Controversy Expands As Online Review Sites Become More Popular.
(Dive Travel Business News - January 15, 2011) --
With the growing popularity and influence of social media and online review sites, more consumers are using these sites as resources when booking their travel. According to a new study by Mondial Assistance, USA, 60% of consumers now say they consider travelers’ online reviews when booking a vacation. TripAdvisor, whose tagline is "Get the truth. Then Go", has become the world's biggest travel site, with more than 50 million reviews, all written by consumers.
"In these tough economic times, consumers want assurance that if they are going to spend on travel, they are selecting the best experiences, and reviews from peers and colleagues act as a security blanket for uncertain travelers," said Daniel Durazo, director of communications for Mondial Assistance.
But this trend towards using review sites as a source of travel wisdom does not come without controversy as reports continue about fake reviews and some potential reviewers coming up with blackmail schemes.
Being the biggest, TripAdvisor has become most influential evaluator of hotel experiences. Abuses and false reviews at TripAdvisro have been well publicized in the news. Recent reports claimed that more than 80 hotel and bed-and breakfast owners have reported being subjected to threats from customers using blackmail. Incidents include 50 % discounts when a guests checks in, in order to prevent a “one-star review,” while others have posted false reports on food poisoning and theft.
Some customers are clearly using the increased power of such sites to try for free upgrades or refunds in cases where nothing was wrong, reported various sites including telegrah.co.uk. “Industry experts have said that a bad rating or review on the popular ratings site can be costly, sometimes to the tune of tens of thousands of pounds in lost bookings,” says the Telegraph.
On TripAdvisor's own message boards, scores of hotel owners describe how guests have made similar attempts to extort money, The London Times reported.
A typical posting read:
"I am fed up of blackmail by guests either asking for upgrades and promising to put a good report on TripAdvisor (sic) or people who complain stating if we don't get our money back + compensation I will put a bad review on."
A spokeswoman for TripAdvisor said: "We take allegations of blackmail or threatening behavior by guests against property owners very seriously. Not only is it strictly against our guidelines, but it may also be illegal."
On the other side of the coin, news reports indicate properties hiring reviewers to post postive reviews of mediocre properties. Suppliers to some hotels are also known to get their own staff to post stellar reviews to maintain supplier contracts with the hotel.
Some news stories have also recently said up to 10 million TripAdvisor reviews may be faked in one way or another. A caveat to Resorts and Travelers. Take Online Review sites with a grain of salt.
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