TripAdvisor And The Big Business Of Fake Reviews, Part 2


TripAdvisor is plagued with fake reviews.  Why?

As I wrote about yesterday, the problem of review fraud is two-fold:

  • Intense competition in the travel industry, greatly exacerbated by the state of our economy, has caused hotels and other travel providers to artificially manipulate review rankings in order to achieve increased bookings and revenue.
  • Inherent conflict of interest exists between travel marketing (via advertising) and a user review site like TripAdvisor.  Reducing the number of reviews and site visitors in order to curtail fake reviews will negatively impact marketing revenue.

Reviews absolutely influence where people stay.

The notion of writing good reviews about your business and bad reviews about your competitor is not the least bit far-fetched.  The reason is simply that the difference in bookings (revenue) between a property highly rated on TripAdvisor and one poorly rated is huge.  I cannot stress this enough.

PR firms and fake reviews.  I’ve long suspected that public relations companies have been involved in writing fraudulent reviews on behalf of their clients’ properties.

A comment to an article on the website PR Squared confirmed my suspicion.  Written by the VP of a major PR firm, it stated:  “Posting on TripAdvisor, for example, is the most basic of tactics in the PR 2.0 world.”

Hotels and restaurants incenting their employees to write reviews.

The positive review you’re reading may have been written by a paid employee.  How objective is that?

TripAdvisor’s point of view.

TripAdvisor reports becoming more vigilant and hi-tech in detecting fake reviews, and that their readers are savvy enough to ignore those that are bogus. On the other hand, if TripAdvisor really did something to control fake reviews, why would users need to be savvy about them?

Furthermore, the issues are adequately complex that it doesn’t seem reasonable to expect most site visitors to understand them.

Perhaps TripAdvisor’s motto, “get the truth, then go,”  needs to be changed to, “try to find the truth, and go.”

The company claims to do the following in order to protect the integrity of reviews:

  • Employs sophisticated algorithms for fraud detection including language and usage pattern analysis
  • Carries out spot checks
  • Investigates reports of abuse
  • Moderates all reviews

What should/could TripAdvisor do?

I suggest that in addition to taking the issue of fraudulent reviews far more seriously than they appear to do, Expedia should be more transparent and forthcoming with its readers regarding this all-important issue.  When your stock in trade is reviews, it’s essential that consumers of the reviews have confidence in them.  Otherwise, isn’t this like going to the ATM and being unsure whether the cash you receive is counterfeit?

My three suggestions for consumers using TripAdvisor.

  1. Check each reviewer’s profile you’re basing a travel decision on, in order to see how many he/she has written.  When I see a profile with only one or two reviews, I normally look the other way.  If the reviewer writes often on multiple properties in various locations, and I see objectivity, I’m more likely to believe what is written.
  2. Disregard the very worst and very best reviews (unless you trust the writer) and go with what’s in the middle.  It’s most likely accurate and least likely fraudulent (in either a positive or negative direction).
  3. Do your own research.  Find things by professional reviewers (Frommers, Fodors, or Lonely Planet, for example) that corroborate TripAdvisor reviews on which you are basing your travel decisions.

7 thoughts on “TripAdvisor And The Big Business Of Fake Reviews, Part 2”

  1. TRIPADVISOR Wow finally the truth is revealed…Here is one of the reviews you can look at and see how blatently owners of reviewed restaurants will leave fake reviews.. Las Vegas–for the last 5 years or so ROSEMARY’S , an art deco (?) neuvo cuisine restaurant in a stripmall 15 minutes off the strip with maybe 30 seats, has ruled tripadvisor with an iron fist. The fake reviews are SO EASY TO SPOT. The owners of this restaurant when they submit their fake reviews include 1) The exact name of the dish they are fake complimenting–never I/we had the “fish” or “bass” they always describe it as “Crispy Skin Texas Striped Bass …Andouille, Rock Shrimp & Fingerling Potato Hash, Hushpuppies & Creole Meuniere Sauce” often naming ingredients in the dish that are mentioned NO WHERE in the menu. 2) How magnificent/romantic the dining room is and how spectacular the art work is and even the ARTIST’S NAME……oh yeah did I mention that they SELL THE ARTWORK ON DISPLAY IN THEIR RESTAURANT. 3) NEVER EVER EVER WILL YOU SEE THE PRICES IN THESE REVIEWS…Dinner at this stripmall restaurant will usually set you back $200-$250 per couple depending on the wine you choose. You could accept every offer of the server to match you food with the “RIGHT BOTTLE OF WINE” and end up closer to $400 per couple…this is quite pricey for a restaurant even if it is Las Vegas. But $$$$ are never discussed in the reviews. Those are just a few blatently obvious ones. There are MANY MANY more subtle reviews that they do too.

