TripAdvisor: Hotel owners fear growing 'blackmail' threats from guests online
GUESTS are attempting to blackmail hotels and businesses into paying hundreds of pounds by threatening to write bad reviews on the online site TripAdvisor, it has been reported.
Dozens of customers are using the website’s increasing power to try and get free upgrades or refunds despite nothing wrong with their accommodation, it was claimed.
Industry experts have said that a bad rating or review on the popular ratings site can be costly, sometimes to the tune of tens of thousands of pounds in lost bookings.
TripAdvisor claims to be the world's biggest travel site, with more than 50 million reviews, all written by consumers, on its pages.
The company says that threats are "strictly against our guidelines, but it may also be illegal".
But reports on Tuesday claimed that more than 80 hotel and bed-and breakfast owners have reported being subjected to threats from customers.
Incidents include 50 per cent discounts when a guests checks in, in order to prevent a “one-star review”, while others have posted false reports on food poisoning and theft compensation was refused.
On TripAdvisor's own message boards, scores of owners describe how guests have made similar attempts to extort money, The Times reported.
A typical posting reads: "I am fed up of blackmail by guests either asking for upgrades and promising to put a good report on trip advisor (sic) or people who complain stating if we don't get our money back + compensation I will put a bad review on."
Martin Couchman, deputy chief executive of the British Hospitality Association, said that it was very easy for guests to threaten to write a bad review.
"Before TripAdvisor they didn't really have any sanction against the hotel," he told the newspaper.
"Now they have the sanction of blackening their name."
A spokeswoman for TripAdvisor said: "We take allegations of blackmail or threatening behaviour by guests against property owners very seriously.
“Not only is it strictly against our guidelines, but it may also be illegal."
The website urged owners who experience this to contact it so it can be investigated by the its staff.
But owners say it rarely agrees to remove bad reviews, simply letting hoteliers post a "management response".
The website is currently being investigated by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) following thousands of complaints from hoteliers about allegedly misleading and fraudulent reviews.
TripAdvisor carries more the reviews which it claims are honest, reliable and written by “real travellers around the world”.
But online reputation company KwikChex.com, has questioned the legitimacy of those claims.
It believes that up to 10 million reviews are faked, and alleges that TripAdvisor does not do enough to authenticate its reviews or remove fraudulent posts. The company denies the claims.