How Karma Killed TripAdvisor Reviews

TripAdvisor (TA) has had a long and arguably jaded history and has always been plagued by fake reviews in a business model that demands quantity rather than authenticity. The Times of London said that a third of TripAdvisor reviews are fake.

Late last year, TripAdvisor said that it had either rejected or removed close to 1,000,000 reviews it deemed fake in its latest report. But at the same time, it believes that less than 4% of the reviews are fake, which is at odds with The Times viewpoint.

TripAdvisor too has never achieved a viable business model, fancying itself everything from an accommodation and activity reseller to a booking portal, all with limited success. TA also blamed Google for their rapid decline, which may in part be true.

In 2020 TripAdvisor dismissed one-half of its employees in a shake-up.

Those remaining had to take a pay cut. And the company’s stock price has fallen from $110 about five years ago to $27 today. That in spite of their CEO assuring investors that The Fork restaurant reservations and Viator activity businesses will survive. TA just merged their restaurant and accommodations teams and businesses.

And yet reviews are of tremendous importance.

Qualtrics recently said that 91% of those 18-34 consider reviews online to be as important as personal recommendations. Negative reviews can cost a business millions in lost revenue. TripAdvisor said based on its research that 75% consider reviews to be “extremely or very important when making travel decisions.”

TripAdvisor Plus is their latest failure.

Last year, soon after launching its long-awaited subscription program, TripAdvisor did an about-face. What was to have been immediate discounts on hotel bookings has instead turned into a cash-back offer after your stay. The $99/year subscription was to have yielded savings while booking, but instead will now only provide TripAdvisor “wallet” funds after your stay.

It gets complicated but TA was promoting rates lower than available on hotel websites in order to get subscribers. That clearly didn’t fly with the hotels, which then said they would then not participate in the program.

As of today, going to the TripAdvisor Plus website yields: “Coming soon: Endless travel savings. One simple membership. We’re sorry but Tripadvisor Plus isn’t available for you yet.”

Last fall TA’s CEO said that he was still hoping to enroll tens of millions of members. That sounds like Costco or Amazon Prime-like, and honestly, we just don’t see anything like that happening. He said he expects to add “millions of subscribers over the next years with that same longer-term opportunity in the tens of millions.”

This comes following multiple other failures in a list growing ever longer. Since then the company has tried everything, from being a vacation rental site (FlipKey), a metasearch tool (like Kayak), an instant-booking site for hotels, plus activities, experiences, and dining reservations. Nothing has proven successful, and while they have a 25% share of all hotel reviews, those don’t make money.

For those who signed up previously for the first iteration of Tripadvisor Plus, there is supposed to be a credit or something else announced to help out with your $99 fee.

How are you feeling about TripAdvisor these days?

It sounds like many of us are not going there so much anymore. As a result, what once was big and powerful is now getting smaller and somewhat less relevant.

When TripAdvisor broke off from Expedia over a decade ago, they were the only review game in town and they had both reputation and Google search rankings. Those are both no longer the case.

Uncontrolled fake reviews first wrecked the company.

Two years ago, it was revealed that UK’s Travelodge was caught with fake reviews. Travelodge later “admitted that it had been reprimanded for its behaviour on TripAdvisor.”

At the same time, The Times wrote “A third of TripAdvisor reviews are fake…” They said that top-rated hosts have up to twice as many fake reviews as lower-rated ones. “Hotels and restaurants are trying to cheat their way to the top of TripAdvisor.” TripAdvisor has an alleged zero-tolerance fraud policy. You tell us, how could both of these be true?

Review checker software plays a role too.

It is not uncommon to find up to 40% of a given hotel’s TripAdvisor reviews being tagged “unreliable” using a review checker like Fakespot. Try checking yourself and see. Top reviews yield significantly more business, and fake reviews can be purchased in order to make money at our expense. TripAdvisor and other companies in the review space have been lax in doing anything about this.

When TripAdvisor’s fake reviews first made the news.

