UK-based consumer group Which? has accused TripAdvisor of failing to stop fake and suspicious reviews that boost the ratings of some of the world’s highest-ranked hotels.
An investigation by Which? Travel claimed that there has been a “flood” of such reviews on the site, having analysed 250,000 of them for the top 10 ranked hotels in the top 10 most popular tourist destinations around the world.
It flagged one in seven of the 100 hotels it looked at as having the hallmarks of fake reviews, while others raised “serious concerns”. It has also flagged 15 of the worst cases to TripAdvisor.
But TripAdvisor defended its practices and said Which?’s investigation was based on a “flawed understanding of fake review patterns and is reliant on too many assumptions and too little data”.
However, the reviews website did acknowledge that six of the hotels reported to it by Which? had previously been penalised for breaking guidelines and two had been given a “red badge” for suspicious activity. The red badge lets travellers know that reviews may have been manipulated by the business.
Following the investigation, TripAdvisor has taken down hundreds of reviews, including 730 five-star reviews for a hotel in Jordan. Meanwhile, a hotel in Cairo lost its status as the city’s best after it had reviews removed from its profile after Which? claimed that 79% of five-star reviews for it were left by profiles that had made no other contributions on the site.
Some of the best-rated hotels in London, Paris, Barcelona and Cape Town gave “some reason for suspicion” but Which? did not find similar patterns.
Which? Travel also compared 10 London hotels at the two biggest UK budget chains, Premier Inn and Travelodge. Premier Inn did not arouse suspicion, according to the investigation, but it found that at two of the Travelodges, 48% and 40% of five-star reviews respectively came from first-time contributors who’d never reviewed anywhere else.
It subsequently emerged that Travelodge Wembley Central had already been given a red warning badge earlier this year.
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 spokesperson for TripAdvisor 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 using when submitting a review. This crucial data is missing from Which’s analysis, and therefore its findings do not and cannot provide a reliable indication of the true volume of review fraud.
“By contrast, we employ sophisticated fraud detection technology that is able to analyse hundreds of data-points based on a knowledge and understanding of review patterns gained from tracking hundreds of millions of reviews over a near twenty year period. This includes an ability track and analyse first-time reviews in far more detail and with far more rigour than Which’s team was able to do. We also have an industry-leading team of fraud investigators who work tirelessly to protect the site from fake reviews.
“We are confident our approach works, and is one of the reasons we continue to retain the trust of many millions of consumers worldwide. They know from their own experience of using TripAdvisor that it is a source of useful and accurate information on which they can rely.”
A spokesperson for Travelodge said: “The integrity of customer reviews for our hotels is extremely important to us and we receive more than 70,000 reviews every year. We hold a strong established relationship with TripAdvisor.
“We did experience a breakdown in our internal communication when TripAdvisor identified an irregular pattern of reviews at our Wembley Central Travelodge Hotel that needed investigating.
Unfortunately on this occasion that matter was not managed effectively within the timeframe, and we have taken appropriate action to ensure this does not happen again.
“Wembley Central Travelodge has undergone a full refurbishment earlier this year and we are satisfied that the hotel reviews accurately reflect the customer experience at the hotel.”