TripAdvisor And The Big Business Of Fake Reviews, Part 1


On reflection, TripAdvisor may at first appear to be a benevolent site where regular people share their honest travel opinions.  Dig beneath the surface, however, and you will find something quite the opposite is happening at TripAdvisor.  This is big business and the going is rough in today’s economic climate.

There are over twenty million reviews on TripAdvisor.  I believe that a fast-growing percentage of them (perhaps now as many as one-third) are fake.

What’s a fake review?  A review written by someone connected with a hotel (or other business) to boost its appeal, or a negative review written by a competitor (or a disgruntled party) to lower a hotels’ standing.

To prove this point, The London Times wrote and submitted six glowing reviews, all fake, on hotels considered among the worst in London.  TripAdvisor posted all six reviews without ever commenting on the discrepancy.

It just goes to show you have to be careful who you trust and not take anything at face value. The fast-growth of fraudulent reviews makes it imperative that we come to a site like TripAdvisor with a fairly high level of skepticism in order to come away with the honest information we desire.

Trust and TripAdvisor may no longer go together.  Here’s why:

  1. Surveys have shown that the vast majority of us have come to trust user reviews.  Lack of review credibility, however, has started to seriously erode trust at TripAdvisor and at other review sites.
  2. TripAdvisor, a unit of Expedia, obviously serves first and foremost to further their global travel marketing business.  TripAdvisor makes money through their affiliate (link click) program and through advertisements.  The value of that marketing business is in no small part based on the number of reviews as well as the number of visitors to the site.  Reducing the number of visitors and reviews in order to limit the amount of fraud will likely also have significant negative financial impact on their marketing.
  3. The travel industry is in most serious financial trouble.  Competition in order to stay in business is cut-throat.  The need to achieve top ranking in user-generated reviews such as on TripAdvisor is intense.

In part two tomorrow, I’ll cover:

  1. Exactly how important TripAdvisor reviews are in the travel industry.
  2. The role of public relations firms in fake reviews.
  3. TripAdvisor’s point of view.
  4. Suggestions for how to make TripAdvisor and other review sites continue to work for you.

15 thoughts on “TripAdvisor And The Big Business Of Fake Reviews, Part 1”

  1. I have done some investigation here about Tripadvisor. I have worked with hotels for many years and this is what I can say for sure.
    Hotel owners, mostly independent hotels, have lost control of their industry. Third parties have taken over while having little or no investment. These third parties, i.e. Tripadvisor,, Expedia and Hotwire, all of which are owned by Barry Diller have turned the independent owner into a pawn by having the ability to manipulate the reviews in such a way that they can actually redirect customers without them even knowing it.
    How so? O.K. Go to Tripadvisor pick a city and see what you find. A list of hotels in a rating system from one to whatever number. If we believe the reviews some might have 15 reviews and are rated # 1, 2 or 3 (often these hotels have only recently signed up with these third parties). Then one will have 100 reviews and be rated somewhere in the so so area. Yet the 100 reviews have 75 very good ratings. The highest rated one could very well be an old hotel under new management and it might have been a dump in its previous listing life. The new hotel owner swiftly loads his fake reviews by having his family and associates post fake 5 star reviews. Tripadvisor can not stop these fakes if they are loaded in by different computers with different IP addresses. Think Kinko’s, UPS stores, etc. or even office depot while appearing to be looking to purchasing a new laptop.
    This also applies to the other side of the picture. Someone loads bad reviews of their competitor. Or a crazy customer that did not get a discount and just creates new email accounts and looks like 30 different people. This all happens on tripadvisor every day. Because they do not require proof of you even having stayed at the hotel.
    Now lets look at how Tripadvisor makes money. They make a % of every unit booked on, Expedia, Hotwire or an affiliate. No you say tripadvisor does not get a commission. Well kind of? They get a pay per click fee from most of their links. So the more they keep you going in circles the better. More clicks.
    However Expedia, Hotwire and are owned by the same person that owns Tripadvisor. 25-35% of the hotel rate is what they get. Some hotels have contracts that are better for Expedia, etc. so you are now very cleverly directed to these hotels. How? By manipulating the reviews that is how. They remove negative reviews or hold back positive ones. Do they write them? No they just maneuver them. Which is the same thing in my book.
    Also most of the time there is no discount at all. You just think you got one. Just check the room rate or call the hotel before booking and you will see that.
    Now in the beginning these third parties were great for independent hotels because it got them in with the big boys on the web. Where can a small independent advertize. They could not take ads in every city in the world. So that was good in the start. However when Barry Diller saw the manipulation that was possible he began to purchase these companies and here we sit today all arguing with one another while he rakes in the cash.
    The last thing that no one gets is this. Third parties have raised the price of rooms over the years. Hoteliers have adjusted prices to include their third parties commissions. Just a fact of doing business. As usual the angels become the devil and that what third party bookers have become.
    Always call the hotel before booking. Because third party bookings get the worst rooms in a hotel because your booking is classified as a bargain hunter. If you book direct you get treated better and you have a direct relationship with the hotel not some third party that holds the hotel, less commission, funds for up to 30 days or more. Many times if there is a problem the hotel will tell Expedia to refund a guest payment. In that event what sometimes happens is the guest is told that the hotel would not refund the money. Then the hotel does not get the funds and Expedia keeps it all. No you say! They would not do that! Well let me show you how far they will go. Lets say you book a $100.00 + tax and the Hotel is paid $70.00 + tax. Where do you think the tax on $30.00 goes. Nowhere Expedia keeps it. Now if a company will cheat every city in the world out of sales taxes what do you think they will do to you. “BARRY DILLER” you are a piece of work!

