Today, hardly anyone plans a vacation without taking at least a cautionary glance at TripAdvisor to see how one should spend their valuable time and money whilst abroad. Why not hear some honest feedback from likeminded travel bugs? It sounds great in theory and perhaps it was in the early days of TripAdvisor.
Recently, however, a gentleman in the UK just exposed how easy it is to mislead people on the site by rocketing his restaurant to the #1 position in London, based completely on fake TripAdvisor reviews. Previously, he was employed to write fictitious reviews for businesses and decided to expose the flaws in the site by launching a completely imaginary restaurant called The Shed at Dulwich. Unbelievably, after just 8 months of writing all the reviews himself, he became #1. People started bribing him to get a seat at the restaurant which was notoriously difficult to get a reservation (since it didn’t exist). This isn’t the first time that frustration has boiled over with attempts to expose how corruptible the site is. In 2015, an Italian newspaper also created a fictitious restaurant called La Scaletta which also become #1 in the town it was listed. This was followed up with a 500,000 Euro lawsuit against TripAdvisor for not putting systems in place to prevent customers from being duped.
As business owners who list on TripAdvisor, we all know that the site has major flaws. In a recent survey, 80% of business owners believe that TripAdvisor is easily abused. Unfortunately, this message still hasn’t trickled down to readers of the site who still take it as gospel. So, you may ask, how can TripAdvisor be corrupted. Well, in lots of way…
Only 1 review?
This is actually the most telltale sign that a review is suspicious. We all write our first review at some point. However, what are the odds that someone goes to the effort of writing 1 or 2 reviews and never returns? Slight. Now what are the odds that this isn’t about their hotel or the largest and most popular attraction but about a tour? Highly Improbable. Now what are the chances of a single company having 70-90% of their reviews written by people who decided to open an account, write 1 or 2 reviews and never return? Impossible. If you ever see a company loaded with reviews from people with just 1 or 2 reviews – stay clear. As an example, one of our competitors has 68% of their reviews written by people with 1 or 2 reviews. Platinum Heritage has just 19% (the lowest percentage in the top 20 in Dubai).
Companies write the reviews themselves.
No matter where the guest is from, do they always spell the Guides name correctly, is their English perfect whether they are from Lhasa, Lithuania or London?
This is when companies pay 3rd parties to write good reviews for them and bad reviews for others. Although it is not permitted by TripAdvisor, the practice still continues as it is very difficult to prevent.
Companies write about their competitors
You see a first time reviewer writing a terrible review that goes against the grain? Chances are this is a competitor. As business owners, we have been pleading with TripAdvisor to insist that a disputed reviewer is asked to produce a receipt/proof of payment or at least evidence that they attended the tour. To date, TripAdvisor refuses. Why? Because as a “business” TripAdvisor needs to show a large number of reviews, users and site impressions. They do not want to start removing a large number of reviews just because they may just happen to be fake. TripAdvisor boasts that they have 400,000 user contributions per day. However, they only have 300 people within their Content Integrity department to sift through all these.
We know of one operator who carries an ipod on tour and asks people to review when the tour is heading back to the Hotel. No Tripadvisor account? No problem, let me help you open an account. What’s the chance of an honest review when the owner is sitting watching over your shoulder?
Companies pay to have reviews removed
In order to make bad reviews go away, many reviewers just refund money in exchange for the removal of the review. Despite this being against TripAdvisor rules, it is not in either parties best interest to report it (guests gets money back and Business has bad review removed). Therefore, this practice continues basically unchecked. This causes two major issues; problems that could guide a person’s decision disappears and this practice has also lead to a terrible amount of blackmail. People know that businesses want reviews to go away so they complain and threaten to write a bad review unless the company compensates. Platinum Heritage refuses to pay blackmailers so some of these still remain on our site. We have had cases where people have requested up to US$2,000 to remove a review and have even had one blackmailer review removed when we presented photo evidence that completely contradicted the review, just to have TripAdvisor approve the husbands review instead.
Incentives to write reviews
We know at least one company in Dubai who will give significant discounts (up to 50%) on future tours if a person can provide evidence that they have submitted a TripAdvisor review. How many people do you think will give anything but a 5 star review if they want to avail of this offer?
Given all of the above, you could be forgiven for thinking that there is no use visiting the site at all. We don’t think this is the case, because wonderful people spend time trying to help the travel community, you just have to be savvy enough to spot the helpful reviews from the one’s fitting the characteristics of the one’s listed above. We recommend you get savvy when reading TripAdvisor and take our advice on How to use TripAdvisor like a Pro.