TripAdvisor and the cheats

By | Category: Travel rumblings

TripAdvisor released its updated transparency report this afterrnoon.

How vigilant is the owl?

It showed that in 2020 – a year in which the vast majority of people who had travelled the previous year didn’t travel – people did manage to submit 26 million reviews. Eight million of those reviews were for hotels, over 12 million reviews for restaurants, and over 4 million reviews for experiences, attractions, and activities.

Therefore tourism and holiday related reviews were a significant part of the business.

But out of that 26 million, 943,205 reviews were deemed to be fraudulent which in the scheme of things doesn’t sound a lot being just 3.6% of the total. We don’t know if they relate to tens of businesses or hundreds of thousands so judging what is going on is difficult and we are largely left with just what the company tells us.

What we don’t know is how many of the remaining 25 million or so are also fakes and which have got past the systems that TripAdvisor has in place. Although the company lauds the fact that two-thirds didn’t make it onto the website having been picked up by algorithms and humans first it still meant about 300,000 were cunningly created and got past the systems in place.

If 300,000 did, how many even more craftily conceived were submitted which are still up there and which neither humans or machines spotted?

That a higher number were rejected compared to when the last report was delivered says that TripAdvisor is better at spotting frauds. Or does it mean that more fake reviews and paid reviews are being submitted?

The answer is that we won’t know and because no real independent auditing takes place we never will.

TripAdvisor could be perfectly correct in its claims and it could be that it has found the fakes but cynicism says otherwise.

In addition, there are paid reviews on the site and this is a growth industry. When Just about Travel started I would get offers from a company which purported to be in Bangladesh offering positive reviews at about $1 each. Since then the price has dropped.

TripAdvisor has identified 372 different companies (or different names to probably be more accurate) which offered paid positive reviews to companies. These have been blocked. It also identified 65 companies that were new to the business of supplying positive reviews suggesting that there is growth in the market and that companies continue to be willing to pay for such a service.

Both the fake reviews and the paid for positive (and sometimes negative) reviews are indicative of how valuable the travel and hospitality industry thinks that reviews are.

And those are designed to deceive you and I when we consider which services to use.

Should the next approach by TripAdvisor be to ban for a year any companies found buying reviews and publicly naming them so we can avoid these cheats?

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