Today we’ve revealed how some of the highest-ranked hotels on TripAdvisor reached the top by using fake reviews. Have you ever been caught out?
Long before becoming a travel journalist I used to write live music reviews, among other things, for the now defunct Melody Maker magazine.
It was a job in which, on a regular basis, angry fans would write in demanding to know whether you were ‘even at the same gig?!?’
The thing is, reviews are always subjective. One person might think that Ed Sheeran is Suffolk’s answer to Prince. Another might think that he sounds like Simply Red being chased downstairs by a swarm of wasps.
When it comes to travel, reviews can often seem to be equally subjective.
Have you ever stayed at a hotel that’s received glowing write-ups online, but which has turned out to be a Fawlty Towers or, worse, a Britannia?
Our latest investigation suggests that many of these glowing reviews are not just a simple difference of opinion.
We found evidence that, on TripAdvisor, some of the highest ranked hotels in the world may have used underhand tactics to achieve their position.
They abused the fact that the site doesn’t check that reviewers have actually stayed in the places they review.
One hotel we looked at, the official ‘Best Hotel in Jordan’ at the time, had 730 five-star reviews removed shortly after we pointed out to TripAdvisor that they looked dodgy.
Other highly ranked hotels around the world, from Las Vegas to Cairo, had a pattern of reviews that our data analysis suggested was suspicious. Even a dowdy West London Travelodge rang serious alarm bells.
Is @TripAdvisor doing enough to prevent fake hotel reviews?
We found that many hotels, including the top-rated hotel in Cairo and a London @Travelodge hotel, clearly had fake reviews on TripAdvisor.
— Which? (@WhichUK) September 6, 2019
Unfortunately TripAdvisor itself didn’t agree. It said that our methodology didn’t work. Confusingly it said this in the same email in which it told us that 14 of the 15 hotels that we sent it had had at least one suspicious review removed in the previous year.
This includes the hotel that had 730 reviews removed.
The Travelodge, unbeknownst to us, had previously been given a red badge – TripAdvisor’s most severe warning that it had been trying to manipulate reviews.
Travelodge admitted that it had been reprimanded for not dealing with an ‘irregular pattern of reviews’ but blamed it on a communication breakdown and insisted that the hotel’s reviews are now clean.
Have you spotted a suspicious review?
The implication of TripAdvisor’s response to our investigation was alarming.
Either our methodology is as effective as we think at finding hotels that are abusing the system (in which case you wonder why TripAdvisor doesn’t use something similar to make sure fake reviews don’t appear in the first place), or it’s as useless as the site claims and we could have just sent it 15 hotels picked out of a hat and still found that 93% of them were dodgy.
Just how ubiquitous are those fakes?
TripAdvisor, at its best, does manage to provide a system for warning about genuinely awful hotels. It’s certainly better than others we’ve seen, some of which barely seem to bother with checking that reviews are genuine at all.
But it needs to do better at catching the fakes. Have you ever visited a hotel that’s nothing at all like the reviews suggested?
Do you think TripAdvisor has a problem with fake reviews?