Expedia Inc.'s TripAdvisor flags Hotel Renew for alleged manipulation of travelers' reviews, as I noted in previous posts.
TripAdvisor, which doesn't require proof that the reviewer actually stayed at the hotel, displays the hotel despite questioning the integrity of a portion of the 544 reviews, gives it a rating of 4.5 out of 5, and ranks the property #2 of 102 Honolulu hotels.
Meanwhile, Expedia.com, which requires, an Expedia-booked and completed stay at the property before authorizing a guest review, offers just 35 reviews of Hotel Renew, or just 6.4 percent of the 544 reviews that TripAdvisor offers.
Expedia.com displays no information about whether Hotel Renew allegedly played fast and loose with Expedia.com's review system and rates the property a 4.7 out of 5. Expedia.com has a contractual relationship with Hotel Renew. As an Expedia Special Rate property, Hotel Renew offers Expedia.com a net rate for Expedia.com's merchant-model business.
There could be many totally justifiable reasons that Expedia.com provides no notice about Hotel Renew allegedly gaming the review system, including the possibility that Expedia.com's tighter review requirements headed off any such hanky-panky.
And Expedia Inc.'s Hotels.com, which requires a completed stay prior to review-writing, rates Hotel Renew 4.0 out of 5 and offers just 38 reviews.
And, here's an industry-oriented review of Hotel Renew from Professional Travel Guide, a sister company of Travel Weekly, which I write for.
So, TripAdvisor, with its more loosey-goosey review requirements, gets a depth of content that Expedia.com and Hotels.com would die for.
And, that richer content translates into more advertising revenue for TripAdvisor, which is riding this model for global expansion, because 23 million consumers navigate to TripAdvisor for trip planning -- and often trip-booking through TripAdvisor's advertisers.
The dilemma for TripAdvisor is how to maintain the stickiness of its websites and all of that great content without undermining its integrity to consumers and worth to advertisers. TripAdvisor needs to avoid another controversy like the one that engulfed its subsidiary, Cruise Critic, regarding Royal Caribbean and the Royal Champions.
One option would be to ban the display of hotels that are caught incenting guests or enticing employees to write fraudulent reviews.
And, for consumers, here's a real issue: Would you put more stock in 544 reviews of a property, knowing that some of them are cooked, or would you give more weight to a couple of dozen reviews, knowing that at least the reviewers stayed at the hotel?
I don't think the answer is necessarily a slam dunk for the Expedia.com and Hotels.com model because hoteliers can manipulate this system, too, although not as readily.
It all points again to how complex travel planning and booking are these days: Does an online consumer need to spend all day getting professional advice or reading user-generated hotel reviews of various origins to figure out where to stay?
Are travel agents an answer?