At its inception, TripAdvisor was seen as a real Eureka moment for the hospitality industry. An opportunity for the customer to become involved, a foreshadowing of the now near-inevitable and constant interaction between provider and consumer, an exciting step forward into the world of on-the-ground civilian journalism – and it seemed to work. Now bestriding the world with 18 sites across 27 countries and 50 million users per month, the TripAdvisor behemoth looks solid as a rock… but the cracks are starting, not just to show, but to expose gaping-wide fissures in its supposedly morally unassailable structure.
The latest story to hit the news is that of The Good Life, a small, unassuming vegetarian restaurant in Shrewsbury, which unaccountably was racking up vicious reviews. As it turned out, the perpetrator was none other than the current partner of the owner’s ex (do keep up) who felt it a good use of her time to ruin her (non-)rival’s business; she has made a public apology but the business hangs on a knife-edge. The point here is that the offender had never been to the restaurant and yet was able to post slanderous comments seemingly without any checks or proof of visit whatsoever. And she is by no means alone. Last year many hotels, B&Bs and restaurants reported severe drops in business in an already difficult market due to false and malicious comments left by competitors, people bearing grudges or even potential customers trying a bit of blackmail to get an upgrade or free meal. Many businesses complained that they were never given a chance to deal with a genuine complaint as the customer simply posted it without previous discussion. And it works both ways: hotels have been accused of paying agencies to boost rankings with positive reviews.
The Advertising Standard Authority, after a formal investigation, last year ruled that TripAdvisor could not ‘claim or imply’ all reviews were genuine – a basic case of ‘caveat emptor’ then. In their defence late last year, TripAdvisor responded by setting up a UK-based customer service team to scrutinise suspicious content to ensure this sort of thing didn’t happen, but how and what they check remains a mystery. It remains the case that all reviews should be taken with a pinch of salt; if TripAdvisor can’t tell which ones are fake, how can you?
Do you use and trust customer review sites? Have you ever posted on them and have you ever posted anything negative and what was the reason – did you try to sort it out with the manager first? Do you use them more abroad or in the UK? We’d love to get your feedback.