Beat of Hawaii was one of the first to write about TripAdvisor reviews and fraud in January 2009 (articles below). That was republished in the US, Australia, and Europe. Here’s what we first said:

“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.”

Where to get verified reviews.

We all crave reviews before committing, but at the same time, it is very hard to discern the real from the professional, fake results. Where have you turned? The review sources we use ourselves are the ones that have largely taken over where TripAdvisor left off, namely Airbnb, Booking, and Google. Also Facebook. They aren’t even close to perfect either; just saying.

What are your thoughts? Are you over TripAdvisor?

Original Beat of Hawaii articles on TripAdvisor review fraud:

TripAdvisor And The Big Business Of Fake Reviews, Part 1
TripAdvisor And The Big Business Of Fake Reviews, Part 2
Can TripAdvisor Stop Review Fraud?

Post updated 2/22/2022.

57 thoughts on “How Karma Killed TripAdvisor Reviews”

  1. Aloha everyone.
    I must say I will go regularly to Tripadvisor for reviews. I would also compare reviews with the individual sites, whether hotel, air, restaurant or activity. Usually, I book things directly, but the reviews certainly help. I can’t think of any major failure….or have I just been lucky?
    I feel things would be worse without Tripadvisor.
    Once again, Mahalo Jeff and Rob for posts and updates.

    1. Hi Michael.

      Next time we’ll share some crazy personal review stories and will leave it at that for now. Best to you. And hope you escape that UK wind storm.


  2. I really value TA when choosing activities and destinations. In return, I enjoy leaving detailed reviews that I hope will help other travelers. It’s been a fantastic resource for me to find many worthwhile excursions. I joined TA Plus for a significantly reduced hotel rate in Vegas, as well as general savings of $10 per person on most daytrips and cruise excursions. I think you can usually tell which reviews are legit. The vengeful and manipulative spirit of Yelp, Google, fb helps nobody.

  3. I have been doing reviews on TripAdvisor for many years. We eat local, travel quite a bit. Last year, 2021, we spent on average $700.00 a month at restaurants. Somebody has to be the good guy! As far as looking for reviews I check several others…

  4. In past years I was an avid user of TA’s Maui forum found it loaded with upbeat knowledgeable posters offering great trip planning advice.

    It has since been hijacked by a couple of individuals living on Maui who feel the need to offer negative reviews of restaurants and resorts that they themselves have not visited in several years.

    I prefer Yelp reviews.

    With all the negative reviews allowed on Yelp if your business has a positive 4 or 5 star rating you earned it.

  5. I remember when Trip Advisor first started, before it strayed from its path. The reviews were pretty honest back then, and I contributed many reviews and tried to be balanced. Now it seems there are reviewers on many sites who seem to be out for revenge, so not only are the reviews unbalanced, but the contributors too! I research several places for reviews whether it’s a product or vacation related before making a decision.

  6. I count on TripAdvisor for restaurant reviews (and occasionally hotel and activity reviews). When I read the reviews, I discount the ones that are “generic” and focus on the ones specific to someone’s experience. If fake reviews are being posted to Trip Advisor, why wouldn’t we expect them to be posted to other sites too? We can be discriminating by choosing the quality of the reviews we read on any site.

  7. Aloha! I stopped using TA as most of the ratings had gotten stale (over 3 years old). Not only was it chaotic to use, but it had become cumbersome because it was loaded down with so many old pictures. Several of the hotel sites had visitor pictures dating back to 2006, some that were tagged with the wrong hotel, and rarely had the room number associated with the ratings. I often wondered why TA didn’t clear those off their site since they were essentially useless. I now check Google and Yelp for ratings, etc. Please stay safe and be well.

  8. I dropped Trip Advisor 2-3 years ago and never looked back … the information they provided was a complete waste of time for me and they send an annoying amount of unsolicited emails, even when asked not too …

    IMO, Trip Advisor is basically zero help unless you know zero about travel and have no ideas, don’t know how to investigate destinations, confused by booking accommodations, and overwhelmed by choosing airlines or other means of travel — all on your own.

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