By Robert McGarvey
I have long been on record as a TripAdvisor fan. My argument has been, sure, some of the reviews are nuts or blatant puffery but when there are enough reviews, a kind of commonsense reality will emerge.
I take all that back.
I no longer recommend TripAdvisor as a trustworthy source of hotel commentary and – sadly – I have no recommendation about what to replace it with.
TripAdvisor’s sin of course is that it has been caught deleting reviews that claimed the person had been raped on property, sometimes by hotel staff.
But other kinds of negative comments too were deleted.
An investigative piece in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel initially explored the suspicious death of a Wisconsin student in Mexico, apparently from drinking contaminated alcohol at a resort. As the paper poked into this, it found evidence that many, many reviews and comments on TripAdvisor apparently had been deleted.
Evidence mounts that TripAdvisor has a longstanding policy of removing some kinds of negative commentary.
Even when that commentary is exactly what a potential guest might want to know before before booking a stay.
The FTC may now be investigating TripAdvisor. The Journal Sentinel reported: “The Commission has a strong interest in protecting consumer confidence in the online marketplace, including the robust online market for hotel and travel,” wrote Maureen Ohlhausen, acting chairman of the FTC. “When consumers are unable to post honest reviews about a business, it can harm other consumers whose abilities to make well-informed purchase decisions are hindered and harm businesses that work hard to earn positive reviews.”
Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) has upped the presure on the FTC to investigate TripAdvisor. In a Tweet she wrote: “This may be a case of putting profits over providing an open, honest forum for traveler reviews on TripAdvisor. I called on the F.T.C. to look into this and they should get to the bottom of it.”
TripAdvisor apparently justified deletions by saying the posts were hearsay or off topic or in violation of a “family friendly” tone.
Maybe so, but would you want to know if a resort has a history of selling tainted booze or condoning sexual predators on staff?
It gets worse. The Journal Sentinel reported this: “An untold number of TripAdvisor users have been granted special privileges, including the ability to delete forum posts. But the company won’t disclose how those users are selected. “
Nor will TripAdvisor disclose who they are.
That has to trouble you in the way letting a coyote guard a chicken coop would.
TripAdvisor, for its part, has issued its own mea culpa. It denies that it removed any posts to please hotels and resorts but acknowledges that a prevailing “family friendly” content edict had resulted in removal of many posts.
Some of those posts detailed sexual assaults.
The company claims it has loosened its language restrictions.
TripAdvisor now says: “A simple search of TripAdvisor will show numerous reviews from travelers over the last several years who wrote about their first-hand experiences that include matters of robbery or theft, assault and rape. We believe any first-hand experience should be posted to our site as a means to communicate to other consumers looking for information on where they should travel.”
The company added: “In order to better inform consumers and provide them with even more information about their travels, TripAdvisor is creating a ‘badge’ notification to apply to businesses to alert consumers of health and safety or discrimination issues at that business reported on within the media or other credible sources of information.”
Here’s an example.
In searches on TripAdvisor for reviews that include allegations of rape I found quite a few reviews. Here are some for Cancun. Here are 1600+ sitewide – but many are mentions of “The Rape of the Sabine Women,” sometimes rape flowers, some complain about getting price gouged, but at least some pertain to claims of sexual misconduct.
Are you willing to forgive TripAdvisor and take its new policy at its word?
TripAdvisor plainly is trying to make amends for its past missteps.
Do you trust it now?
I do not. Much more transparency is required to regain trust. Who has deletion privileges? How is it used? What hotels can delete reviews?
A lot of deletions occurred in the past. How can TripAdvisor be trusted to stop?
If a review site cannot be trusted to post reviews alleging serious misconduct, how can it be trusted at all?
The real hair puller here is that, honestly, there are no alternatives. Various hotel organizations talk about creating their own review sites. Some hotel companies talk about seeking out more reviews. But, really, everybody with an interest already has too much skin in the game. They aren’t unbiased.
That’s why I want TripAdvisor to work, I want them to fix this. I hope it’s fast.
12/10 – Read about how TripAdvisor was pranked into rating a fake restaurant London’s best. A chilling tale.