I like Tripadvisor for the most part and use its reviews the way my daughter’s middle school French teacher computed quarterly grades – throw out the top and bottom scores and add up the rest.
Still, a recent post on The Consumerist (via Hotelchatter) gave me pause. It seems a budget hotel in Dallas put up a sign in the lobby offering to pay guests $3 to $5 “instantly” for a good review on Tripadvisor as well as Priceline, Hotels.com, Orbitz, Travelocity and Expedia.
As bribes go, the Grand Dallas Hotel didn’t offer much (it’s relative, perhaps; their rooms start at $50 on Hotels.com). But it once again raises the validity question about reviews on popular crowd-sourced sites.
In October the owner of the Ramada Glasgow Airport hotel was caught urging staff members to write positive reviews after too many Tripadvisor thumb downs. “We could do with some positive comments,” he wrote, adding reviews should not “go overboard” so as to appear real, The Daily Mail reported. A while back Ireland’s Clare Inn Hotel & Suites was caught posting bogus reviews at the owner’s bidding, which Tripadvisor removed.
Fake reviews are most prevalent at hotels and franchises operated by small and independent owners, according to a study released in August by three business school professors from Yale, Dartmouth and USC. Small businesses may feel they have less to lose if caught than large corporations, the study surmised.
That said, the internet makes outing flagrant offenders easier and speedier than in old media days. A hotel guest tipped off The Consumerist, sending a picture from his phone after seeing the sign in the hotel lobby. The site immediately posted a story.
Shortly after the post went up a representative for the hotel contacted the site. The rep offered an apology (“any type of incentive for reviews is not acceptable or right in any form or fashion”), an explanation (the rep was away from the hotel for a few days and over-enthusiastic desk staff members put up the sign) and an assurance that the offending sign “is now in the shredder,” a fact confirmed by the tipster.
The rep went on to say the hotel had asked Tripadvisor et al to remove all recent reviews of the property. A glance at the hotel’s Tripadvisor page indicates that likely happened. Just nine reviews appear (the hotel scored only three stars), ranging from “Wonderful stay” to “Sketchy!!! Scary!!! Low life’s throughout the parking lot and in hallways.” Nothing is posted after November.
Still, I can’t say this leaves me feeling much better about the lengths some hotels will go to in an effort to get the guest reviews it wants, whether earned or not. The business of crowd-sourced reviews remains a young and imperfect science. Or as FBI agent Jack Graham in Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt says about the world, “it needs a lot of watching.”