    One more thing that no one really gets. When you book with third party bookers like, etc. You pay at time of booking the total bill of your stay. When you book directly with the hotel. You pay on checkout. Not so bad if you are booking a day or two in advance. If you book months in advance to get a certain hotel, that is a hell of a float time for them. does not pay the hotel for up to 45 days after you checkout.. So not only does the hotel pay a hefty fee as well as delayed payment. Remenber is owned by Tripadvisor. So Tripadvisor the company that could be killing your business is also making big bucks off you. What a SCAM!!!!!!!

  2. Tripadvisor really should implement a way for users to flag fake reviews. I booked at the Aqua Bamboo in Waikiki based on the stellar reviews, only to find a horrible hotel with noise problems, shabby housekeeping, a tiny pool, a cruddy breakfast, and worst of all, corrupt front-desk people who provided me with a cab that overcharged me by $20, no doubt kicking back some money to the clerk.

  3. I know for a fact that Trip Advisor does not verify the validity of reviews on their website, this is what they wrote me when I complained about a fake review few years back:

    “We determined that the review does meet our review criteria and will remain posted on the site. Since reviews are posted by our members on our open forum, and we do not verify the information posted in them, we are unable to provide you with proof that this member ‘reserved, stayed or actually visited ideal hotel’.”

    here is a summery of that incident:

    ex-hotel manager

  4. 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.

  5. In re the comments that it’s best to check the bona fides of the poster to verify if they are just shilling for a particular hotel…they have to start somewhere…if this is their first post ever, that doesn’t make them a shill, it just means it’s their first post ever.

    In a related problem…just because the person has 10 reviews to their name doesn’t mean they AREN’T a shill or a competitor or an unhappy employee.

    We’ve had a B&B in our group have the unfortunate occurrence of someone unhappy with them personally, not as a business at all, post a bad review. That person then went on to post many more reviews praising places she had never been to make the bad review look real.

    I regularly receive emails from businesses explaining how important TA is to my hotel and offering to write good reviews for me to get me to the top of the list on TA.

    And, if Brian Peyea would like those emails forwarded to him, I would be happy to do so the next time I receive one.

    I do not want or need to pay someone to write reviews. We’re happy with the reviews our guests leave, even if we are the first place they have ever reviewed.

    And, as a boutique hotel, we have 50+ reviews in 5 years, most of them in the past 2 years as more guests become familiar with social media. Those numbers shouldn’t cause anyone to pause and wonder if they’re real or fake!

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