TripAdvisor rebuked over 'trust' claims on review site

TripAdvisor screenshot The travel site's UK homepage no longer makes the claims that provoked the complaints

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TripAdvisor has been ordered to rewrite some of its marketing claims by the UK's Advertising Standards Authority.

The ruling follows complaints by hotels that the site had said that its holiday reviews could be "trusted".

The ASA said it was concerned that consumers might be fooled by fraudulent posts since the entries could be made "without any form of verification".

TripAdvisor described the ruling as a "highly technical view" of "copy that was used in a limited capacity".

However, the watchdog said that the ruling served as a warning to all UK-focused sites with user-generated material.

Fraud systems

The ASA said that the US-based firm's site originally carried statements saying that it contained "reviews that you can trust" and that it had "more than 50 million honest travel reviews".

It said that two hotels and the online reputation firm Kwikchex, which represented others, had complained that the claims were misleading since they could not be substantiated.

The advertising body said it acknowledged that reviewers were asked to sign a declaration that their reviews were real and that they had no incentive or competitive interest with the places commented on.

Start Quote

Don't major on trustworthiness if fake reviews can appear”

End Quote Guy Parker ASA chief executive

It also recognised that the site said that it used "advanced and highly effective fraud systems" to identify and remove fake content.

However, the ASA said it was still possible that "non-genuine" reviews could appear on the site undetected and that users might not be able to spot them.

It warned that this was particularly a problem in cases where an establishment only had a small number of reviews. It added that offering hoteliers a right to reply did not fully address the problem.

The ASA ordered the site to avoid running adverts in the same form again and said it must not claim or imply that all its reviews were from real travellers, or were honest, real or trusted.

"This should be regarded as a benchmark ruling which applies to all web sites which make claims about the reliability of their user-created content," the ASA's spokesman Matthew Wilson told the BBC.

Chief executive Guy Parker said that advertising rules policed by the authority applied to companies' claims on their own websites.

"This is a classic example of the sort of thing that members of public are complaining to us about," he said.

"Advertisers must apply the same scrutiny to their websites, as they do to their campaigns in paid-for space. And don't major on trustworthiness if fake reviews can appear."

The pros and cons of having your business reviewed on TripAdvisor: Published January 2012

The ASA's ruling was based on a survey of the site carried out in July 2011 when it was still owned by the travel booking service Expedia.

It has since been spun off as a separate entity. The current management downplayed the risk of customers being misled.

"We have confidence that the 50 million users who come to our site every month trust the reviews they read on TripAdvisor, which is why they keep coming back to us in increasingly larger numbers to plan and have the perfect trip," it said in a statement.

The homepage now contains no reference to the word "trust" and simply describes itself as "the world's largest travel site".

However, its international address - which is accessible in the UK - continues to describe its content as the "world's most trusted travel advice" in the corresponding part of the page. It adds elsewhere that "you'll find real hotel reviews you can trust".

When asked about this the ASA said that its remit only extended to claims targeted at a UK audience, so it would not be pursuing changes at the .com site.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 132.

    There are 2 distinct posters here. Those that are reviewers and those that are owners. Each then has examples where TA has been helpful. Most owners have also visited other hotels, but not many reviewers have owned or run one.
    I think owners who know comments are 'a fair cop' wouldn't get as upset.
    And no, owners do not put themselves on the site and have NO WAY of taking themselves off.

  • rate this

    Comment number 131.

    103. Portman

    It is the internet.......... It is strangely closer to the truth in toto than the controlled alternatives but you do have to apply some intelligence to the process yourself.

    I totally agree. As for Tripadvisor, I often use it as a reference and it hasn't let me down. I've recently become a contributor and I hope I give honest and objective reviews as I believe most do.

  • rate this

    Comment number 130.

    In the video interview, the TripAdvisor founder himself comes across (tone of voice, wording of answers) as evasive and slimy, just the sort of thing to evoke distrust. I use TA regularly and find it quite useful though not always on the mark. I tend to look at the negative reviews closely to see which can be dismissed as the ravings of the impossible to please and which are real warning signs.

  • Comment number 129.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 128.

    I use this site and find it very useful,however,one must remember that like almost everything else in life,one mans meat is another's poison.
    I have genuinely put criticism on holidays that I have been on while other's on the same holiday have had nothing but praise for it.
    So remember one must always make one's own mind up in the end.

