/ 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?


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!!

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.

Tilly says:
17 October 2019

I have just returned from a holiday in Rhodes which turned out to be my worst holiday ever.
Having followed TripAdvisor reviews for this hotel whilst searching for my holiday and after booking I went with an open mind due to the amount of variations amongst the comments.
I was already aware of a pattern of certain members of staff being praised along with glowing write ups from first time reviewers which made me a little bit suspicious after seeing these kind of tactics used to boost ratings in hotels in Tunisia in previous years.
The only reviews for this particular hotel which I consider to be genuine are those that fail to mention the entertainers by name or do not praise the food,cleaning etc….the more genuine reviews do not refer to the food as ‘tasty’ which is often used or that their room was ‘cleaned’ everyday along with fresh towels and bedding…that is not even the hotels policy!
Our opinion of our holiday there is on par with the negative reviews as we have experienced issues that have gone on for years when looking back on past reviews they are not ‘isolated’ as the management reply states on every negative review .
Its so easy to see what is happening here not just from the patterns of the reviews but also some reviews mention being offered free Wi-Fi in return for good a review and entertainment staff using guests mobile phones to leave their own.
Although this is not something that we encountered during our stay it is obviously happening and as a result of the disappointment I felt after arrival I informed TripAdvisor of the fake reviews, they are currently ‘investigating’ my complaint but they have asked for photographic evidence etc.
I have pointed out to them that the evidence is in the reviews, they need only to look through them!
I made my complaints clear to the manager after being denied a complaints form two days before we left, I didn’t receive the arrogant attitude others have mentioned because he saw the photos I’ve taken during our stay and knows where they will be going.
I’ve never felt the need to leave such negative comments of anywhere I’ve travelled and stayed but even the management photos of rooms etc used on TripAdvisor and other websites are outdated and misleading, the only resemblance of the pictures we got was the curtains!
I have no reason to try to put people off booking this hotel but they should be given a genuine idea of what to expect before they book which is the whole point of TripAdvisor!

I just saw this news item today. I can confirm a fake TripAdvisor review. I went to a resort in Dominican Republic July 30th through August 6th. Three out of four of our party got sick at the end of our trip. Upon return, I checked TripAdvisor to see if anyone else reported getting sick at the same time as our stay. The first review was a picture of my son and I on a paddle board in their pool. The wording of the review was written as if the people in the picture was either the family of the reviewer or one of them was the reviewer. I remember that day well. The picture taker was certainly a hotel employee who was looking at his phone which was pointed at me.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

A hotel where I work actually employs someone to give positive reviews. She names most favoured employees as amazing. If they get a bad review then guaranteed a few 5 star faked reviews will follow.

A sad indictment.

Not only sad that they do it – but that they need to do it.

No one needs to do it

They choose to do it

That may be so, Wev, but – as Roger says – it is sad that an hotel gets such bad reviews that it feels compelled to redress the balance by posting its own undercover reviews.

As John said, glossing over my poor vernacular. I meant that they feel the need to do it.

It would only be sad if they were well meaning and wanted to improve

They don’t. They instead use a Reputation Management technique. It’s fraud

I left a scathing review of a local restaurant when they ruined my birthday meal that was quickly followed up by rave reviews.

We had been there every year or 2 over maybe nearly 10 years when the experience was enough to not want to go there again for a while and hope the place has improved.

The management are known for their rudeness, and you hope it can be left at the door and other staff wait tables. The food is OK but not great and certainly not worth going out of your way for. If you go in, sit down where told, place a straightforward order at their convenience, you probably get a passable meal, but if you have any dietary requirements or want to order drinks or nibbles while you wait, you are met by unbelievable rudeness.

On my birthday, the place was almost empty and the management were waiting tables. I asked to sample a wine before buying a glass and was told no I had to buy a glass if I wanted to try it. She then ignored us for the next 30 minutes casting daggers at us every so often. We then got up, paid for the one drink that was brought to the table, walked out and will never go there again.

