Oct 152011

By the time I became a serious traveler, the internet was a widely available tool by which we could research and book travel.  I often think about how difficult it must have been to conduct travel research before the advent of the internet.  Many travelers relied on travel agents (and some still do).  Hard copy travel guides were a popular companion, and I still stubbornly refuse to purge my library of them (ranging from Anguilla to Zanzibar).

Fast forward to the age of iPhones & iPads, blackberries and laptops.  Most of us now use online tools and apps to research and book our next jaunt to paradise.

These days, I rarely meet a serious traveler who has not heard of or used Tripadvisor.  I don’t hesitate to profess my love of (OK, obsession with) the site.  It’s one of the few sites that I visit on a daily basis, and it’s perhaps the most important travel site for hotel and restaurant reviews.  To say that I rely heavily on Tripadvisor would be an understatement.  But is there a dark side to travel review sites like Tripadvisor? The answer is, quite unfortunately, yes.

Anyone who has spent significant time on review sites will notice strange patterns, including the overly glowing reviews which appear to be fake or planted.  The rise in popularity of review sites like Tripadvisor has created a niche industry for companies that specialize in writing reviews to escalate a business’ standing in the Tripadvisor rankings.  In the past year, I’m sad to say that I’ve noticed a considerable increase in the amount of reviews which appear to be suspicious.  For a heavy Tripadvisor user like me, it’s disturbing to witness the site being manipulated in this manner.

Tripadvisor takes allegations of fraud very seriously, and it imposes penalties on businesses found to be violating its guidelines.  According to Tripadvisor’s website, it considers the following actions to be fraudulent.

Attempts by an owner (or agents working on behalf of the ownership of a property) to boost the reputation of a property by:

  • Writing a review for their own property
  • Asking friends or relatives to write positive reviews
  • Submitting a review on behalf of a guest
  • Copying comment cards and submitting them as reviews
  • Pressuring a Tripadvisor member to remove a negative review
  • Offering incentives such as discounts, upgrades, or any special treatment in exchange for reviews
  • Hiring an optimization company, third party marketing organization, or anyone to submit false reviews
  • Impersonating a competitor or a guest in any way
  • Attempting to damage his/her competitors by submitting a negative review
So what should you do, as a Tripadvisor user?  Should you swear off the site entirely and revert solely to pre-internet travel planning methods?  I don’t think so.  Despite the controversy surrounding fake reviews, Tripadvisor remains the main weapon in my travel planning arsenal.
Stay tuned for Part II of this series, where I’ll share my secrets on how to get the most from Tripadvisor and use it to your advantage.  I’ll also share some of my tips for spotting fake reviews.
In full disclosure, I am a Destination Expert for Tripadvisor’s Beach Vacations forum.  This is an unpaid volunteer position.  I am not employed by, nor do I receive compensation from Tripadvisor.
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