/ Travel & Leisure

Have you ever spotted a fake hotel review?

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.

Alarm bells

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.

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?

Comments

I have posted reviews on a country and some of its restaurants I visited. I dont post many as I dont go to so many. I was not negative on the whole because it is a beautiful country. However, I touched on something that The Guardian had reported as well and that the water in the bay was not clean ( my husband may have become sick from it). I got a post back that viciously slated my moderate view and I was scared to ever leave what seemed like a simple review/my opinion ever again. I reported this but never heard from TripAdvisor. When I looked up the person who had done this rude review (a review more of my character than the place itself!) they had reviewed thousands of places all around this country only, they were under no circumstances just a tourist or ‘ordinary’ person; I can only thing they were from some kind of tourist information job or had a vested interest in shouting down any true (but negative) facts. I think my comment was much more political than I realised! Now I try to avoid posting and probablhy wont again. Because it is harder to tell fact from fiction, (and people who give four/ five stars still when the text seems like its not that great) I’m not sure whether I’ll believe the reviews again – never for holiday accomodation away – far too dodgy!!

Dr Alison moss says:
12 September 2019

Yes I stayed in I hotel in Shaw Oldham that was very poor.
The bed was very dirty .
The hotel had glowing reports on trip advisor and was even given a award from trip advisor, it was completely unexpected , trip advisor reviews were excellent.
One guest also needed to call the police on the owners aggressive attitude.
When I posted a negative review on trip advisor it was removed saying it broke the terms and conditions???
I was so annoyed that the hotel could get away with a service of such poor quality that I took this to the small claims court and my claim was upheld.
I intend to write to trip advisor about this .
I wish you luck, as a regular traveller I rely on reviews from trip advisor and I am regularly disappointed by the reviews.

We regularly holiday in Goa & last year we stayed in a completely different area to normal. I did a lot of research & found just what we wanted on Trip Advisor with lots of positive reviews from people who had many posts to their name. However there were also a lot of “fake” reviews for the same accommodation by people with 1-2 reviews. The accommodation was so good we are returning this year & we gave the accommodation a glowing true review

I have always used TripAdvisor to read the comments before booking into a hotel or guest house and I have always been satisfied with the place I choose. I have used it since 2011 when a friend recommended it to me. When I return from holiday I always add my honest opinion to TripAdvisor (also my views of any restaurants I use or places I visit while there). So my opinion of TripAdvisor is very much in favour. So far I have always found the majority of reviews of the place I finally choose have been very accurate.

Richard Earl of Bradford says:
13 September 2019

You must have been very lucky then, my wife and I make a point of eating at the Number 1 restaurant in TripAdvisor wherever we go on holiday, on numerous occasions it has been the worst place we have eaten at rather than the best.

TripAdvisor is well aware of the fake reviews. I have reported the Mersoy Belavista in Icmeler Turkey’s many fake reviews. The staff get a 10% wage increase if they get a run of great reviews. This is fraud and TripAdvisor are complicit in this fraud. They even removed my negative and other people’s negative reviews regarding this hotel. Shame on them as people are being ripped off with inflated hotel costs thinking this is a wonderful place. The fake reviews are so easy to spot. Bad grammar and spelling and always praising the staff using their full names. TripAdvisor needs closing down for publishing fraud.