued)?

        Since they are now asking for payment…how can the continue to hold the rest of us hostage…?

        Trip Advisor has become more and more dangerous:
        Total power=corruption

        Anonymity breeds deception.

        They can do a verification process but then they wouldn’t have the traffic-so what incentive do they have? The hospitality industry needs to fight back and force them to clean up their act or be shut down!

      • TJ, anyone else who have pictures used without permisison…

        On the Internet there is something called fair use. That is using small portions of text or a picture for use on a site. This is used so that sites can quote posts and pages with out fear of being taken to task over copyright issues.

        However, I would of thought that if a letter/email was sent to the hosting company of TA stating that pictures/private details/portions of text from gite websites have been used with out prior permission then a DMCA notice could be issued. For those who don’t know, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act can be used to force a website to remove content or face being shut down if they do not comply. DMCA requests are sent direct to the hosting company when the website has not complied with copyright removal requests. If enough people were to follow this through then TA would have to remove pictures and text or face fines – possibly even having the site closed down.

        Remember, make the request of TA first to remove your pictures/text first and keep all copies of the emails you sent and their replies. Give them a certain time to respond or comply, when that fails contact their hosting company direct with a DMCA request.

        More on DMCA can be found here…http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_Millennium_Copyright_Act

        It is used by the film industry all the time to remove content from YouTube.

  20. Arthur Frommer is really after Trip Advisor for this too. Do you read his blog? (frommers.com/blog).

    I just treat the reviews like scores in the Olympics: I throw out the best and the worst and average the rest. What I wonder about is when someone claims to have gotten bed bugs in a good hotel.

    • Copied from Blog Home Page:

      Thanks for your comments – I’ve noticed that Frommer is not a fan of TripAdvisor but I guess we have to bear in mind that it is a rival to TripAdvisor with a different system of paid, expert raters.

      Personally, I tend to believe professional accommodation reviewers rather than anonymous, uncorroborated and unchecked reviews on TripAdvisor; but given TripAdvisor’s dominance of user generated travel reviews, it would be good to see them take a lead and put more effort and resource into correcting false reviews.

      • Does any one know if Frommer…or any one else…uses “expert raters” for vacation rentals?

        I think many people who read the reviews on TA throw out the best and worst, and there are others who take the reviewer totally at their word.

        The two families I lost as bookings wrote back to say that they were no longer interested in my complex specifically because of the comments made on the TA reviews.

        Again, I think those comments were from non existent “rental guests”, but for all I know the two parties who did not book my place (which they said they loved) were a sham as well.

        There are some weird folks out there who just like to play games and jerk people’s chains. They truly need to get a life.

        And, yes, Frommer is territorial. His business protects his own. His budget travel site does allow people to have their own reviews but if you get into territory where the site managers think you are competing with them, they delete your review….without even telling you!

        I’ll keep trying options, but social media seems to be the way to get the fairest play.

      • Sorry to hear your story. That’s the problem when reviews are anonymous and the owner cannot confirm whether the “reviewer” has ever visited. It leads to a stand-off where no-one can tell what is real and what is fiction.

  21. I have lost at least 2 bookings (that I know of for certain) because of negative reviews on TripAdvisor. The bad reviews were not reviews of my unit, but of my complex. And like the situation described in the original post, the reviews appeared to come right on top of one another although all the preceding ones were quite positive. Additionally, they mimic each other in tone and content. One of them was written an entire year after the “reviewer” stayed at the complex.

    Until now, I just assumed it it was a negative spin with one reviewer just picking up a previous reviewer’s gripes.

    But reading these posts makes me wonder if, indeed, those “rental guests” were real at all. It would be so easy for a scammer intent on damaging a VR’s or complex’s reputation to say they were a guest when they may not even have stayed in the unit they disparage or at the complex that they pan.

    I am not TripAdvisor does anything to authenticate the reviews that appear there unless and until there is a complaint. And that is a problem.

    Flipkey, TA’s new partner, appears to have a lot of filters in place to catch false reviews of vacation rentals, but even there a clever deceiver who knows how to side step filters could probably get through.

    Since I get bookings as a result of TA and FK, I am not about to abandon them.

    What I am doing for my own piece of mind and for that of rental guests is pushing my properties through social networking, particularly Facebook and FB’s application, Second Porch. These venues promote transparent and honest communication. My rental guests will certainly have a realistic view of me and my vacation rentals by seeing people that they know (or know of) write evaluations of my places. Conversely, I will have a betters sense of my vacation rental guest when they come through this process.

