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.

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57 thoughts on “How Karma Killed TripAdvisor Reviews”

  1. Have you gotten any additional information about the problem with the Hawaiian Airlines Neo Jet? I emailed the company and go the usual “we’re checking into it”. We’re traveling soon on Hawaiian air, and I’m a nervous flyer at best.

  2. I noticed the Waikolai Hotel (rainbow tower) in Honolulu isn’t on your list of top 10 hotels. Pls tell me it’s a great hotel!!

  3. I think this is a big issue. The worst I have found is in UK. Reviews are generally suspicious anyway. When I see various magazines with 10 awards I often completely disagree with their findings and one has to accept that different people have different priorities. Whilst that is not dishonest, comments about cleanliness etc that are fake definitely are a fraud. Worst for me have been UK restaurants..

  4. I’m curious how the new short term rental law has affected those rentals on Oahu. Are the number of advertised rentals reducing or remaining unaffected? And has anyone been cited for a violation?

  5. I used to write reviews on TA for just about every place we did business. After reading about how much of their site is scam reviews I have stopped reviewing altogether.

    1. Hi Grant.

      Good to hear from you. Concur completely – stopped posting reviews there a decade ago and deleted profile.


      1. I stopped posting as well when two negative reviews of “5 star” properties were not posted. The worst was a booking at The Hotel Regina in Wengen Switzerland. The hotel was listed as a luxury property and was a real splurge. The rooms were tiny and dilapidated and nothing worked properly. In the vaunted dining room our table had no two legs of equal length and wobbled terribly. When we asked to be moved to another table, the hotel solved the problem with a matchbook placed under one leg. As I stated, my fact based review, exact but politely written, was never posted.

    2. “…..there is likely an equal business providing negative reviews” for rival companies. “Likely”??? Logic says to agree but can’t make that claim without some basic evidence.

  6. Hi im travelling from la to Hawaii sep 2019 my luggage is paid for. Then when my holiday in Hawaii finished I’m going to Las Vegas do I pay for my bags for this journey? Thanks.

    1. Thanks for the very useful article! Hard to know where to find accurate info these days. Even some TA forums seem populated with undisclosed hired help. Then there’s the honest awkwardness of going back to a favorite restaurant to find quality slipped.

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