  • rate this

    Comment number 127.

    I notice that its always hoteliers moaning about fake bad reviews. No-one mentions some hoteliers bribing people to remove a bad review. Thats happened to me 3 times now. 2 were for bad reviews, but the last was for a 4 out of 5 star rating! The hotelier only wanted perfect reviews.

  • rate this

    Comment number 126.

    Surely good hotels have nothing to fear. A duff entry on TripAdvisor will soon be corrected by honest contributors. It is only those with poor management skills, Basil Fawlty ideas, or a desire to ply customers with unwanted "extras" who will feel aggrieved.

    It is about time the customer came first again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 125.

    It's interesting that as an owner, you have to give trip advisor your credit card details to be able to post a management response. I don't believe reviewers have any such constraints. I also believe there have been many instances of hacking into TA, so they're not having my credit details!

  • rate this

    Comment number 124.

    Tripadvisors claim that it uses "advanced and highly effective fraud systems" is questionable. Go to the Saint Vincent page and look up Buccament Bay, it's a development that private investors have funded (kind of a timeshare). Look at all the 5* posts by one time posters. Hmmm!

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    Using Tripadvisor is fallible however if taken with a healthy 'pinch of salt' it can generally be relied upon for getting a broad feel for a place before investing money and time. As with all opinions - they are subjective by nature. I find it very useful but some more proactive recourse for those who have been maliciously targeted would help improve their reputation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 122.

    I never use Trip Advisor. When I read other peoples comments about my favourite restaurants I realise that everyone judges places/experiences by their own criteria which is different to mine. I have been disappointed when visiting places recommended by my friends so why should I trust complete strangers. I prefer to take my chance and use my own judgement.

  • rate this

    Comment number 121.

    I to have used Trip Adviser many times before booking,and read what are after all the opinions of travellers.I have often put in a report myself,(my opinion)of places I have stayed at.You cant always count on what the owner has advertised,or what the tour opperator has put.You can always read between the lines of reports.

  • rate this

    Comment number 120.

    41. aberguy
    "...I've been writing good and bad reivews on sites for clients including tripadvisor and never vistied any of the paces personally."

    I'm pretty appalled at this revelation. It's this kind of thing that breaks a great idea like TA and spoils it for us genuine users and contributors to the site. Perhaps 'aberguy' should come clean and name the clients he is writing bogus reviews for.

  • rate this

    Comment number 119.

    I saw a review for a hotel in Paris, submitted by a couple from Ohio:

    "I don't know why they bothered having a TV in the room: all the stations were n French."

    Obviously, one has to don the imbecile-filter when reading these things.

  • rate this

    Comment number 118.


    I would estimate that half of all these reviews, good or bad, are fake."

    ...and your evidence for this is?

  • rate this

    Comment number 117.

    The children (4) and (1) in our holiday cottage before Christmas were allowed to run riot with scissors and biro (leather sofas!): our terms and conditions make it clear that damage must be paid for: the response from the holiday-makers was abuse and threats to post negative comments on sites such as tripadvisor- blackmail notwithstanding county court summons issued ...

  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

    KwikChexChrisE - It's not just about consumer fraud, but fraud by establishments, which i think is the bigger problem. However i expect you to stick up for hoteliers since you make money from them. And advertising your business by way of the comments is a bit cheeky.

  • rate this

    Comment number 115.

    I travel worldwide for business and with family. I always use Tripadvisor and have done so for years. It has never let me down.
    Infact I find the most telling part is that if there is a complaint on TA how the hotel or restaurant deal with it - makes interesting reading. If a Hotel Manager deals with it badly or does not respond to the guest - I will not choose that hotel.

  • rate this

    Comment number 114.

    Problem is we are now getting 'reviewitis'. We check TripAdvisor but should we then check another site, an AA book, a restaurant guide? What if the reviews are inconsistent? With such neurosis beckoning,
    suddenly the standardised Premier Inns and Travel Lodges start to look like a good option.

  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

    The ASA criticism of Tripadvisor concerned the site's claim that it could be trusted. Most of the comments I have read have been from people who say they have USED the site, or they have CONTRIBUTED. But that is not the point. The site may be usable, and some people may find it useful. Users may evaluate reports and find some worth trusting. That does not make the site, as a whole, trustworthy.


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