    Now just step back and look at the facts: This restaurant OFF THE STRIP with seating for maybe 30 gets one review every two days or so. Yet 100 seat CELEBRITY RESTAURANTS IN HUGE RESORT HOTELS ON THE STRIP AVERAGE ONLY 2 TO 3 EVERY OTHER MONTH. Simply put they got greedy. The owners of this place are making money hand over fist with these fake reviews. They have concocted of whole cloth a fable of how legendary this restaurant is.

    That being said I use Tripadvisor all the time when I travel and I travel ALOT. I wont book something until I have seen the reviews at Tripadvisor. But lately I have been using them as a back up to info that I already have. And I have always been vigilant of the fake review. Especially since I got burned by these creeps at ROSEMARY’S. Read all the great/glowing reviews with out checking anywhere else. Went to dinner there and my wife and I were in dissbelief, we thought we were in the wrong place. The reviews we read had NOTHING AT ALL in common with this place. SHAME ON YOU! ! ! ! Chefs Michael and Wendy Jordan and their entire staff.

  2. I think one of the problems is that Trip Advisor has simply grown and grown since it started and is now pretty well known. When I first started using it in 2002, it was very much a word of mouth phenomenon – and was almost a traveller’s bible at that point. I can also honestly say that having used it extensively for hotel recommendations all over the world, I have been genuinely impressed with its accuracy. The few disappointments I’ve had have actually been recently which may back up the article’s main point. It has also been noticeable that since the growth of advertisments on the site along with numerous other “enhancements”, it has become a less pleasant site to navigate.

    In terms of fraud, I noticed recently (when choosing a luxury B&B in a ski resort in the USA) that one place in particular had almost exclusively 5 star reviews of which nearly all used similar language, frequently mentioned the owners names, cooking abilities etc etc, and despite only having a few rooms had the most reviews of any establishment in the town. We chose somewhere other than this place (probably based on suspicion)and once in the resort, were told by a number of people that they couldn’t quite understand the sheer number of reviews this other establishment had, nor its exclusively 5 star rating.

    The problem is not confined to the review sections – visit the forums and watch the responses to requests for recommendations of places to stay. Alternatively, read some of the responses to a bad review that is placed on the forums rather than in the actual review section. It is incredibly obvious when employees and owners are posting.

    Like everything, caveat emptor probably applies more now to TA than it once did. The advice in this column is good – I already always discount the one-off 5 star reviews that are posted on the day of registration. I’m sure I’m discriminating against some genuine people, but I’d rather balance my opinion based on frequent travellers and regular reviewers.

  3. Bob, I’m very interested in your comments. What exactly do you mean by “paid for services”? A very similar example to Rock Cottage Gardens is Los Altos de Eros in Costa Rica–a few rooms and hundreds of five-star reviews!

    However, I can’t readily see that either business pays TripAdvisor for advertising.

  4. Proof that Tripadvisor is permitting those that use its “paid for services” to post bogus reviews is evident. Checking out the number of “rave reviews” for the two top rated B & Bs in Eureka Springs, AR, both of which subscribe to paid for services. Note that Rock Cottage Gardens, a B & B with only 5 rooms, has 342 reviews, all without any negative comments whatsoever? No mention is made that the little cottages are across from a hospital and that they front a heavily trafficed street. Compare the number of reviews with those posted for the 5-Star/Diamond Fairmont Chateau Whistler with 550 rooms and less than half the number of reviews. And never mind the fact that the reviews are mixed.

    Also noteworthy is the fact that most reviewers for the two leading B & Bs mentioned above post their one and only review on the very day that they sign up with Tripadvisor.

