The problem that has bedeviled Tripadvisor for years has recently come to a head with a report that hotels are regularly approached by companies offering to plant positive reviews for a monthly fee.
The travel industry site, Travolution, reported that one hotel received paid positive reviews before it was even open. The allegations were picked up by the Telegraph (Can We Trust Hotel Reviews on Tripadvisor?) who noted that “if it was possible to unearth all the fake reviews, there might not be enough red pen to go around. Like drug users in sport, the people committing the offences are nearly always one step ahead of those trying to catch them”.
Tripadvisor claims that it devotes considerable time, energy and money to weeding out fake reviews but is it enough? A combination of human screening and automated tools is supposed to identify fraudulent posters but reviewers and hoteliers have complained that the system is still manipulated. Responses to an article in Budget Travel on the subject included users disappointed with supposedly wonderful hotels andÂ hoteliers bludgeoned into upgrading guests brandishing a potentially negative TA review.
A Network of Shills?
Some users claim that they can spot a planted review because the reviewer has a meager profile with few other reviews. Not so fast. Edward Hasbrouk of TheÂ Practical Nomad attended an industry conference in which “Elias Plishner, V.P. of the interactive division of the McCann-Erickson advertising agency, boasted that, “We have an entire division in Singapore [where labor is cheaper than in the USA] devoted to seeding online forums and bulletin boards with targetted content” for our advertising clients. Worse, these people are paid to spend months, in between assignments, creating profiles and posting “neutral” messages to establish a credible online persona and background from which to post their secretly-paid advertising messages. . .” (see blog post)
So how to get credible hotel reviews? Frankly, I don’t use Tripadvisor. I have better things to do than wading through dozens of reviews trying to figure out which ones (if any) were planted.
There are a number of hotel booking sites that post reviews by guests that have actually stayed there. I use either booking.com or hostelbookers.com. Here’s how it works: after your stay the agency sends you an email with very detailed questions about the establishment. The review is then posted, anonymously if you wish. ALL of the guest reviews on these sites are necessarily made by REAL guests. Sure, there are fewer reviews but the ones that are there are more reliable. It’s your choice.