Is It Time to Trust TripAdvisor Again?

By Robert McGarvey

Finally TripAdvisor is back in the news for doing something that looks to be right. The Detroit Free Press, which had investigated TripAdvisor’s apparent burying of reviews that alleged sexual assaults – sometimes by resort and hotel employees – tells the story that TripAdvisor now vows it’s mapped a different course. The Freep headline shouts: TripAdvisor will now flag sexual assault warnings on travel reviews.

The promise: a simple click of a filter will bring up reviews that claim sexual assaults and other safety related complaints.

According to the Freep, TripAdvisor admitted that an internal investigation had found 1100 reviews that claimed sexual assault had been posted on the site in the past year. But it wasn’t always easy to find them

Indeed,a 2017 investigation by the Milwaukee Sentinel found that TipAdvisor had a pattern of deleting posts alleging rape or assault.  

Along the way I had personally declared TripAdvisor to no longer be trustworthy.  Once I had seen it as the go to site for hotel reviews but I stopped.

Now TripAdvisor screams: trust us, we’re changed, we’re different!

Color me skeptical.

Probably the real driver for TripAdvisor is that it had found itself playing catch up – and failing – in surveys of hotel review sites.  Google had in fact galloped into a huge lead over TripAdvisor and probably TripAdvisor saw only darkness at the end of its tunnel.  

Flashforward and now TripAdvisor says it has had an epiphany.  It told the Freep: “When your article hit, we started re-evaluating our policies,” said TripAdvisor spokesman Brian Hoyt, noting the 1,100 reviews citing sexual assault raised eyebrows. “One incident is horrible — 1,100 is horrific. Having read through many of these accounts, it really motivated us at TripAdvisor to make sure we do right by these survivors and help them find a way to share this information with others.”

Here’s what visitors to TripAdvisor will now find, per the Freep: “Rather than have to dig through tens of millions of hotel reviews in search of rape complaints, TripAdvisor users will now be able to click through a filter on each property to see if there are any reviews with safety warnings involving rapes, robberies or druggings.”

TripAdvisor pointed some media to the Palm Beach Hotel in Vietnam as a case in point of its get tough policies. In my clicking it indeed was easy to see there were safety concerns and it was also easy to pull up two very tough reviews.

TripAdvisor itself explains what changes it has made here.

There’s a lot to like about what TripAdvisor says it is doing.

The money question of course is do you now trust TripAdvisor?  With its history of burying and simply deleting reviews alleging crimes at hotels?

Remember, in 2017, Senator Tammy Baldwin asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate TripAdvisor. Per the NY Times, “This may be a case of putting profits over providing an open, honest forum for traveler reviews on TripAdvisor,” Ms. Baldwin said in a tweet on Nov. 26. “I called on the F.T.C. to look into this and they should get to the bottom of it.”

And yet the beat went on at TripAdvisor: there persisted an unwillingness to wrestle with the reality that some resorts, in some parts of the world, seem to have persistent issues involved a failure to provide for the safety of guests.

I absolutely understand the difficulties in accepting as true unproven allegations about a hotel employee and the hotel itself.

But, remember, TripAdvisor won fans because it published negative reviews about bad dinner service, clogged toilets, stained bedding, and other unpleasantries. It won our trust because it let travelers dish about the bad and the ugly at hotels and not just the good.

And then to find out that apparently many, many reviews that claimed rape were deleted because they weren’t “family friendly,” where are we to put our trust?

As recently as this year, the Guardian ran a piece that said some women still had loud complaints about the fairness of TripAdvisor’s handling of rape allegations.

So now we are supposed to believe TripAdvisor has gotten religion about helping travelers stay safer?

My advice is to remain skeptical of TripAdvisor. The NY Times too has reservations. I want to trust the site – I truly do – but the history tells me to go slow here. It has to re-earn our trust. I for one hope it does.

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