Travel And Tour World’s response to a letter from TripAdvisor

Published on : Monday, May 23, 2016

tripadvisorRecently I received a letter from TripAdvisor asking me to remove my news article from my website Don’t follow TripAdvisor wearing a blindfold dated May 7, 2016. They find the report to be inaccurate and have presented their argument against the points made by me on the site for posting fraud reviews, TripAdvisor, discrepancies in ratings, commercial interest in improving ratings and TripAdvisor was fined by the Italian courts for improper business practices. However, the first point made by them is one that I accept as I did not have the latest figures that the company has furnished to me now, TripAdvisor log files, Q1 2016, and I shall have them revised. Thank you.

 

This is with reference to the article published on your portal titled – Don’t follow TripAdvisor wearing a blindfold dated May 7, 2016.

 

We wanted to highlight that many of the facts, figures and data in the article you have written are out of date and that some of the issues you have written about are inaccurate. We would like to highlight these to you so that these can be taken into consideration and corrected.

 

  1. Inaccurate figures

 

What you have reported:

TripAdvisor receives 70 reviews every minute with more than 100 million reviews in a day. The site gets 230 million online visitors each month and lists nearly three million hotels, restaurants and other attractions, along with eight million accompanying photographs.

 

What is factual:

TripAdvisor branded sites make up the largest travel community in the world, reaching 340 million unique monthly visitors.*

1.   350 million reviews and opinions covering 6.5 million accommodations, restaurants and attraction

2.    6.5 million businesses and properties in 136,000 destinations, including:

3.    1 million hotels, B&Bs, and specialty lodging

4.     775,000 vacation rental listings

5.   4 million restaurants

6.    655,000 attraction

7.     More than 60 million candid traveller photo

8.    More than 230 new contributions are posted every minute

 

**Source: TripAdvisor log files, Q1 2016

 

 

The correct and latest figures

 

Earlier report

TripAdvisor receives 70 reviews every minute with more than 100 million reviews in a day. The site gets 230 million online visitors each month and lists nearly three million hotels, restaurants and other attractions, along with eight million accompanying photographs.

 

Revised report:

I make my corrections, with reference to the TripAdvisor log files, Q1 2016 sent in the letter,TripAdvisor receives 70 reviews every minute, the latest figures are more than 230 new contributions are posted every minute, Instead of the site getting 230 million online visitors each month; the latest figures are 340 million unique monthly visitors a month. And instead of three million hotels, restaurants and other attractions, the latest figures according to TripAdvisor log files, Q1 2016,     6.5 million businesses and properties in 136,000 destinations along with more than 60 million candid traveller photos instead of eight million accompanying photographs

 

 

 

  1. That there is not much we can do to protect ourselves from fraud

 

What you have reported:

Chances of fake misleading reviews can be very high. There is not much that these sites can do to protect themselves from fraudulent comment.

 

What is factual:

We fight fraud aggressively and our systems are extremely effective in protecting consumers from the small minority of people who try to cheat our system. Every single review goes through our tracking system, which maps the how, what, where and when of each review. We back that up with a team of over 300 content specialists, who work 24/7 to maintain the quality of our reviews. They investigate every review that is flagged for inspection by our system, and act on any reports we get from our community. They also conduct proactive investigations to catch would-be fraudsters, using techniques similar to those adopted in the credit card and banking sector. We do this because it is incredibly important to us that our site remains such a useful and accurate source of information.

 

While it is not possible to fact check all of the 6.5 million businesses listed on our site, all new listings are screened and our community regularly notifies us of any details for a business that are incorrect.

 

It is also important to note that in addition to being a violation of our terms of service and an unethical practice, review fraud is also potentially a violation of the law in many countries. We aggressively tackle any organisation or individual that tries to fraudulently manipulate our site and our dedicated investigations team is proactive and extremely effective at catching those who try to game the system. In 2015 we took action against more than 40 such companies around the world to put a stop to their activity and we take serious steps to penalize businesses who are caught using such ‘services’ to deceive travel consumers. This issue is one that we are serious in tackling and we want to do so in partnership with the industry, who we know share our desire to maintain a fair and level playing field. This is why recently the TripAdvisor CEO Steve Kaufer got in touch with business owners around the world to let them know about the actions that we at TripAdvisor take against these firms and individuals.

