TripAdvisor RIP


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 ‘badgenotification 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.


7 thoughts on “TripAdvisor RIP”

  1. I am disappointed. Like you, I am a big TripAdvisor fan. I rely on the reviews and provide reviews for others. It may be that TripAdvisor’s drive for booking commissions overshadowed their advisory product.

  2. This is a bit off topic because I have never been assaulted at an hotel or had things stolen or had bed bugs or any sort of subterfuge by management or staff. Nevertheless, trying to convey experiences that are less emotionally and legally horrendous, I too feel TripAdvisor is a useless tool.
    A problem that makes TripAdvisor seem worthless is it’s lack of accountability to those of us who write reviews. Anybody with any agenda can write anything; on the other hand, legitimate criticism by real guests is often met with accusations of lies in the replies by hotel management or owners whereby the owners impune the honesty of those writing reviews. I’m not sure about the methods TripAdvisor uses but in the end I read hundreds of insane reviews, hundreds of believable reviews answered with great personal insults hurled at guests who report poor experiences, and way too many reviews with blatant or covert racism as the basis for complaints.
    I am a frequent traveler who often devotes an hour or longer to writing one review about a hotel (generally I stay for periods in excess of four days…sometimes as long as fourteen days so I gave a lot to report on). I scrupulously follow every single “guideline” set forth by TripAdvisor. I keep ur relevant, specific, personal, detailed. I have found my reviews to certain hotels in certain cities are routinely rejected. I would say three out of every five reviews are rejected out of hand. The reviews rejected are not necessarily bad reviews whereby I only air grievances or make ridiculous comments (The hotel ruined my London holiday because it was raining; the hotel didn’t give me a double upgrade to which I had no reason for such entitlement; no English tv in a foreign country where can drivers don’t speak English either.) Often I’ve written stellar reviews, mostly about expensive hotels in Paris,London and in other major cities that have been filled with praise based upon documented experiences about service and hard product. No matter what, reviews are rejected! Of course if you enquire, TripAdvisor (who has no human beings one Dan communicate with) merely states the reviews are proprietary and they owe me no answers. Two things: firstly my “profile” looks as though I really don’t have the credentials to judge hotels based upon quantity of travel because such a small percentage of views are published. Secondly, hotels where I have developed a great rapport are disappointed in me for failing to keep my offer (and promise) to write a great review to reflect a fabulous stay.
    What’s particularly disturbing is so many reviews which contain racist comments and off-topic comments are actually published. I find it sickening that TripAdvisor lets its commenters to list the flaws and faults of certain nationalities as the main point of a review while saying nothing about the hotel. Likewise utterly generic reviews are published where no experience is reported. I also find it weird that one person will post twenty or thirty hotel reviews in one day about places that are as disparate as The Seychelles and Chicago. Lastly, when I date to wrote anything negative about an expensive hotel stay where my review deviates from the slew of rapturous praise, TripAdvisor fails to publish the review or the hotel manages to have it quickly deleted. Or, I guest an aggressively nasty call from a hotel manager wanting to know why I felt it necessary to publish a comment (about why I was treated poorly in the dining room or I was overcharged and never refunded) instead of working it out with the hotel directly. TripAdvisor’s rules state hotels cannot do this type of thing but happens all the time if I write an accurate review that doesn’t conform to what the hotel wants published.
    Perhaps another “genius” can find an alternative platform, or two. A review site to report crimes or frightening and/creepy hotel stays. If a traveler has been assaulted and local authorities are not helpful a platform to “out” these hotels is necessary. (Of course there are vindictive liars who will say the chambermaid stole jewelry because the guest didn’t get some sort of freebie). These reports should have nothing to do with anything other than alerting the public about a horrific experience. These reviews should be separated out from the normal reviews about hotels. Or, if a negative comment relating an awful experience is written in a review there should still be a separate list.
    TripAdvisor operates in the most opaque, arbitrary, unfair company used so regularly by the general public. Hotels also do not necessarily deliver consistent results: stellar reviews are no guarantee that you won’t get the worst room in the hotel. Oh, a word to the wise, all moderately upscale to upscale hotels (brands, chains and even as independents) keep “profiles” on troublemakers and disgruntled guests. They share lists about guests…and it really affects how a hotel will treat you even as a first time guest. So the hotels have their TripAdvisor about guests who complain or steal towels or who demand upgrades, etc. I’m sure make no serious accusations will get you blacklisted.

  3. Sorry lots of typos and weird autocorrects in my reply. Plus I think your other commenter has a good point: since TripAdvisor started their own third-party booking system problems have increased. Rarely does a hotel do anything to appease dissatisfied customers without keeping internal notes that are shared with other hotels.

  4. As the poster child for all of this, I, too, am concerned. I am such a perfectionist, I often wondered if I spent more time on vacation or more time RESEARCHING my vacation on TripAdvisor.

    I think the deeper issue to consider are the ‘core values’. Just like certain stores I REFUSE to shop based on their ethics and morals, I have to remind myself (OFTEN) the convenience is not worth the conviction.

  5. How does stand up to similar scruntney. My experience is mixed with respect to how their reviews stack up to my own evaluation once I get to the property. The only evaluation criterion I totally trust is when their reviewers rate property location.

  6. I agree with your assessment. So much so, in fact, that recently, and before reading your column, I removed all of my reviews from TripAdvisor and deleted my account.

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