the tripadvisor “Red Flag”
Recently there was a flurry of news articles concerning a hotel in Ireland that was caught rigging its ranking on TripAdvisor by asking staff to post positive reviews from home. This set me to thinking, how many owners has TripAdvisor caught pimping their own properties?
TripAdvisor Official Policy for Fake Reviews
TripAdvisor says it “exercises a zero tolerance policy for fake reviews” and makes a great play of detection measures, without saying exactly what these are.
With that armoury, you’d think it would be nigh on impossible to get a fake past them.
So are all TripAdvisor reviews “kosher”?
Of course not. I recently spotted a small B&B property that had no TripAdvisor reviews until the end of June 2010. In 4 months from July to October it has received 18 reviews; these were all in French until end September/beginning of October when 4 English reviews appeared, all by people who had just joined TripAdvisor, all of whom had done nothing other than review this one property, and all reviews 5 stars.
The latest English review, purporting to be from the USA, contains this line:
“My wife and myself were royally baffled by this unexpected eclipse of hospitality. Rare for French hosts, English is spoken very well.“
Spoken any better than the writer, I wonder? That review was preceded by this from a supposed resident of New York:
“The place is the fusion of high class and style – you can find yourself in the room with bed from Bali (put some colonial fumes in your evening) and the same time you can observe Mac book as a decoration over your head during the breakfast time. If you are still deciding where to stay visiting Pxxxx – don’t hesitate, Cxxxxx is the place to go !“
The sudden surge of reviews by “virgin” reviewers, the universal praise, the bizarre language used etc. strongly suggests these reviews are unreliable – but whatever common sense says, nothing can be proved.
The fact is, if reviews are written by an owner and/or friends, they’ll get away with it unless they make a stupid mistake.
So How Many cheating owners has Tripadvisor caught?
If you search TripAdvisor reviews for properties that have been “red flagged” by TripAdvisor , there are about 280 results for all listings on TripAdvisor worldwide.
That’s not just hotels: it includes B&Bs, inns, restaurants, vacation rentals, amusement parks, tourist attractions, resorts – everything on TripAdvisor.
That’s 280 properties out of about 450,000 listings on TripAdvisor. 0.06% or one in 1,600.
That is an extraordinarily small proportion and suggests that TripAdvisor is not actually very good at all at catching cheats and frauds, despite threats.
Now you see it – now you don’t
Even when it thinks it has “caught” someone, TripAdvisor sometimes changes its mind soon after. In a couple of minutes, I found 2 cases where TA had red flagged a property and then withdrawn it. Here’s a cached snapshot of “Rome Empire Tours Vatican Museum” red flagged in August 2010:
And here it is now – the red flag has gone.
Another example is the “Aparthotel Iosefin Residence Timisoara” which was red flagged on October 25th:
But now has a clean bill of health:
Odd – were they considered to have served their penalty in that period? Or did TA decide it hadn’t sufficient evidence to make it stick?
So – can owners get away with fake reviews?
The answer has to be yes: the same flaws in the checking systems that allow some owners to be victims of malicious reviews can be exploited by other, unscrupulous owners.
TripAdvisor mainly spots fake reviews by automated means – checking the reviewer’s email address, IP address and cookies on their computer against their database of other accounts. All of these can be circumvented by anyone with a modicum of knowledge of how these things work. Other things that may flag a property for closer inspection include a sudden flurry of reviews, repeated patterns of words in several reviews, etc.
TripAdvisor’s weaknesses are no secret and are being used to abuse the system all the time.