 

No organization, business or person in the world has more incentive than TripAdvisor to ensure the reliability of the content on TripAdvisor. The bottom line is, if people didn’t find the reviews helpful, they wouldn’t keep coming back to our site.

 

 Our Response : 

I am sure that TripAdvisor follows very effective ways of beating fake reviews however, with more than 230 new contributions posted every minute, how is the company able to keep track of the authenticity of every single review.

 

Let me bring your attention on the following news briefs posted by some noted news agencies:

 

 

In news that was published in the Dailymail a leading news agency in the UK reported on 16 October 2015 with a headline:

 

 

“Disturbing proof the online review that made you book your holiday may be FAKE: Investigation reveals an entire industry is dedicated to generating bogus appraisals for cash

Critics claim website TripAdvisor allows clearly false reviews to be posted

Restaurants and hotels have become increasingly reliant on good feedback

Every year, £23billion of UK consumer spending is influenced by reviews

Industry experts say market for fake reviews is booming across the world”

 

 

 

The article focuses on how the fraud reviews in the site is hampering business for good restaurateurs….

 

 

The article reads at a point :

 

 

 

‘Like all restaurants, we have become more reliant on these reviews than ever,’ said Mr Rahman. ‘In a city like Oxford that has lots of tourists, people want to find a good place to eat. They rely on these reviews and their ratings. But there is no accountability for anyone making these reports. They could be anyone — whether they have dined with you or not. It is a huge problem.’

And it is a problem that touches just about every aspect of modern life. Today, log on to the internet and it is possible to find reviews for everything from hotels to hospitals, from tradesmen to teachers.

Websites invite members of the public to submit their opinions and their ratings, which can then be viewed by other potential customers.’

 

And, as the Mail reveals today, an entire industry has grown up dedicated to generating bogus reviews for cash. ‘If you want to give a good impression or mislead consumers into trusting you, the best way to do it is to fake online reviews,’ says Chris Emmins, co-founder of reputation management company KwikChex.

   

To discover just how prevalent the problem has become, I visited a website called Fiverr on which freelance writers, graphic artists and computer programmers from around the world bid for work.

On it, I posted the following request: ‘I’m about to start marketing a holiday cottage in Scotland and want to get some good reviews on leading holiday sites — need reviews and advice on how best to do this.’

Within an hour, I had received more than 20 replies — the cheapest offering a fake review for just £3.50. But what exactly would I get for this?

One of those who answered, an American woman in her 30s who described herself as a writer and ‘stay-at-home-mom’, explained: ‘I would love to leave a positive review of your cottage. I will leave it on TripAdvisor or whichever site you think is best.’

I asked her how it would work. Given that she wouldn’t ever actually go to the cottage, should I send her photos of the property and a description?

‘I wouldn’t do pictures,’ she replied. ‘Most of the time people write reviews they don’t have photos handy so I think it would look fake. That said, if you want me to use pictures I will. The best way to do it is for you to write exactly what you want the review to say.

‘I will post it from an aged TripAdvisor account, one that has previous reviews on it, and it will go up and stick with no problems at all.

‘Accept the offer I sent you, send me the text of the review and I will get it posted. TripAdvisor can take up to 24 hours to list a review. Once it is on their site, I send you a screenshot and close out the gig.’

I asked if she had done it before to which she replied: ‘Yes, I’ve done it several times before. Yesterday I did one in fact. Positive reviews always work.’

 

 

 

 

Yet another article in The Guardian published on Oct24, 2015 reads:

 

 

 

Twitter campaign takes aim at fake restaurant reviews on TripAdvisor

 

 

Last weekend Amazon announced that it would take legal action in the US against more than 1,000 people who have been offering to write fake reviews for a fee. Days later came the allegation that an Australian holiday apartment company had bribed a customer to remove one negative review from TripAdvisor and was fudging the system to stop other reviews.

