TripAdvisor Fined $610,000 For Fake Reviews

Ever wonder if the reviews you’re reading on review sites like TripAdvisor are accurate?  You’re not the only one.  TripAdvisor was fined $610,000 by the Italian government for fake and misleading reviews:

The regulator, the Italian Competition Authority, called on TripAdvisor to stop “publishing misleading information about the sources of its reviews,” and gave the company 90 days to comply with the ruling.

I don’t generally use TripAdvisor or other such review sites.  If I don’t know someone who’s personally stayed at a property, I’ll generally research it on Milepoint or Flyertalk.  And, even some of those reviews need to be taken with a grain of salt, though there’s usually more technical details that I can draw my own evaluations from.

I have no idea if this fine will ultimately be appealed.  I understand the government’s desire to protect consumers, but I think at some level this is too much regulation.  There are plenty of scenarios where a hotel guest and a hotelier can have two different opinions about the outcome of a stay.  Compelling a for-profit company to review and censor all of the reviews they collect could lead to dramatic shifts in their business model, potentially preventing them from providing such resources for free to consumers.  From my perspective, I generally think the free market takes care of things like this.  If a site posts too many inaccurate reviews the public usually sniffs those sorts of things out.

I’ll be interested to see the outcome here, but it does leave us with a question.

Do you use review sites like this?  How much do you trust the content?

 

13 Comments

  1. I do scan (and write) Trip Advisor reviews, taking them all with a large grain of salt – except my own, of course.

    I’ll seldom take one individual review at face value, but I look for comments that imply some commonality – overall trends in opinions. I probably use most of the same screening mechanisms as others, and that includes avoiding joints that feature clearly fake puff – and sometimes barely comprehensible – reviews, e.g. “Joey the bartender he mix the bestest drinks I ever has in my life. He is so famous locally for being hospitality.”

    When we’re already in a location, I’ll use the TA, Yelp, and Urban Spoon Apps to consider nearby restaurants.

    I place a higher value on FlyerTalk and MilePoint comments, although even there some members occasionally have been shown to have an axe to grind, right? The ability to post a question on a thread is of course exceptionally useful. Just last week I posted a query on FT about the contract lounge at the Phnom Penh airport after researching in vain on my iPhone. After a couple of slightly snarky replies advising me to do some research (which I’d already done), up popped a member who had just been there and who gave us a real sense of what to expect. Since it made a difference as to when we were dropped off by a guide at the airport in advance of an ugly red-eye, it was invaluable. Oh, and for the record the PNH contract lounge isn’t awful, being superior to, say, the average UA domestic lounge, but it isn’t a place you want to spend more than an hour or so.

    Blogs such as yours are very useful, although it may be a little more of a coincidence if we happen to be going to the same place to sleep or eat that you or Lucky or Gary happen to be writing about.

    Is it worth my time? Maybe not, but this bit of research has steered us to some pleasant surprises, and other “forewarned is forearmed” experiences, and rarely to duds, so we persevere.

    YMMV.

    Cheers,
    Fredd

      1. Funny you should ask… January 1 we’re burning our final 1K SWUs (I defiantly call them that) to fly to NCE. From there we’ll take a bus to Menton, a wonderful city nestled next to the Italian border that was the site of one our first post-retirement travel experiences.

        We’ve rented an apartment for eight days from an American couple (found on a website) for about $70 a night. We’ll go out for most lunches, cook a light dinner in the apartment, and thoroughly enjoy ourselves in the Riviera’s off-season.

        We’ll be spending some time on AS planes in 2015 after a generous status-match to MVPG75K. They fly out of little BLI just down the road from us and we’re going to spend some time getting seriously acquainted with them.

        Incidentally, we enjoyed an incredibly successful trip to Europe with the eldest of our eight grandchildren in July, and your experiences with a daughter in Paris were immensely useful (most especially buying tickets in advance!).

        Merry Christmas!
        Brian and Kathy aka Fredd and Mrs. Fredd

        1. A hello to the missus and a Merry Christmas! Sounds like a fun trip, and I have a couple UA SWUs that may meet a timely death (or be awarded to a lucky reader). The NCE trip sounds like a fun one, and I’m a bit jealous. We’ll both bid 1K adieu in 2015. On to better things. Tahoe is our next family trip. Hoping for snow!

  2. The fine isn’t huge in the scheme of things, but hopefully sends a message of sorts to industry in general that someone with teeth IS watching them.
    Going back and reading the original NYT article seems to indicate that there are many instances across the web accessible travel industry where reviews / practices are done with some sort of intent in mind. To disparage the opposition, to reduce competition, to give unfair competition, … every variation.

    Basically for me, could be boiled down to the idea that the upsurge of websites that have a “community feel ” about them / unofficial flavour, could make the novice traveller (& not so naive) feel that the information contained therein is true and not being contrived. Open, honest, unbiased. Not so!

    When I am planning a trip, my best resource is my many travelling friends. I know their personalities well enough to understand if they are game players for upgrades, or stoic in the face of discomfort, overly picky, or just happy to enjoy every adventure. See which way the mop flops & be happy to go with it. Etc.

    On the rare occasion I do go to Trip Advisor or similar, even while reading, I’m constantly beset by the idea that the information is being manipulated by all parties for a variety of reasons. Not a comfortable feeling, so always will go back to another source for an extra check anyway.

    When I look on Milepoint / Australian Frequent Flyer / Flyertalk for information, again it is better than TripAdvisor, as the members’ personality types are shown over a period of time. Way better than anonymous, these become a “trusted source”. Community, yes, web based yes, but also my own broader community, and not subject to industry manipulation.

    1. Yvonne, I think we both prefer the community aspect of soliciting advice and reviews. Setting aside the potential inaccuracy of Trip Advisor, I’ve always appreciated being able to ask questions and have a discussion, things that I find more cumbersome on review sites.

  3. I use and have reviewed for TA. I use them for a lot of travel research for hotels mainly. I seldom agree with their “rankings” but it’s nice to have a centralized place to compare with photos. The comments from others seldom influence me, because I don’t necessarily travel like they would. It’s also interesting that the hotels have the ability to respond to the review negative , or positive. And increasingly you see places of business displaying their TA rankings. I’m sitting in a hotel in Rome that does so at the moment. So yes, I use them and will continue to, despite the Italian Govt.’s concerns.

    1. Dumammy, the main reason I avoid sites like TA is an inability to verify the type of traveler someone is. Not impossible, but hard to tell who normally stays at 2 star vs 4 star, business vs family, romance vs family, etc. The government concerns aren’t my driver.

  4. I use TripAdvisor as a decision tool because I often stay at out of the way places, not the swanky mid-city hotels most bloggers seem to frequent. I focus on the negative reviews, because I know those are not phony! Bedbugs and bathroom cleanliness are my turnoffs, so I focus on comments with those factors included!

    1. Candace, I actually think TA is a good tool for out of the way places. I also think the reviews are more likely to be either authentic or easily deduced as fakes.

    2. Candace, I definitely think my best use of TA is for out-of-the-way places, as you note, where there are less reviews available from bloggers, etc.

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