Tag Archives: red flag

TripAdvisor Sued Over “Red Flags”

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.

Source: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2053221/Hotelier-sues-TripAdvisor-accusations-wrote-fake-positive-reviews-causes-revenue-plummet-75.html

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Cove Hotel “Bribery” and TripAdvisor “Blacklists”

Cove Hotel “Bribery” and TripAdvisor “Blacklists”

Once again TripAdvisor is in the headlines for fake reviews – this time a hotel in Cornwall, England is accused of bribing customers to post positive reviews.

The Cove Hotel Cornwall flatly denies any bribery* (see end of article) saying it had no motivation to “pimp” its reviews as it was already highly placed and that the incentive was to reward loyal customers.  

One thing is certain – there’s nothing new or remarkable about fake and fixed reviews on TripAdvisor.  This blog has exposed dirty dealings around TripAdvisor reviews several occasions and I was going to let this one pass – until I noticed a curious statement in several articles concerning TripAdvisor and “blacklists”. 

“Blacklist” Facts Wrong

Several articles (see foot of page for links to articles) claim that “TripAdvisor has already blacklisted 30 properties worldwide for suspicious reviews”. 

“Just 30 properties”, I thought? “That can’t be correct! I’m sure it’s more.”

  • First of all, TA doesn’t have a “blacklist”, which suggests it bans properties  from its site.  Rather it “red flags” properties which it suspects have rigged reviews, printing a warning next to them
  • Secondly, I checked back to an article on this blog in November 2010 and at that time 280 hotels etc. were “red flagged” by TripAdvisor.

So had TripAdvisor has removed 250 “red flags” since 2010, leaving only 30? 

TripAdvisor Red Flags

A Google search of the TripAdvisor site seems to show there are now as many as 13,500 properties “red flagged” however, clicking through the pages it actually stops at 270 (what’s going on, Google?).

On top of these properties, it is highly probable that many more underhand owners and managers get away with faking reviews and are never caught – it is hard to believe that TA catches the majority, as anyone with a basic grasp of internet protocol can overcome their checking procedures. 

Due to its dominance, there is a growing incentive for the unscrupulous to rig TA reviews and ratings for their own and competitor businesses, or for the malicious to do damage through fake or unwarranted reviews.

Meanwhile TA continues to buy out anyone it sees as potential threat – the latest is “Where I’ve Been“. 

A virtual monopoly like this is not healthy – the travel review market needs competition if it is to have any credibility.

 

The Cove Hotel Denies Accusations of Bribery

–  a spokesperson for the hotel says:

This is a perfect example of the media trying to create a story from nothing. It should be clearly stated that our hotel has received countless rave reviews from recognised publications such as The Times who recently voted us No 5 in their top 20 British Rooms, The Guardian in their Top 10 Hotels of the Decade, The Telegraph and countless other national publications.

It should also be duly noted that The Cove Cornwall received a Certificate of Excellence from TripAdvisor on May 27th, nearly one month prior to the set up of their Friends of The Cove Scheme. Why then should be have been in need of “bribing” customers to post positive reviews on their site? It simply makes no sense!

The press are forever themselves creating “incentives” for their readers to endorse their name and products to increase their customer reach. All we were trying to achieve, was to thank our loyal return customers, Brand Champions, in a tangible manner.

Also, the quoted statement made by the owner Lee Magner, used by both The Sunday Mirror & The Daily Mail, is inaccurate. We would very much like to see this problem resolved and are more than happy to respond to any and all queries.