    Until now, the rental guest had all the power of observation. They could see the property, read the reviews and ask questions. While VR owners could ask questions, how do you verify a rental inquiry? Is this a real person? Am I one of a hundred properties they are looking at? Will they be a considerate guest?

    Second Porch is a tremendous assistance in taking the guess work out of an inquiry and a booking and will, in time, give all other VR portals a run for their money. When you get right down to it, trust is a central issue in the vacation rental business, and the channels that help to test and establish that trust are going to rise to the top.

  22. It is outrageous that ta take so long to check whether a review is genuine or not after being alerted by the property owner that it is fake.

    However, I would point out that as a user of ta I would skim through most of the reviews of a hotel or whatever I was possibly going to stay in. And in so doing, it is usually possible to work out which reviews I would believe. And I think that the majority of ta users would also sort the wheat from the chaff when reading reviews.

    Your other reviews are all excellent and imo negate the negative one imo, even if I had not known it was fake.

    Your idea for a sandbox is excellent. Perhaps you could start an online poll and get other holiday home owners/b&b owners etc. to give their opinion on a sandbox?

    There are many poll creators you could use either one from wordpress or one of the many free ones on line. Just google and chose.

    Well done for taking a stand and alerting people to the way ta deal with owners.

  23. You can’t withdraw a listing from TA by any other means than by closing down your business. ‘Guests’ can write a review of a property for up to 5 years AFTER they stayed there! FIVE years. Owners change, dynamics change. Everything changes after five years.

    We’ve been on the receiving end of either a malicious, or a false ‘review’ ourselves. TA at first removed it, as they agreed with me initially that it didn’t meet their ‘review policies’. Great, thought I, only to be smacked in the teeth a few days later when the same ‘person’ left practically the same ‘review’ of our place. This then put all subsequent reviews out of whack, making them all seem a bit silly really. TA’s response? Zilch. Only to tell me that MY own management response didn’t meet with their criteria as I called the ‘reviewer’ by his chosen pen-name, therefore making it ‘personal’.

    You’re bloody right it’s personal! When you work as hard as Phil & Jude, Susan, ourselves and countless others, in an industry that serves only to help guests have a fantastic time, it’s a kick in the teeth for what amounts to very poorly paid hours, commitment and passion.

    It’s a good job that returning guests are everything to us all, giving the lie to the malicious and fake ‘reviews’ that unfortunately blight our businesses from time to time. Thank God that we don’t all depend on TA and their archaic ‘reviews policies’ for our living!

    Phil, you have our sympathies and support. If there’s anything we as owners can do to try and force a change of said ‘policies’, then count us in!

    It’s time this nonsense stopped!

    Stu & Syb Bradley.
    Le Chant d’Oiseau
    Mouliherne
    France.

    • I’m not sure if it’s a good or a bad thing to know we’re not alone in our shoddy treatment from TripAdvisor!

      I didn’t know until I raised this that so many others felt so strongly about it, too. And you’re right, fake reviews are personal for us but just an inconvenience for TA when we complain about them.

      Interesting that you had your response rejected for such trivial reasons – after they lost my response to “midatlantic” I resubmitted and made the mistake of quoting from the fake review: result? MY RESPONSE WAS REJECTED. What kind of a joke policy forbids you from responding directly to false claims? Only on TripAdvisor.

      As for TA taking any notice and removing the fake review, never mind putting in improved practices for the future, well, we’ll just have to wait and see.

      But don’t hold your breath – my bet is that TripAdvisor doesn’t give a fig what owners think.

  24. Malicious reviews are horrible and I really hope you get the second review deleted too. It can’t be that hard to check IP addresses and investigate proof that someone has actually stayed. I had a problem with the fact that TA deleted a genuine good review posted by one of my guests, they are automatically scanned and this one was deleted as the TA robot thought it was false (it wasn’t). There was no trace of it and they were totally unapologetic about it.
    Good luck!

    • I would like to point out that despite the superficial similarities, La Vache and I are in no way related. :)

      Through my own experience I think that TripAdvisor actually does not care too much about the quality of reviews – they do the bare minimum they have to, probably all automated checks with no human involvement, and if someone questions the accuracy of a review then they provide absolutely nothing in terms of feedback during their so-called investigation – so how can you or I tell if they are doing anything at all? It does make you wonder.

      I have the distinct impression that rather than get to the truth, they just want people with grievances and queries to give up and go away.

