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

However, its international tripadvisor.com 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
    +1

    Comment number 172.

    I've noticed that the BBC has moderated this thread.

    It’s very ironic that the BBC don’t appear to trust contributors on this thread, given the article’s subject matter.

    It just goes to show that you can't trust anonymous comments on the internet boards to be factual...

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 171.

    Why read these reviews when it is admitted that some commentators acknowledge NEVER actually using the resort, etc. Why not just require proof of visitation from the reviewer. Seems simple enough to me.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 170.

    I find Trip Advisor very helpful, thereare some obviously sponsored opinions and there are the whiney brigade who fail to get an upgrade or find the food is not like Siuthern California but unlike many travel sites there is no blatant paid sponsorship. With a little intelligence it is one of the best travel tools.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 169.

    In my experience the positive reviews on TripAdvisor appear to be written by friends and family of the proprietors, as they sometimes give glowing descriptions of places that are absolute dumps. So it cuts both ways.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 168.

    Unfortunately there are people who will try to be deliberately controversial for controversy's sake. Responsible reviewing is far more valuable than just slagging a service or product off. There was a negative review I read on a hotel we stayed at and the reviewer complained that the hotel was on a hill making her "climb ever so difficult". It was actually a gentle incline! Humourous but sad.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 167.

    I recently saw a tv documentary on TripAdviser - channel 4 I think it was. I felt really sorry for the hotels just trying to make a living. The programme just contained sad people who get a warped sense of satisfaction at posting on Tripadviser rather than talking to the hotel staff and giving them the opprtunity to address or rectify the problem.

  • Comment number 166.

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

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 165.

    Quite right to, tripadvisor and others like it encourage the modern trend of everyone being an expert, some people almost go out of their way to find fault, with everything, I can imagine the cost involved to a business should these people start placing negative comments, coupled with the cowardice of hiding behind a 'username' , there are some deeply unpleasent people out there..

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 164.

    Of course you can't trust every review but I have been to at least one hotel where the owner has argued with bad reviews on Trip Advisor (I only discovered after the visit) and he was honestly kidding himself, I agreed entirely with the negative reviews and the owner just flatly refused to accept his hotel had problems. Honesty with consumers cuts both ways.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 163.

    I once subscribed to TripAdvisor and almost immediately regretted doing so, you needed a degree in computer skills with honours to unsubscribe. So if they have not already done so, i would recommend they make their subscribe/unsubscribe proceedure much more simplified.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 162.

    Each year I spend 7 nights in a cottage self catering, I love nothing better than recommending places on trip advisior however the last place I stayed at last year was not as described as per its own website. Infact it was overpriced and a complete rip off said it had wireless which never worked unless you sat on two stairs from the bottom despite emailing twice the owner before booking.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 161.

    Emzdad - Leaving an anonymous review is very important. As was previously mentioned by another commentor they may threaten to sue, and even if you are right can you afford to go to court? And if your identity can be traced then you are open to being bullied by the proprieters. No, anonymity must be protected. A few fake reviews is a small price to pay

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 160.

    TripAdvisor reviews are infinitely more trustworthy than the propaganda put out by the leisure industry itself.
    What stops hotel owners posing as fake tourists and writing glowing references? Nothing, and certainly not this ruling.
    TripAdvisor permits owners of those hotels criticised on its site a right to reply, isn't this enough to satisfy them?
    No, business wants to suppress all dissent.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 159.

    As a professional in the tourism business for 30 + years, yes, Trip Advisor can be useful. The problem is that just one bad review sews the seeds of doubt in inexperienced travellers. And would you ask a complete stranger to comment on your choice of destination/holiday whilst sitting on the Tube? Use Trip Advisor but get independent advice as well.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 158.

    "As to the ASA comment that they can only regulate the UK site, with respect to them that is nonsense. Surely their remit
    applies to dot com sites available to UK users..."

    UK users can access sites anywhere in the world - how can ASA police the world, especially where local laws may be very different from our own? Maybe require foreign sites to block non-local IP addresses ...? :-S

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 157.

    Tripadvisor isn't the only hotel review site out there. It's always suggested to check the hotels reviews across a broad range of sites to get a good wide range of opinions ... most of the popular hotel sites like Expedia etc have customer review pages

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 156.

    How much time and money did it take for the ASA to do this investigation? All it has done is state the obvious. Surely there are better things they can focus their attention on eg mobile internet being branded as "unlimited" when it clearly is not, or those boxing day "sales"

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 155.

    at the end of the day you make your own decisions on where to stay! you could go to the best hotel in the world where you are waited on hand and foot and every wish is catered for but you can guarantee that someone will complain!

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 154.

    And why should I trust anything any of you have said?

    Trust no one. Especially on the internet.

    Yours,

    MarketingRobot v2.1.

  • Comment number 153.

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

 

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