TripAdvisor has been ordered by the Advertising Standards Authority to remove a number of marketing claims from its UK website. This follows complaints to the UK advertising watchdog that the TripAdvisor website includes false claims such as “Read real reviews from real travellers”, “TripAdvisor offers trusted advice from real travellers”, “Reviews you can trust” and “More than 50 million honest travel reviews and opinions from travellers around the world”.
The ASA ruled that consumers might be fooled by fraudulent posts since reviews on TripAdvisor could be posted “without any form of verification” and its claims of trustworthiness were misleading.
“Don’t major on trustworthiness if fake reviews can appear”, said Guy Parker, ASA chief executive.
The ASA findings stated: “We noted that reviewers were asked to agree to a declaration that their review was their genuine opinion of the hotel and that they had no personal or business affiliation with the hotel, or been offered an incentive to write a review for it.
“(But) We also noted that reviewers were not asked to similarly confirm that they had no competitive interest in the place they were reviewing, or were posting a review on behalf of a competitor or other interested party, and we did not consider that agreeing to a declaration in itself would necessarily prevent non-genuine reviews from being posted on the site.
“Notwithstanding that, we understood that reviews could be placed on the site without any form of verification, and that whilst TripAdvisor took steps to monitor and deal with suspicious activity, it was possible that non-genuine content would appear on the site undetected.”
It concluded that certain TripAdvisor advertising slogans and claims were misleading because they implied that consumers could be assured that all review content on the TripAdvisor site was genuine, when that was not in fact the case.
It told TripAdvisor “not to claim or imply that all the website were from real travellers, or were honest, real or trusted”.
It warned that the issue of fake reviews was particularly a problem if a business only had a small number of reviews, and that offering owners a right to reply did not address the problem.
“This should be regarded as a benchmark ruling which applies to all web sites which make claims about the reliability of their user-created content,” the ASA’s spokesman Matthew Wilson said.
Despite the ruling, TripAdvisor downplayed the risk of customers being misled. “We have confidence that the 50 million users who come to our site every month trust the reviews they read on TripAdvisor, which is why they keep coming back to us in increasingly larger numbers to plan and have the perfect trip,” it said in a statement.
The tripadvisor.co.uk homepage now contains no reference to the word “trust” and simply describes itself as “the world’s largest travel site”. However, its international tripadvisor.com website, also visible in the UK, continues to describe its content as the “world’s most trusted travel advice” and that “you’ll find real hotel reviews you can trust”.