Arthur Frommer, a longtime critic of guest-written hotel reviews, is at it again on his blog, blasting the concept of user-generated hotel reviews under the headline, "TripAdvisor is now warning you that numerous hotels are submitting phony recommendations for themselves."
This latest round of TripAdvisor-stomping apparently originated with the Beat of Hawaii blog, which found more than 90 hotels with TripAdvisor review-manipulation warning notices and then trumpeted the news of "TripAdvisor's new stand on fraud."
When TripAdvisor catches a property that allegedly games the system, it prominently displays the following notice: "TripAdvisor has reasonable cause to believe that either this property or individuals associated with the property may have attempted to manipulate our popularity index by interfering with the unbiased nature of our reviews. Please take this into consideration when researching your travel plans."
For example, Hotel Renew in Honolulu, rated #2 out of 102 Honolulu properties on TripAdvisor, earned a notice.
And, while Frommer and the Beat of Hawaii dismiss the worth of guest-written reviews, Chris Elliott takes a more reasoned stance, noting that he reads TripAdvisor reviews on the road, "but I do so with the knowledge that the travel industry is successfully manipulating the site. I ignore the best and worst reviews (those are typically the fake ones) and whenever I read phrases like 'best hotel ever' or 'incomparable service' I roll my eyes and wonder about that fabled algorithm that’s supposed to catch counterfeit reviews."
I would disagree with Elliott on the matter of the travel industry "successfully manipulating the site."
With its more than 23 million hotel reviews, I don't think the crush of bogus reviews rises to the level of hotels "successfully manipulating the site," although certainly some of them would want to.
I find tremendous value in guest-written hotel reviews, but read them skeptically.
It's the same approach I take when I read newspaper websites, book reviews, advertisements and, oh yes, professionally written travel reviews.
There is nothing holy about the professionals. And, there often is wisdom in the masses.
There are great hotel-rating services out there, and you should use them in conjunction with guest-written reviews to get a well-rounded picture.
But, "professionals" have their own prejudices because, after all, they are human.
The dirty little secret about getting advice from a travel agent is that they have business relationships with "preferred" suppliers who compensate them especially well because of all the guests that the agents send to the hotels. So some of these agents might steer their clients to a Marriott property instead of a Starwood hotel because Marriott might give the agent a better deal.
Of course, online-travel sites have preferred relationships, too, and many bias their displays.
And, travel agents, like trade journalists, often get discounted rates or free rooms to entice them to visit and say nice things about particular properties.
This is not to say that the professionals are bought off. Hopefully, the vast majority still have integrity.
But, when scoping out a hotel, use your brain, talk to people, and read both professionally written and guest-written reviews. Don't take any of them in isolation.
One of the shortcomings of the TripAdvisor reviews is that TripAdvisor, unlike some other review sites, demands no proof that the reviewer actually stayed at the property.
That could be a tough requirement for TripAdvisor to impose, even if it wanted to, because TripAdvisor doesn't actually book any travel, but funnels consumers off to advertisers for bookings.
TripAdvisor takes fake reviews seriously because, when you take its business model into account, guest-written hotel reviews are its bread-and-butter.
TripAdvisor's advertising/media revenue is contingent on consumers visiting TripAdvisor over and over, and spending some time there, going through all of that content.
When I'm traveling, I consult TripAdvisor's hotel reviews and find them to be a valuable tool, warts and all.
I think the hidden agenda of some of TripAdvisor's critics, like Frommer, is that they consider the democratic empowerment of the consumer and the Web in general to be one big blemish.