Negative reviews mirrored my review, so was definitely not a one-off. Not long after, they must have learned how to fake glowing reviews as they now have 4½ out of 5 for service and food. I would give them 2 for service and 3 for food and that’s on a good day.

Very similar story with us; we chose to eat at the top restaurant (in TA terms) and it was fairly dire. We left them a three star review, but that was quickly smothered in five star. We now stick entirely to the one really good place we know – ironically on a Caravan site (well, mobile home location, as they choose to call it) which is easily on a par with a Two Star Michelin.

alfa, I’m sorry your meal was so memorable. I wonder why you took the chance, though, given your background knowledge of the restaurant. It sounds like Faulty Towers. But it does provide a talking point!

We struggle to find anywhere good to eat locally so it means a drive or taxi and train and that night the weather was bad so we didn’t feel like travelling far. We have a couple of curry restaurants that are OK, but for celebrations we want something a bit different. Previous visits had not totally turned us off the place and mediocre food can be helped down by a couple of drinks which was the general idea at the time.

Never again though.

I have had gone back to a local restaurant after the odd meal that was not up to the usual standard. As Alfa says, you might not have a great deal of local choice. I would not expect to taste a wine, other than checking it is OK prior to serving.

If wine is sold by the glass (thus they have open bottles) and you fancy a bottle then it seems quite reasonable to have a taste first.

There should be no problem if there is an open bottle, but it would not be reasonable to expect a restaurant to open a bottle to let you taste it. You might ask for a taste of draught beer, which I do quite frequently in our micro-pub, but I’ve never heard of anyone asking for a taste of bottled beer.

TripAdvisor actively helps scammers with fake good reviews and removes posts calling TravelUp a fraud.

Today I posted ‘Taking TravelUp Limited to court for refusing to refund’ on TripAdvisor.

Within seconds, paid trolls jumped to defend TravelUp. I replied, following strictly TripAdvisors rules and and explaining why I’m taking TravelUp to the Small Claims Court and how they breached their own Terms and Conditions and my consumer rights. Surprise-surprise, TripAdvisor deleted my post, as they prefered to stand with paying scammers, against their readers. Fair enough, we are not paying 🙂

However, TripAdvisor is not the only forum. I’m now posting this on Trustpilot and other websites. Both TripAdvisor and TravelUp will be clearly named, with keywords such as ‘fraud’, ‘scam’, ‘censured’, so that both companies could be googled easier. TripAdvisor can remove any post for any reason, but…I also can post anywhere.

I also complained to the Competition and Markets Authority and the ASA.

Fake positive reviewing is a criminal practice under the EU’s Directive on Unfair Business-to-Consumer Commercial Practices. Any firm breaking the rules may face prosecution, stiff fines and possibly even jail terms for its staff.

The problem is we don’t have a consumer representative organisation that will undertake such enforcement action. Local Trading Standards/Consumer Protection services have been severely cut back and dare not come out of their shell.

MG, is your local MP Conservative, Labour or Lib Dem?

How willing would they be to address the paid trolls part of your complaint?

Paid trolling is very common. I’ve seen it too, lots of times. They are probably paid employees of a reputation management company

Richard Bradford says:
9 February 2020

There is a disgrace of a tapas restaurant in Streatham called Bar 61, which at one time was Number 1 in London on TripAdvisor, so I went there to test it out, what a fiasco, serrano ham straight out of a plastic packet was merely one example; however, it is still highly rated for London because the waiters give out free olives, free fruit and free drinks to persuade people to leave good reviews, it is so obvious as a high percentage, around 40% of reviewers, have never left a review on TripAdvisor before, shocking.

We’ve just come back from Egypt and the hotel we stayed in is blatantly spamming its Trip Advisor page with fake 5 star reviews. The pattern is obvious – reviews in broken English, same elements praised, reviewers only ever make 1 contribution to site. We won’t get caught out again.

The Grand Folkestone. Now closed but whenever a bad review appeared on TripAdvisor four or five good reviews would appear and the the bad review would often be taken down. In fact in spite of the awfulness it still had trip adviser awards. fortunately it has been liquidated.