Can You Spot Fake Travel Reviews?

Can You Spot Fake Travel Reviews?

When I’ve written about the plethora of fake reviews inhabiting TripAdvisor and other review sites, your comments have often stated that savvy shoppers can spot fake reviews. Well think again. Fake travel reviews are both widespread and highly sophisticated. In a word, it’s a huge business and no you cannot spot fake reviews:

[pullquote]“… deceptive opinions are neither easily ignored nor even identifiable by a human reader.” –Cornell University[/pullquote]

A recent study by Cornell University confirmed that belief. As part of their research, they paid freelance writers for 400 fake and glowing reviews of Chicago hotels. They mixed those with an equal number of positive but believed to be genuine TripAdvisor reviews. The result was that the fake and real reviews were deemed indistinguishable by their judges.

The business of writing fake reviews is growing rapidly in direct relation to the popularity of consumer reviews themselves. In a never ending cycle, businesses in the highly competitive travel sector are forced by financial dependence on reviews to monitor them very closely. When less than stellar reviews or more favorable reviews of competitors places them out of the top tier, companies are left between a rock and a hard place.

TripAdvisor Needs Every Review

TripAdvisor’s business model is dependent on the proliferation of reviews. I’ve stated before that a booking confirmation, similar to an Amazon purchase confirmation, would to a large degree limit the business of fake reviews. It would also curtail their company’s growth.

The Economist spoke to this same issue earlier this week. Quoting TripAdvisor’s division president Christine Petersen:

“We’re not a booking site, and I don’t care how someone books. Think about road trips in the U.S. If someone is driving along and notices, “Oh, there’s a Holiday Inn here.” They may pay in cash and not have any reservation number and then not be able to post a review.”

The Economist went on to state “I’m not convinced by this rationale.”

Light at the end of the tunnel

The Cornell study theorizes however, that technology may soon be possible that can sleuth even sophisticated fake reviews. Based on that, the researches had inquiries from many companies including the travel big boys like Hilton Hotels and even TripAdvisor. Kudos on the uptake.

Where does that leave us today?

As for me, I’ll still be using reviews, but with an ever increasing skepticism. I’ve felt that way ever since I first brought the TripAdvisor fraud issue to international mainstream media’s attention back in early 2008.

And while we all ponder how to deal with the reality of fake reviews, here’s wishing you a great weekend. Please stay tuned for more great Hawaii travel deals. Aloha.

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  1. Richard Steiner (3 years ago)

    We have had excellent overall luck using Tripadvvisor.We look for lots of reviews for a site and if most are good we just disregard the few bad lemons.Things to do on Tripadvisor gives some well thought out ideas but I seldom pay attention to the ranking except maybe looking at the top half and choosing what we are interested in seeing or doing. With few ratings we look at Yelp and others upon occasion. We have had okay meals from TA advise but usually quite good and cross my fingers nothing below average yet.

  2. Jeff (3 years ago)

    Mahalo for all of the great comments. They’re much appreciated!


  3. John (3 years ago)

    What’s interesting, is I had a similar thing happen to me during a recent stay on Oahu. We booked one night at the Turtle Bay Resort, and we astounded at how pretentious the resort was. While the stay was great, it seemed to me that because we booked with Priceline, we were treated differently.

    I wrote a review (twice) on the properly, giving it mixed reviews (about 3 out of 5) and it was declided both times, saying that it didn’t meet their criteria.

    Since then, I have rarely seen a negative review for this resort.

    Simialrly, we stayed at the Grand Porto Real in Playa del Carmen last April and it was getting 5 out of 5 reviews. When we arrived, I thought “really, 5 out of 5″ – maybe 2.5; so I got to thinking, “where did these rave reviews come from” – I posted a negative review and it was returned, then I posted again under a different name, and toned it down and they accepted – go figure.

  4. Ryan (3 years ago)

    This is why I don’t even bother visiting trip advisor. But what about travel booking sites like or expedia? I would hope they would only allow you to post a review after booking, but I can’t remember.

  5. Joan Levy (3 years ago)

    So I guess what comes next is competitors writing bad reviews on the competion????

    • Jeff (3 years ago)

      Hi Joan,

      Thanks for your comment. That is definitely nothing new.



  6. Colleen (3 years ago)

    Here are my strategies for using Tripadvisor reviews:

    It is no doubt getting more difficult to spot the FAKES – but I still feel that you can come very close to finding the real ones with a bit of checking on our own part.

    How many reviews has the person posted? I pay little attention to someone has has only posted a few reviews – sorry.

    Have they posted reviews for different properties in different parts of the country on the same day – especially if they are some distance apart? Remember – most people cannot be two places at the same time.

    Do they gush about how great employees are BY NAME? I am skeptical of these for some reason.

    Have they participated in the TA Forums, asking questions about the area in question for a while before the trip? You can tell if someone is seriously planning a trip this way (I hope :0)

    You can also contact a person via TA email and ask further questions. Do they respond? Do the responses give DETAILS?

    I do agree that it is getting more and more difficult to spot imposters. I usually just go with the middle of the road reviews – the ones that are neither GREAT or AWFUL and then hope for the best.

    I did find fake reviews for a hotel in Kanab, Utah before our 2009 :0) The hotel with the top spot just didn’t seem like it should be in in the top spot – winning out over hotels with major ammenities like flat screens, etc. So, when we visited the area we drove by and it was a small, grungy little place. We didn’t go in – but I am pretty sure I would NOT choose this hotel over most of the others in Kanab. I am pretty sure the glowing reviews of this particular hotel were ‘purchased.’ I turned this property in to Tripadvisor and never heard any more about it from anyone. TA does not share the results of its findings.

    You cannot beat first person reviews from people you know and trust. If you trust their style and taste – family or friend reviews are the best. But, make sure you share similar tastes for quality or you may still be disappointed.

  7. Kathy (3 years ago)

    It is hard to figure out how different people can be writing about the same place. I hear how the front desk people are rude and unhelpful then in the next review they are the nicest people and went out of their way to make this person’s stay comfortable. The only thing I know is that the hotels are not going to write bad reviews so then do we discount all the good reviews?