TripAdvisor Failing To Stop Fake Hotel Reviews

The travel website TripAdvisor is failing to stop fake reviews boosting the rankings of top-rated hotels, Which? has claimed. The consumer organisation analysed almost 250,000 reviews for the 10 top-ranked hotels in 10 popular tourist destinations around the world, finding one in seven had “blatant hallmarks” of fake reviews. Which? Travel reported 15 cases to TripAdvisor and claimed that the site admitted 14 of the hotels had already been caught with fake positive reviews in the last year. It said TripAdvisor revealed that six of these hotels had been penalised for breaking guidelines and two had previously been given a “red badge” warning for suspicious activity, but this was not made clear to travellers.

Which? said TripAdvisor had taken down hundreds of reviews following its investigation. One hotel in the Middle East, rated as the “best hotel” in Jordan, had a “hugely suspicious” pattern of reviews, Which? reported, adding that the unnamed hotel denied any wrongdoing but TripAdvisor had subsequently removed 730 of its five-star ratings. At the “best hotel in Cairo”, according to TripAdvisor’s traveller rankings, 79% of five-star reviews were left by profiles that had made no other contributions on the site. Shortly after Which? shared its findings, TripAdvisor removed reviews from the property and it lost its status as Cairo’s best hotel, it said. In Las Vegas, two of the 10 highest-ranked hotels received almost half (48% and 41% respectively) of their hundreds of five-star ratings from first-time reviewers who had never made any other TripAdvisor contributions before or since, raising suspicions that they could be fake, Which? said. In contrast, another hotel near the top of the Las Vegas rankings had just 3% of its almost 2,000 five-star reviews from once-only reviewers. Which? Travel also compared 10 London hotels of the two biggest UK chains, Premier Inn and Travelodge. While Premier Inn did not arouse suspicion, almost half of hundreds of five-star reviews at two Travelodge sites came from first-time contributors. The findings come as the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) carries out a programme of work aimed at tackling the increasing problem of fake and misleading reviews.

Which? Travel’s Naomi Leach said, “TripAdvisor’s failure to stop fake reviews and take strong action against hotels that abuse the system risks misleading millions of travellers and potentially ruining their holidays. Sites like TripAdvisor must do more to ensure the information on their platforms is reliable, and if they continue to fall short they should be compelled to make changes so holidaymakers are no longer at risk of being duped by a flood of fake reviews.” A TripAdvisor spokesman said, “It is far too simplistic to assume all first-time reviewers are suspicious. Every genuine reviewer in the world is at some point a first-time reviewer. Accurate fraud detection requires analysis of a wide range of data points, such as IP information, location data or details about the device an account was used when submitting a review. This crucial data is missing from Which’s analysis. “We are committed to ensuring reviews on TripAdvisor offer useful and accurate information, and we are very aggressive in catching fake reviews and pursuing the fraudsters behind them. We have a dedicated team of fraud investigators who work tirelessly to protect the site from fake reviews.”

A Travelodge spokeswoman said, “We did experience a breakdown in our internal communication when TripAdvisor identified an irregular pattern of reviews at one of our hotels – Wembley Central Travelodge. Unfortunately, on this rare occasion that matter was not managed effectively within the timeframe, and we have taken appropriate action to ensure this does not happen again.”

Credit: PA Media for The Guardian, 6 September 2019.