 

Rayner, and other supporters of #noreceiptnoreview, believe the inclusion of a receipt with a review would help restore trust in websites that rely on reviews for much of their traffic. “TripAdvisor have admitted they have a problem with fake reviews, and if you have a business model that functions on trust, then you need to do something to protect that,” said Rayner. “At the moment I only use TripAdvisor to get a list of places in a particular town I’m going to – I ignore the rankings.”

 

 

 

 

News revealed at Aol Travel Posted Jan 24th 2011 06:20 PM

 

 

 

TripAdvisor, the popular reader-generated travel review website, released its annual list of America’s Top 10 Dirtiest Hotels.

 

 

ABC’s Good Morning America promoted the announcement by releasing the names of the top three hotels. But a closer look at the ranking calls into question how current or fair the TripAdvisor ratings really are.

 

 

 

But the third-nastiest hotel, Daytona Beach’s Desert Inn Resort, claimed that “between 70-80%” of its customers were return guests, implying that its quality therefore couldn’t be that bad.

 

The Desert Inn was even more pointed in its objections to being used for TripAdvisor’s publicity campaign. Its statement claimed that TripAdvisor had approached the property to advertise on the site and was turned down, and that other hotels in the same city had ratings equal to or lower than its own.

 

 

There’s also the larger issue of how TripAdvisor’s reviews are collected to begin with. The site has long been accused of being an easily manipulated battleground for sabotage-minded rivals and public relations puffery. The site claims it has the means to catch “the vast majority” of bogus reviews, but the fact is that no human or algorithm can infallibly separate lies from truth.

 

Many hotels also gently pressure guests to lodge positive reviews after their stays in order to bump up their rankings. Hotels that make no such effort are placed at a disadvantage.

 

 

 

 

The Telegraph UK published in 08 Oct 2010.

 

 

 

The anger of owners has been intensified by the emails TripAdvisor sends to users, media organizations and PR companies, with subject lines such as “Don’t go there – hotel horror stories”, “Meals from hell” and “The world’s dirtiest hotels”. Emmins of KwikChex claims these unfairly influence the travelling public. “Adding disparaging and out-of-context comments, overemphasizing the reliability of unverified reviews and failing to respond to offers of evidence may make TripAdvisor liable,” he said.

 

 

 

 

  1. That there are discrepancies in ratings

 

What you have reported:

There are instances that prove the discrepancy in rating. Where a hotel had 85 reviews 73 excellent 10 very good and 2 good reviews, they had been listed on TripAdvisor for 9 years and were ranked 6th out of 47 hotels. The hotel listed 1st only had 9 reviews, 7 excellent and 2 very good and had only been listed on TripAdvisor for just over a year, BOTH hotels had very recent reviews. So how does this hotel rating site explain this factor?

 

What is factual:

TripAdvisor’s Popularity Index is based on traveler feedback and takes into account a number of factors, including the quantity and quality of reviews as well as the consistency of ratings over time. Rankings change organically when the algorithm refreshes each day.

 

 

 

From a News post of TTGAsia published April 27, 2016

 

Large proportion of TripAdvisor reviews suspicious, university researchers warn

 

 

 

 

A “large and considerable proportion” of online hotel customer reviews on TripAdvisor may be unreliable or fake, and reviews for lower-tier hotels deserve a harder look, according to a study by Markus Schuckert and Rob Law of the School of Hotel and Tourism Management at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University and a co-researcher.

 

 

 

TripAdvisor allows reviewers to leave two types of numerical ratings for hotels – one for overall rating, and separately, six specific scores for service, value, sleep quality, cleanliness, location and rooms.

 

According to the study, signs that piqued suspicion included two reviews for which the overall hotel rating was a perfect score of five but the six specific qualities were only rated one or two.

 

Comparing the ratings with the corresponding written comments, one of the reviews seemed to fit the perfect rating, suggesting that the category ratings were unrepresentative of the customer experience, whereas the other review seemed more consistent with an overall low rating, suggesting that the high overall rating was misleading.

