Hotel review sites

Think twice and double-check before trusting a user-generated review.
 
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02.What TripAdvisor says

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TripAdvisor spokesperson Jean Ow-Yeong told CHOICE it has “a world-class international team of specialists that spends 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, making sure our reviews are real”. Further, the team can “handle 21 languages, has a wide range of fraud-detection backgrounds and utilises sophisticated data-mining, visualisation and analytic tools to uncover patterns of abuse”. Ow-Yeong added that TripAdvisor has used “sophisticated filters and behavioural modelling” to scan for fake reviews for the past decade.

Yet, according to our calculations, TripAdvisor’s “nearly 100” fraud monitors would be responsible for checking about a million reviews, assuming its claim of publishing 100 million reviews since starting out in 2000 is correct. It's not hard to see how a fake might slip through the cracks. 

TripAdvisor allows registered users to report reviews they think are suspicious, but this only goes so far. Among other concerns, there’s nothing to stop a hotelier from maliciously reporting a positive review for a competitor as suspicious. However, TripAdvisor told us that user input is a mainstay of its fraud-detection system. “Our large and passionate community of more than 260 million monthly visitors lets us know if they see something amiss,” Ow-Yeong said. 

Third party players

In the absence of more reliable ways of checking whether reviews can be trusted or not, third-party verification services have begun to crop up. One in particular that appears to be changing the game is UK-based Feefo, which partnered with four Expedia websites in Europe (UK, France, Germany and the Netherlands) in February this year. 

The arrangement appears to give Feefo significant reach, since Expedia claims to offer access to 160,000 hotels and 400 airlines around the world. We asked Feefo why travellers should trust reviews on these sites and others it manages (including some sites of Expedia subsidiary Hotels.com) more than those on TripAdvisor. Head of marketing Paul Cranston told us it’s mostly a matter of ensuring the reviewer was actually a customer. 

“Our relationship with merchants is built on the condition that they provide information about every transaction, and this is used to give every customer the opportunity to submit a review,” Cranston said. “As part of the process, we request either a transaction identification reference or evidence there has been a commercial relationship. This process, skipped by other review providers, assures consumers of the trustworthiness of Feefo ratings and reviews.” 

TripAdvisor said it has no plans to partner with an independent verifier. 

We also asked a number of other review providers, including Hotels.com, Travelocity, Orbitz and Expedia Australia, whether they had any processes in place to verify the authenticity of reviews. Despite repeated follow-up attempts, only Hotels.com got back to us. Public relations rep Taylor Cole told us: “We only allow guests to post reviews to our site if they have booked the hotel on hotels.com and have completed their stay. Once the stay is completed, we send the guest a link so they may write a review. No incentive is offered for this information.” 

We asked Expedia Australia whether it would be adopting any verification processes to help ensure its reviews are trustworthy. Unhelpfully, we were grilled by a third-party PR agency on behalf of Expedia about why we wanted the information, but didn’t get an answer to our questions in the end. The US-based Travelocity and Orbitz also didn’t respond to our inquiries.

 

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