  25. Totally sympathise with you there. A word of comfort – I speak to many clients all the time and most seem to be getting increasingly savy and seem to have learnt to disregard ‘out of place’ reviews.

    Good work though. They need calling on this sort of nonsense. Trip Advisor always fall back on the line that a mass of good reviews cover the odd bad one – but for a smal place like yours this is totally unfair and the whole process has a tendancy towards tedious homogenisation…

    • Thank you for taking the time and trouble to read the blog – we are indeed small, but perfectly formed. :)

      It’s reassuring to hear that people are learning to take TA reviews with a pinch of salt. I was never a fan as the typical reviewer has never been a typical visitor.

      This is my first experience of what it is like to be to embroiled in a TA “investigation” over fake reviews – I have to say, I’m not impressed by their incompetence and the lack of concern.

      The silence is deafening!

  26. @ohcassis

    You cannot remove a listing from tripadvisor they give this reason

    “Because we want to be a complete source of travel information for our members, we will not remove a listing at the management’s request. If your property is permanently closed and you’d like to remove your listing, contact us. We accept reviews for all properties that are listed on our site”

    There should be a better verification process for allowing reviews

    • That was what I thought, regarding removal of listings – just not possible. I wouldn’t want to remove ours as it happens; I want to raise a protest over the current service and to see the system improved. I think the sandbox and a VERY limited right of veto for owners would be a step in the right direction. :)

  27. Most fans of trip advisor are aware there may be false reviews or indeed disgruntled guests that dont reflect the majority. Provided you have many reviews many people will take the majority views. I have stayed at some fabulous places that I am very happy with, but there are still some bad reviews for these places that I just cant understand. It’s life that some people feel the need to sabotage such sites with false claims to get back at you, but I would say if you are confident about your level of service then you have nothing to worry about.

    • I hope you’re correct in your assessment of the average TA user. However, when you’re the owner it’s still galling to see a crappy review like that right at the top of the list – doesn’t exactly give a good impression!

      I can imagine that some people may not read any further than that first rotten review.

  28. Sorry to hear about your poor experience. Such a shame! Thankfully you were monitoring the situation and stayed on top of it.

  29. Keep at it! Don’t give up and let them ‘win’ because you don’t want to devote more effort to it – get others on your side if you can!

    You’ve inspired me to blog so thanks – http://www.nikkipilkington.com/blog/2009/09/25/protection-and-management-of-your-online-reputation/

    Keep us informed!

    • Interesting blog, as ever. I realised I couldn’t take advantage of it when I read “Online Negative Reputation Management. We don’t make a big deal out of it, as it’s not cheap“. LOL!

  30. This is not rare – I worked in a hotel and I know for definite of several malicious reviews that were made about usby one person who used different identities. It’s easy to give a place a bad name. Also, it’s too easy for some hotels to post fake good reviews. This has been discussed here

    http://current.newsweek.com/budgettravel/2009/06/tripadvisor_tries_to_respond_t.html

    http://www.complaintsboard.com/complaints/tripadvisorcom-c130193.html

    • Yes, I’ve seen those myself – when it happened I googled Trip Advisor Fake Reviews and a number of articles came up.

      Problem is that TA can always hide behind the excuse that they can’t prove a review is fake – the “investigation” process is so opaque that you can’t even tell if they are actually doing anything.

      Where a review is so obviously out of kilter with all other reviews of a property, I think it is beholden of TripAdvisor to give the OWNER the benefit of the doubt rather than publish unverifiable slurs.

  31. I’ve had similar issues with a hotel client we have worked for with malicious reviews when a guest feels afronted, often after bad behaviour on the guest’s part! It would seem to me be to sensible that as soon as a hotel queries a bad review that the review is sandboxed, maybe with a max limit of 5 sandboxings a year to prevent a hotel keep removing all bad reviews?!

    • I agree – I think the sandbox idea is a good one. I don’t know if you read the whole post (sorry it’s so long!) but TripAdvisor deleted my suggestion for that very thing. Your idea of limiting its use by owners should prevent abuse.

  32. I think you got a very rough deal there, the 2 people writing were obviously in cahoots. As for TA, even as a reviewer, I had very bad experience with them (they translated a review of mine quite wrongly). Their response is always to wear anybody down – you have to write so ofrten, then they don’t respond, or lose the stuff, or there’s some technical problem…. I think you should consider withdrawing from TA altogether. Good luck!