The result? In scarlet letters, TripAdvisor posted a warning next to the hotel's display advising consumers that the property, or people associated it, may have tried to manipulate its TripAdvisor Popularity Index.
Here's the e-mail that the TripAdvisor Content Integrity team sent to the hotel.
"To Whom It May Concern,
Evidence has come to our attention which establishes that you and / or others in your organization have submitted material with intent to manipulate your listing and position on TripAdvisor by submitting positive reviews of your own property. This is official notification that your property is now being actively monitored by TripAdvisor for suspicious activity on our website.
TripAdvisor serves as an important source of travel information, which users rely on to be the unbiased opinions of travelers. The reliability of our content is integral to our business. TripAdvisor takes attempts to undermine the integrity of our content very seriously, and in turn, have a procedure in place for penalizing businesses who choose to make such attempts. Please discontinue any attempts to subvert our system immediately.
We ask that you respond to this email to acknowledge receipt of this notice.
xxxx [name deleted]
TripAdvisor Support Team"
Here is the hotel's reply, from the rooms division director:
"To WHOM IT MAY CONCERN,
I am very sorry about this misleading information, I only respond to the reviews that come on the website. We have been advising our guests to enter your site and make a review, either negative or positive. We would like feedback regardless if it is positive or negative to fine-tune the property. I will also keep an observation here and make sure this doesn't happen on property. Thank you for your concerns and information that you have provided for us to be aware of.
xxxx [name deleted]
Rooms Division Director
Radisson Fort Worth - Fossil Creek
2540 Meacham Boulevard
Fort Worth, Texas 76106"
And, the hotel's general manager, David Michel, told me: "We did start soliciting our guests to visit and comment on TripAdvisor, unaware that it was not acceptable. We will discontinue this practice."
"We are unaware of any attempts by anyone at the property to submit reviews on our own property," Michel said. "Hope this clarifies our position."
Actually, TripAdvisor is OK with properties soliciting guest reviews as long as the hotels don't advocate for positive reviews, don't incent their guests to write glowing reviews, and don't pressure them to remove negative reviews.
The Elliott blog had a nice interiew today with TripAdvisor founder and CEO Steve Kaufer in which he defends the practice of maintaining these warning notices alongside allegedly offending hotels instead of just removing the entire listing.
Kaufer said: "We’ve been posting the warnings since 2006. We view our red badge and rating drop as the best punishment for properties trying to manipulate the system. A couple of people have asked why we don’t drop these properties from the site entirely. We think the red badge is a better punishment, and provides more information to travelers so they can make the most educated and informed decisions before they book. We also wouldn’t want hotels with very poor traveler reviews to use such a banning on the site as a loophole to get out. That’s exactly what poorly run properties want — to be taken off TripAdvisor."
I'm not totally convinced about the policy to retain the display of offending properties, but I see Kaufer's point.
At any rate, all of the guff that TripAdvisor has taken over the last couple of weeks, with the argument that its manipulation notices finally amount to an admission that TripAdvisor is a sham, is misguided.
Instead, give TripAdvisor credit for going after the bad guys and having its Content Integrity folks flag hoteliers who may play fast and loose with the rules.