How many times have you Googled a hotel name and found a TripAdvisor review show up? How many times have you clicked on that link to read the review? How many of those reviews were fake?
Seems the last question is causing quite a stir in the travel industry. TripAdvisor is now under investigation by the UK's Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) over concerns that reviews from "travelers" aren't really from travelers, and aren't legitimate reviews.
TripAdvisor brings in around 50 million visitors a month with the promise of finding reviews - good and bad - from other travelers. The premise is a good and helpful one, especially in a world where social media fuels consumer decisions. However, the allegations claim the reviews aren't all that honest. The investigation has caused an uproar in the travel community, both from travelers who feel they've been lead down the wrong path and hotels who believe they've been scorned by fake reviewers.
According to the UK's Daily Mirror, "As many as five million of the most current reviews on the website could be fake," according to Chris Emmins, co-founder of online reputation management company KwikChex.com.
The allegations made by Kwikchex are that hotels were paying "agents" or creating false identities to boost their own review ratings and try and outperform their competitors. It's no secret that anyone can create an identity and post on TripAdvisor -the question is, however, how many of those "identities" are actually hotel staff or people who have actually been at the hotel? Of course, the reverse could also be true - anyone can post a bad review about a hotel simply out of spite, without ever having visited.
I reached out to TripAdvisor for comment on the case in question, and they declined to comment on the investigation itself. However, TripAdvisor's Senior Director of Communications Karen Drake had this to say:
"We take the authenticity of our reviews very seriously and have numerous methods to ensure the legitimacy of the content on TripAdvisor, including automated site tools, a team of review integrity experts, and our large and passionate community of millions of travelers that help us identify suspicious content. We devote thousands of hours each year to battling fraud and improving our fraud detection efforts to ensure the integrity of our content."
So how do you know what's real and what's fake? Unfortunately, as it stands, you don't. But, you can choose to rely on trust.
"As the world’s largest travel site, we believe the legitimacy of our reviews is a key reason why we enjoy tremendous user loyalty and growth – simply, if the reviews people read didn’t paint an accurate picture, users would not keep coming back," said Drake.
I contacted my friend and travel advisor, Erina Pindar of SmartFlyer in New York, to get her opinion. SmartFlyer works with clients around the world to book travel, including hotels and unique experiences, and has had clients who have used TripAdvisor in the past. She wasn't surprised at all by the investigations.
"It's an open forum, which provides an opportunity for anybody to contribute reviews -- including the people financially invested in the product," said Pindar.
So how can you, the traveler, ensure you're getting the best - and most honest - opinions when it comes to booking your travel?
"Look to a reliable travel consultant for recommendations. A great consultant would have an intimate knowledge of the destinations and they can work with what fits your budget, needs, and preferences," said Pindar. "They would also have access to a network of other travel experts that they work with on a daily basis."
While there's still a place for consumer reviews, start first with your friends and family and see if they have recommendations. Chances are if they've enjoyed their recent hotel stay, or have worked successfully with a travel consultant in the past, you will too.
Readers: We want to hear from you! Have you ever booked travel based on a review you found from TripAdvisor? What was your experience like?
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