    It has also come to my attention that negative reviews for competitors are posted instantly, while postive reviews are either delayed or, worse yet, blocked.

  5. Jeff,

    Your article seems to me poorly written and oddly accusatory. Yes, the issue of maintaining integrity on a site that allows users to post reviews is a complex one, and you can do travelers a service by alerting them to the possibility that reviews might be posted by those with a vested interest in the hotel or other travel-related product or service. But I’m not sure why you’ve taken such a tone of hostility toward TripAdvisor. No one expects the site to be able to police the reviews to ensure 100 percent accuracy. We go to sites such as for professional reviews- the glory of sites such as TripAdvisor is the ability to reflect varied points of view, and to democratize, if you will, the whole process of travel writing. One of the strengths of TripAdvisor is that reviews reflect the current state of a facility, where a professional reviewer can only visit a site infrequently and may not be able to keep up with changes. I changed a reservation recently based on reports from users that a hotel was undergoing construction, and that the areas currently open to visitors were run-down and not being well-maintained. That was not reflected in any of the professional reviews I’d seen.

    Just as I have seen that sellers on sites such as eBay typically give better service than established businesses because reviews of transactions are posted for buyers to see, I believe that sites such as TripAdvisor will force hotels to step up their game in order to get better reviews. They will no longer be able to coast on reputation or on outdated reviews- this can only benefit consumers.

  6. That is a bunch of bull crap, Trip Advisor “pays” people to do positive reviews and I have seen the ads for them. Do not take anyone’s recommendation for this site, they are all liars and fakes, the only guidelines is to use your friends recommendations, and go to your govt., travel alerts for disease control– as these people lie.

    Trip Advisor is affiliated and works with the world wide condo groups and promote run down time shares and rates them as 5 star resorts. Ha ha ha…what a joke. These hotels are dumps and could not pass hygene, or safety regulations and are causing the injury and deaths of American tourists. Just look at how many people are dying in the Bahamas, due to lack of hospitals, medical professionals and the infrastructure that is needed. The governments are corrupt and tourists are suckers to go to these places. Drugs enter into our country from these islands of crooks and crooked politicians.

    There are a great number of diseases spreading in the Caribbean like Hepatitis, parasite infections, intestinal worms, lymphatic disease and more due to their 3rd world sanitation and disgusting hotels like in Freeport Bahamas or any of the Bahama Island. Don’t be fooled by these fake reviews of Trip Advisor -they are a scam operation.

  7. Hi Jeff,

    Your post gives me a great opportunity to discuss TripAdvisor, and hopefully clear up some misconceptions in the process.

    One thing I didn’t see mentioned in your post that I’d like to bring up is that TripAdvisor is a community – of travelers, and hoteliers, and advertisers – all participating in their own way. The community itself is the strongest deterrent against the fraud you, and we, find intolerable.

    We have Zero tolerance for fake reviews.

    TripAdvisor receives thousands of positive – and negative – reviews each week. You were correct that we have sophisticated, proprietary tools in place and dozens of inspectors to help detect fraudulent reviews. We also periodically confirm the legitimacy of review authors. And the community itself helps us detect and report fraud – reporting the ones that just don’t sound right.

    The sheer volume of reviews on our site provides an additional safeguard. According to our research, the average traveler reads three pages of reviews when researching a hotel. The overall context provided by our extensive content gives travelers the ability to make an educated evaluation before they book/travel. Our candid traveler photos of hotels also help travelers evaluate whether or not a property is for them.

    The vast majority of hoteliers understand the tremendous risk to their reputation and their business if they attempt to post fraudulent information on review sites like TripAdvisor. We take serious steps to penalize businesses who are caught attempting to trick the system. The same applies to properties that employ PR or marketing firms to artificially populate their reviews.

    And TripAdvisor’s advertisers realize that placing their ads alongside the content that travelers prefer – user-generated reviews – is good business, even if the reviews are not always positive. Our advertisers tell us that our site is consistently a top performer for their ads.

    Thanks for the opportunity to contribute to the discussion.

    Best regards,
    Brian Payea
    Trade Relations Manager
    [email protected]

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