In a new twist to a story that first appeared in the press in September, hotelier Deborah Sinclair is now reported to be suing TripAdvisor after the travel website “red flagged” the Riverside hotel in Evesham, Worcestershire, effectively accusing the hotel of manipulating its system by posting fake positive reviews.
Tripadvisor may be required to disclose the information that it relies on to “red flag” properties on its website and to prove that the hotel is responsible for the reviews.
TripAdvisor posts “red flags” against properties that it believes have manipulated reviews on its site; the warning says that TripAdvisor “has reasonable cause to believe that individuals or entities associated with or having an interest in this property may have interfered with traveler reviews and/or other popularity index for this property.”
“Red Flags” are rare but under UK legislation owners could be subject to charges of criminal fraud if it can be proved that they encouraged false positive reviews in exchange for free stays or other rewards, or posted fake positive reviews about themselves. In addition to the legal threat the disgrace and loss of reputation of simply having a “red flag” could cost a hotel thousands of pounds worth of business.
The Riverside certainly seems to polarise opinion, as this screenshot shows.
However, the Riverside is not the only hotel or restaurant with such a weirdly skewed rating and divided opinion per se is not proof of cheating. Furthermore, the posting of reviews from the hotel’s IP address would probably not be proof that the owner or staff had posted reviews, since guests are able do the same using the hotel’s ethernet connections or WiFi. Within its advice section, TripAdvisor recommends “guests submit a review when they return home from their trip. A review submitted from a hotel lobby computer” (or WiFi) “may appear to be written by staff”. Of course, few people read this.
Whatever the truth where the Riverside is concerned, if TripAdvisor cannot prove that the owner was responsible for faking reviews, then this case could eventually lead to it being forced to withdraw all “red flag” claims from its website or face further lawsuits.