 

The research also revealed that in general, higher-tier hotels had less of a gap in their ratings than lower class hotels. This could suggest that “the problem of suspicious online ratings” may be more serious among the lower-class hotels.

 

It remained unclear if discrepancies were caused by deliberate manipulation or by “perfunctory rating behavior” but the researchers nevertheless urged online customers to “pay more attention to the rating gap” on TripAdvisor.

 

They also suggested that TripAdvisor provide a warning to reviewers who “may have made a mistake or may not be taking the rating seriously” if they try to post a review with ratings that differ by more than 0.5.

 

41,572 reviews across 185 hotels with star ratings of one through five were considered in the study.

 

 

 

 

News from Travelweekly Published on June 10, 2015

 

 

Do hotel star ratings really matter?

 

 

Indeed, many hoteliers encourage their guests to write TripAdvisor reviews, and the annual Top 10 list is chosen based on the quality and quantity of reviews.

 

 

fredericgonzalo reports on 26.1.2014

 

 

If travel review sites are so influential, one would think that most hoteliers, restaurant managers and attraction owners manage their presence here in order to highlight their best pictures, answer customer feedback and perhaps push some promotions, right? Well, not really so. In fact, only between 30% and 40% of businesses listed on TripAdvisor actually manage their presence! Perhaps some will say they are too busy or they already have their hands full with Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, for example. That would be a misguided answer. Consider these stats:

 

There are over 125 million reviews on TripAdvisor, generated by some 34 million active users;

On average, there are 260 million unique visitors per month on the site;

Various studies have found a direct correlation between an accommodations’s TripAdvisor score and its RevPAR (revenue per available room). In fact, one study showed rates could increase by up to 11% without affecting bookings negatively for a highly ranked establishment.

Thus, ranking highly in your category versus your competitors can impact positively on sales, not to mention brand awareness and perception. It is therefore imperative to understand how the ranking algorithm works on TripAdvisor, in order to make the most of it to your advantage. Notice I did not say “game the system”, since I’m a firm believer that truth always comes out…

 

 

 

 

A report in Independent published on Tuesday 30 June 2015

 

 

 

TripAdvisor denies rating system is flawed, after fake restaurant tops rankings in Italy

 

 

Italian newspaper Italia a Tavola created the profile of a fake restaurant as part of an experiment to reveal alleged flaws in the rankings system which they say to leave it vulnerable to fraudulent reviews. The imaginary restaurant was named ‘La Scaletta’ and fake reviews were listed underneath it.

 

The newspaper claims that this shows TripAdvisor’s reviewing system is flawed and open to manipulation.

 

 

We know that, when fraudsters attempt to manipulate the rankings on our site, they leave behind patterns that we can and do trace.

 

“We have been tracking reviews for well over a decade, so we can spot what is normal reviewer behaviour and what isn’t- that is how we catch fraud.”

 

TripAdvisor was founded in 2000 for members of the public to review businesses and events online. More than 170 million reviews are currently listed.

 

In December of last year, Italian authorities fined TripAdvisor 500,000 Euros after ruling that it had failed to adopt sufficient mechanisms to protect consumers from being exposed to false reviews.

 

Last week, the company admitted that it removed some critical reviews of a National Trust estate after being contacted by a PR officer for the venue. Trip Advisor said that the deletions were made because they had determined that they did not relate to a genuine first-hand experience.

 

 

 

  1. That we allow commercial interests to affect rankings on TripAdvisor

 

What you have reported:

There could be a possibility that the site maybe accepting payment for improving ranking of hotels. If you look up any city on TripAdvisor, and check the rankings, it never makes sense when you look at the review details, BUT it is as clear as daylight that nearly all the highest ranking listings are also “Paid Listings”.

 

What is factual:

We are deeply proud of our independence as a site. We believe in transparency and in the rights of the travel community to share their genuine experiences – whether positive or negative. These principles remain at the heart of everything we do. That is why we maintain a strict firewall between our commerce and content teams. We never remove reviews simply at a property’s request and we never allow factors relating to revenue, subscriptions or consumer traffic to influence TripAdvisor rankings, awards or recognitions.

