Wednesday, July 15, 2009

TripAdvisor: The Beat (of Hawaii) Goes On

Jeff Tucker of the Beat of Hawaii blog has done some great reporting on the TripAdvisor hotel-review issue.

Tucker reported last month that TripAdvisor was posting warning notices next to the displays of hotels that were suspected of gaming the review system. (It turns out that TripAdvisor had been doing this for several years, but Tucker put it all together.)

And yesterday the Beat of Hawaii disclosed that many of those warning notices had disappeared.

Tucker counted almost 100 such warning badges in June, but found only a little more than a dozen in his latest tally.

I, too, have written about this issue extensively, and see that one hotel that I focused on, the Radisson Hotel Fort Worth - Fossil Creek, still carries a warning next to its display on TripAdvisor.

Tucker points out that Hotel Renew in Hawaii went from zero (it had a warning badge) to hero (there is no warning notice anymore and it currently is rated No. 2 of 101 Honolulu hotels) on TripAdvisor.

I don't expect TripAdvisor to disclose its one-on-one dealings with hotels, but it would be nice to get some input on whether the removal of so many warning badges represents a change in policy, righting a wrong or progress of some sort.

I don't expect TripAdvisor to greatly alter its hotel-review policy because it would hurt its advertising/media business by diminishing the number of reviews and would possibly blunt its growth tear internationally.

But, some sort of process to verify whether review writers actually stayed at the property in question would be, well, a badge of honor for TripAdvisor.

Update: TripAdvisor posted a comment on the Beat of Hawaii blog about TripAdvisor's practices.

It states: "There have not been any recent changes in our warning badge policy or implementation. As we’ve said before, these warnings appear on less than a fraction of 1% of the properties on TripAdvisor, and the exact number fluctuates over time. Each of the penalty notices has an expiration date; the duration that a notice is posted is based on both the nature of the violation and owner cooperation in resolving problem issues. When a notice expires, it comes off of the site.

"As a user-generated content site, we are highly committed to maintaining content integrity and providing transparency for travelers — that’s why we implemented the red badge system. We feel it provides both a heads up to travelers, and a strong disincentive for properties who consider trying to manipulate the system.

"Thanks. We appreciate your interest in TripAdvisor, and in our mission of helping travelers plan and have the perfect trip."

I then asked TripAdvisor what happens when a notice expires, but the issues have not been resolved.

TripAdvisor told me that "if the property still isn’t playing by the rules, then the red badge warning stays up."

So, then, in TripAdvisor's view, the problem with fake reviews must have been scaled back to miniscule dimensions.

We'll see.

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