Associated Press has placed the TripAdvisor review fraud issue front and center after their recent interview with me. With that bold step, the subject has gone from the cloaked domain of travel writers into open public view. Kudos to AP.
What is TripAdvisor doing now that they’ve openly admitted to reviewer fraud?
I spoke this week with April Robb at TripAdvisor. We discussed the issue of their fraud warning flags which they posted on properties with allegedly fake reviews. I asked her to explain why many of them had been removed.
Robb said, “…the flags are ongoing,” and that once posted on a property, “are timed to expire based on the nature of the infraction and the steps taken to correct it.”
I talked with the owner of one of the hotels that had their TripAdvisor warning flag removed, and he confirmed Robb’s comment. He also indicated that no agreement had been reached with TripAdvisor in order to have the warning lifted.
My point of view: Vague, pat answers serve no one.
The removal of a majority of the warning flags, done without a broader explanation of TripAdvisor’s fraud prevention initiatives, continues to raise more questions rather than assuage our very real concerns.
TripAdvisor’s lack of candor and transparency regarding review fraud and specifically what they are doing about it, further undermines the credibility of an otherwise most valuable resource.
When I questioned TripAdvisor about this directly in my discussion with Robb, I received no answer beyond this:
“TripAdvisor does not disclose more in order to prevent giving a road map to those would seek to manipulate our system.”
When I said that the public wants and needs to understand what is really going on in this matter, Robb told me that TripAdvisor believes they are already adequately communicating their position with the public.
The crux of the problem.
TripAdvisor appears to me and others to be significantly manipulated by hoteliers, their employees and friends, and their marketing and public relations companies. If you think this isn’t true, then have a look at the above image which depicts how to increase your revenue and TripAdvisor standing. While its author didn’t suggest anything inappropriate, I believe it nonetheless speaks decidedly to the point. TripAdvisor CEO Steve Kaufer even felt it necessary to comment on the site with words of admonishment.
The bottom line is that either TripAdvisor will take the bit in its mouth and deal with fraud, via disclosure and reviewer authentication among other things, or suffer any incumbent consequences.
Thus far, unfortunately, I find the TripAdvisor attitude reminiscent of that of both IBM and Microsoft, who in their hay day felt they were beyond reproach.
Other respected points of view.
Here are just a few of the many recently expressed opinions that followed groundbreaking on the topic.
“A verification process would hurt TripAdvisor… because it would greatly reduce the number of reviews it accepts. Limiting the number of reviews on TripAdvisor would hurt its media/advertising business, which is fueling Expedia… growth, (and)… impact traffic to TripAdvisor. After all, a lot of this review integrity controversy is travel industry “inside baseball.” Much of the public doesn’t even know there is an issue.”
“(I) use TripAdvisor when I travel, but I do so with the knowledge that the travel industry is successfully manipulating the site.”
They recently joined the conversation with an article entitled “Is TripAdvisor.com one big joke?” Regarding TripAdvisor’s alleged proprietary tools with which they claim to catch fraud, they lamented:
“Proprietary automated tools.” What’s that?… This isn’t much of a defense…. TripAdvisor’s tattered reputation doesn’t involve automated spam. It involves… a human-directed stuffing of the ballot box.”
“I’ve long wondered [why] TripAdvisor didn’t duplicate Amazon’s ‘Real Name’ feature, which offers third-party verification that a reviewer is the person he or she claims to be.” That would be a better solution than what TripAdvisor is putting forward, which is too vulnerable to human error”.
In an article entitled “Who’s really writing the reviews on TripAdvisor.”
“A dirty war has broken out with hotels and restaurants using the site to attack rivals or boost their own ratings by posting fake reviews.” A hotelier is quoted as saying, “The system is laughably easy to manipulate… I wrote every single review. I was even approached by PR firms offering to write my reviews for me. It’s not hard to cover your tracks.”
“Why wouldn’t a hotel submit a flurry of positive comments penned by employees or friends? If you were a hotel owner, wouldn’t you take steps to make sure that TripAdvisor contained numerous favorable write-ups of your property? Who would fail to do this? And because of such inescapable logic, doesn’t TripAdvisor contain within itself the germs of its own undoing?”
I look forward to hearing your input.