 

 

 

This is an observation considering your fake reviewing system and discrepancies in rating could possibly conjure such practices.

 

 

 

 

  1. That TripAdvisor was fined by the Italian courts for improper business practices

 

What you have reported:

Italy’s antitrust authority has fined TripAdvisor 500,000 Euros ($600,000) following complaints of improper business practices lodged by a national hoteliers’ association and a consumer protection agency for failing to control false reviews in 2014. Indeed the site continues to have negative comments and false reviews on its site every month.

 

What is factual:

In actual fact, a regional court in Italy overturned the ICA ruling against TripAdvisor in July 2015 which confirmed what we always knew – that TripAdvisor is a hugely valuable and reliable resource, that there is no misleading message regarding the source of TripAdvisor’s reviews, and the processes TripAdvisor uses to maintain the integrity of our content are extremely effective. The TAR confirmed that the ICA’s ruling was completely unwarranted and by extension has acknowledged the industry-leading tools TripAdvisor has to protect our site from fraud. Millions of people use TripAdvisor every day to help them make better travel and booking decisions and get the best possible value for their hard-earned money. We see this as a victory for consumers as well as an endorsement of TripAdvisor’s commitment to help democratize the travel industry.

 

 

Posted in JUL 14, 2015 Business insider

 

Beware, online reviews can be fake! Tripadvisor managed to escape fine in Italy over fake reviews

“TripAdvisor never asserted that all the opinions were real, even mentioning that verification was impossible and to consider the trend rather than each comment one by one,” AFP reported, quoting the administrative court ruling.

Italy’s hotel and restaurant trade association, Federalberghi, expressed its disappointment over the ruling. It said there are gaps in the country’s legislation which allowed the company to avoid correcting its practices.

 

 

Commercial central reported on May 02.2015

Tripadvisor escapes fine in Italy over fake reviews

An Italian court overturned Monday a 500,000-euro ($550,000) fine slapped on TripAdvisor for failing to warn users that some opinions posted on the popular hotel and restaurant review website may be fakes. “TripAdvisor never asserted that all the opinions were real, even mentioning that verification was impossible and to consider the trend rather than each comment one by one,” said the administrative court ruling.

 

The Economic Times 14 Jul, 2015

TripAdvisor escapes fine in Italy over fake reviews

 

“TripAdvisor never asserted that all the opinions were real, even mentioning that verification was impossible and to consider the trend rather than each comment one by one,” said the administrative court ruling.

 

Italy’s hotel and restaurant trade association, Federalberghi, expressed its disappointment in the court ruling, which it said confirms that gaps in the country’s legislation allows the company to avoid correcting its practices.

 

Federalberghi cited the recent case of a phantom restaurant leaping to the top of the rankings in a Lombardy town in one month thanks to 10 fake comments.

The same news was published in Business Standard, nowhere in the reports has it been determined that TripAdvisor is a hugely valuable and reliable resource, the site confesses that,”TripAdvisor never asserted that all the opinions were real, even mentioning that verification was impossible and to consider the trend rather than each comment one by one,” said the administrative court ruling.Italy’s hotel and restaurant trade association, Federalberghi, expressed its disappointment over the ruling.

TripAdvisor India’s Senior Manager – Public Relations Ms. Shikha Sehrawat also wrote these to Travel And Tour World:

 

I am sure you understand that such a speculative story damages the image of the brand and it’s only right to report with correct and updated information about the company. Additionally, we ensure that the you and your team regularly receives information from TripAdvisor as part of releases and surveys hence; it was surprising that no one tried to reach us for a comment while doing this story. 

 

We request you to please share a corrigendum or revise the story on your portal. We also request the immediate removal of the existing article from your website as it’s misleading.

 

Going by the reports that we are constantly receiving about how the site succumbs to the challenges of hotel and destination ratings, do you think I should still go with her advice?

 

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