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
    0

    Comment number 192.

    I think all TripAdvisor can really say is that they are a site where the public can publish there opinion of a hotel, fair or not is a subjective matter and not really quantifiable. I generally am not put off by one or two bad review but take the consensus of a number of reviews as any sensible person would.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 191.

    HYS is normally a good place for debate. Today I'm amazed! :-(

    The article is all about TA's advertising, i.e it's all trustworthy, you can take everything on the site as gospel... that's the implication in their blurb.
    ASA state this isn't the case and that "we" as end users should be a little circumspect about what we believe.
    The VAST majority seem to support this view? but say otherwise??

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 190.

    Stayed last week at a Hotel in Portsmouth. Usually check with TA but didnt this time, got woken by screaming and shouting from nearby nightclub. Went to TA and this very problem was highlighted in many of the posts and the room and breakfast descriptions were accurate. I find it good, just ignore the extreme reviews either end.
    British hoteliers need to improve their act, TA finds them out.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 189.

    From a constant tripadvisor user/reviewer: as mentioned, check a lot of reviews to get a balanced idea. A bad review could prompt a check of: his/her other reviews, if their age/status/lifestyle corresponds with yours, and the cities/countries they show as visited. It may be that the entire destination (not just one restaurant or hotel) is totally new, and does not conform. mancjock sums it up.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 188.

    147. BandBowner

    I see where you are coming from. Yet, hotel owners have the opportunity to comments on individual posts and I have seen some robust responses from hotel managements.

    People using TA regularly are quite wise to the tricks - like with everything on internet (this blog?). You take it with a pinch, or bucket, of salt and look for the common theme - it is always there...

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 187.

    I have used tripadvisor for years and have found some excellent accommodations through the site that I would never have known about otherwise. I also write reviews. Photos are very helpful, especially those provided by travellers. It is a highly useful tool in trip planning, although I have not and probably would not book through the site as I usually get better rates direct from the hotels.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 186.

    TripAdvisor is widely abused.

    Unverified reports should be marked as such.

    There's clearly positive spin on some awful dumps and the reverse also, perhaps from competitors. It seems some people are paid to insert false reports.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 185.

    165.solomondogs

    Well, why do you think voting in this country is anonymous too? Because of cowardice?..

    TripAdvisor has done great service to scores of travellers like myself. It also helped to reduce some shoddy practices quite prevalent amongst some of the "service" providers. Of course it's not perfect and perhaps needs to sharpen up a little. What is wrong with everyone having opinion?

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 184.

    Who uses Trip Advisor anyway? Word of mouth and recommendation from friends and family is sometimes much better that Trip Advisor.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 183.

    My wife booked a holiday in Gran Canaria last Novemebr. I read the reviews on TA and other review sites and was horrified at the stories of petulant staff and hoardes of cockroaches.
    When we got there, we found the staff falling over themselves to help and everything was exceptionally clean. Not a cockroach in site. I will just take my chances and form my own opinions, next time

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 182.

    I get that a rogue bad review can hurt a small business such as a B&B. But how did these small businesses cope before the internet made it so easy to search for a cheap place to stay? The advent of the internet has been good for them - revenues have risen a lot compared to the pre-internet era. You have to take the good with the bad.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 181.

    It is a very useful site as it also addresses things that most brochures or hotel websites will not eg noise, security, decor, hygiene, prices, good places you can eat nearby etc. Some of the comments can be hysterical or biased but generally you make your own subjective decision as you do in all things in life based on evidence or data. People who research generally get fewer shocks.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 180.

    I am constantly surprised at the variety of things about which people can complain. Some reviews are useful and some are just risible - like the person who complained his or her hotel in Sri Lanka served curry and they didn't like the smell! (That rather begs a question...) However, if you see a common theme occurring in the complaints it may be as well to pay attention.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 179.

    161.ArchieBun
    Emzdad - "Leaving an anonymous review is very important.[deleted extra words in the middle for space :-)] . A few fake reviews is a small price to pay"

    I totally agree, I also take extreme views (either way) with a pinch of salt.

    but bottom line that doesn't make the site "trustworthy"

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 178.

    I'm thankful that I sold my hotel in 1995- before the dreaded internet arrived. We used to find that some weeks we would have just one family for whom absolutely nothing was right- such people often upset the other guests even more than ourselves, and are often the ones who post nasty reviews. I wonder how many nice, well run estabishments have been murdered on the interenet in this malicious way.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 177.

    I don't think this ruling will make the slightest difference to most Trip Advisor users.
    Most balance the benefit of others opinions with the knowledge that some of those opinions might be unfair.
    Its all about numbers. A large number of reviews will provide a higher degree of accuracy.
    When I look up somewhere I know well ( good or bad) I find it is accurate and that's why I trust it.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 176.

    To say that the word "trust" cannot be used, not because there ARE fake reviews, but because there COULD be, is not rational in any way.

    Last year, I planned to take my family to a theme park in Malaysia. The website made it look fantastic, but ALL Tripadvisor reviews claimed poor service and worse maintenance and facilities mostly either closed or in bad condition.

    Guess who I trusted?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 175.

    I tend to take negative reviews with a pinch of salt. I find too many are written purely and highlight a lack of education or research on the part of the reviewer. If I read that someone complained because a converted convent has religious paintings on the wall, I dismiss them as morons and move onto the next review. Do your research on travel guides, not fan reviews.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 174.

    Tripadvisors entire model is flawed. Hotels can gain huge amounts of business from being in the top 3 rated premises in an area and its all too easy to add a fake review to boost your rating (and dare I say criticize competitors). Also, we have actually been held to ransom for cheap rates by guests threatening bad reviews!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 173.

    I've not put much store by "user reviews" since reading feedback on a hostel I stayed in, that clearly had been written maliciously. It did not describe the place I had stayed in as I remember it, it complained about things that were outside of the owner's control and even criticised the décor?! Some people just see it as an excuse to lie for attention, I don't see the point of doing that.

 

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