Links to related articles 

Tripadvisor bribes: Hotel owners offer free rooms in return for glowing reviews

Daily Mail – Colin Fernandez – ‎Jul 11, 2011‎
As the world’s most influential hotel review website, TripAdvisor’s impact on the travel industry has long been clear. A good review can make or break a hotel. So perhaps it’s not surprising that hotels in Britain and abroad are
 

Punishments hotels abusing TripAdvisor face

Mirror.co.uk – Lucy Lawler – ‎Jul 9, 2011‎
HOTELS which are deemed to have misused TripAdvisor can be penalised in a variety of ways. THE website claims it has automated systems in place to spot fraud – and that its 40million users
 

TripAdvisor warns hotels over fake reviews

Comparecarhire.co.uk – Wes Lane – ‎Jul 11, 2011‎
Hotels are being warned by TripAdvisor that they risk being blacklisted if they are found to be offering incentives or bribes to visitors in return for a glowing review on the website. TripAdvisor currently has 45 million
 

TripAdvisor Scandal: Are Reviewers Being Reimbursed?

AOL Travel News – ‎Jul 11, 2011‎
The content of the travel review site TripAdvisor is under scrutiny days after it came to light that several hotels were reimbursing visitors for positive reviews. According to the Daily Mail, the website’s administrators are looking into whether or
 

Hotels ‘bribe guests for online reviews’ on Tripadvisor website with free

Daily Mail – Colin Fernandez – ‎Jul 10, 2011‎
Hotels in Britain and abroad are bribing guests to write glowing reviews on the TripAdvisor website in exchange for cash or cut-price rooms and meals. The website, which has 45million reviews of more than 500000 destinations,
 

Cornwall hotel bribes guests to write good reviews on TripAdvisor.com

Mirror.co.uk – Ben Griffiths, Lucy Lawler – ‎Jul 9, 2011‎
A British hotel is bribing guests to write positive reviews on the TripAdvisor website in exchange for discounted rooms and cut-price meals. Customers at The Cove in Cornwall are offered
 

TripAdvisor takes action against fake reviews

Travolution – Brad Girtz – ‎Jul 11, 2011‎
Hotels trying to bribe users to raise their TripAdvisor rankings have been put on notice by the travel review site. The company has already blacklisted 30 properties worldwide for suspicious reviews and they are looking into the actions of another.

One More Reason Not to Trust TripAdvisor Reviews

One More Reason Not to Trust TripAdvisor Reviews

At the beginning of this month I noticed on TripAdvisor a small B&B  with a rash of recent reviews that had pushed it to the top of the listings in its region.

The owners had no reviews on TripAdvisor until July 2010, then within a few weeks a regular series of reviews appeared.   Every review was by someone who had just joined TripAdvisor, all reviewers had done nothing other than review this one property, and all awarded this B&B 5 star reviews.  Oddly, the reviews were all in French until the end  of September, when a number of badly written English reviews appeared. 

One of the English reviews, purporting to be from the USA, said:

My wife and myself were royally baffled by this unexpected eclipse of hospitality. Rare for French hosts, English is spoken very well.

 That review was shortly joined by another 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 !

There were several of these “English” reviews, one after another in the space of a few days around the beginning of October. 

Taken as a whole – the sudden surge of reviews by “virgin” reviewers at the end of summer into autumn, their unalloyed praise, the bizarre phrasing of the supposed English reviews – all this strongly suggested that some, if not all, of the reviews were “plants”.

TripAdvisor has since removed the obvious fake English reviews.

However, the French reviews have been left in place, the property did not get “Red Flagged” and it remains listed as the most popular B&B in the area, with nothing to indicate anything untoward has happened.  Effectively, the property has got away scot-free.

If one owner can do it, then doubtless other owners are also faking their own reviews on TripAdvisor.  Even worse, by removing the more blatant fake reviews that anyone could spot, but failing to penalise the listing, TripAdvisor actually makes a property look better:  people are more likely to be conned by the reviews that remain than they would if the obvious fakes had been left there!

Welcome to TripAdvisor, the world’s most trusted source of fake reviews!

Can Owners Successfully Cheat on TripAdvisor?

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.

280 Dodgy Owners?

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:

Now you see it ...

And here it is now – the red flag has gone.

Now you don't

Another example is the “Aparthotel Iosefin Residence Timisoara” which was red flagged on October 25th:

Google cache on 25th October 2010

But now has a clean bill of health:

ApartHotel_Iosefin Residence Timisoara Now

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.