One of the great unsolved problems with TripAdvisor and other anonymous review sites is that they are open to abuse by fake reviewers – people who have never visited the place they are reviewing. The motives for this can be attention seeking, cybervandalism, a competitor trying to manipulate rankings, a grudge … Is your competitor up the road looking too good on TripAdvisor? No problem – get a few mates or employees to post damning reviews from home.
The damage done to a restaurant, hotel etc by malicious reviews can be considerable – not only commercially but also mentally and emotionally for the owner of a property attacked in this way. That’s why the TripAdvisor Owners Forum contains topics like these:
The Owner Position
For large hotels with hundreds of reviews the odd fake review may not matter in the overall scheme of things, but for smaller concerns with a small number of reviews, one malicious review can make a considerable difference – and it’s also a lot more personal.
The majority of owners do not object to reasonable and fair reviews. But they rightly object to the fake and malicious ratings which pepper anonymous review sites.
Failure to Validate Reviews
TripAdvisor and other anonymous review sites all have a multitude of disclaimers, denying any responsibility for what they publish and refusing to vouch for “their” reviews. TripAdvisor says it has checks in place to reduce the risk of fakery, but in reality fake reviews still get through. The current validation systems used by TripAdvisor appear to be little more than an automated system which checks IP addresses and the reviewer’s history on the site via cookies (primarily intended to stop reviews being posted from a hotel’s own internet connection), plus occasionally asking the reviewer by email to click a link in the email to confirm their review is genuine (which probably also involves an IP address check). There’s nothing there that can’t be easily dodged by a fake reviewer.
Does it have to be like that? Is it really impossible to introduce any sort of validation procedure which proves that the reviewer has stayed at the hotel in question?
In a Perfect World
In a perfect world, both guest and owner would have to acknowledge the booking in advance, as the successful holiday accommodation portal homelidays.com does for its reviews. I believe that hotel.com, part of the same group as TripAdvisor, also has these proper checks. In that case the owner may not like what is published, but there is no doubt that the visit actually happened.
However, I can’t see any way that TA is going to agree to that. So here’s another suggestion. It may be utter rubbish – let me know!
A Suggestion to Reduce Bogus Reviews
TripAdvisor (I’m going to say TripAdvisor as it’s the biggest, but it applies equally to Igougo, Trivago etc.) provides a unique property code to each registered owner, and known only to the owner. In a prominent place on each property page and on the review page it is made clear that for a review to be classed as “Validated” a guest must ask the owner for this code – this could be done at any time, either before or after they place their review, or even before they have arrived. If a review is posted without this code, it is classed as “Unvalidated”. The review site could use other terms, of course.
A Validated review would be harder for an owner to refute, though of course they could still post a management response, and so would work for TA by reducing the number of unfounded claims by owners against “fake” reviews.
One drawback I can see would be that if all reviews required the registered owner code then owners could stop all/some reviews being posted; plus listed properties with no claimed owner (and there are plenty of them) could not have reviews posted.
So as a compromise TripAdvisor could continue to allow people to post unvalidated reviews, but have 2 categories of review relating to validated and unvalidated stays, and clearly flagged as such on the property review pages.
Far from ideal, I admit, but some sort of mutual validation would at least be a step in the right direction and might even give TripAdvisor reviews more credibility.