Robert Colville: The TripAdvisor hotels with a five-star critic in every room
THE wisdom of crowds? Well, maybe not. TripAdvisor became the world’s largest travel website thanks to its vast body of user reviews – the promise that whatever hotel you picked, you could find out from your fellow travellers whether the views were quite as delightful as in the brochure, the bedsheets as crisply starched. Now, after a four-month investigation, the UK Advertising Standards Authority has ruled that since what it politely refers to as "non-genuine content" could appear on the site undetected, the slogan "Reviews you can trust" was rather inappropriate.
To be honest, the only surprise is that it took the ASA four months, rather than five minutes. TripAdvisor might be right to insist that it has stringent anti-fakery systems, and that fraud is at an “extremely low level”. But given the life-or-death importance of the site – especially to small operators such as B&Bs – it’s no wonder people are obsessed with gaming the system. Indeed, Adam Raphael, the editor of The Good Hotel Guide, has claimed that as many as half of the reviews could be “collusive” (not to mention being “loaded with whingers, oddballs and Americans”).
The examples of foul play are legion. One hotel has confessed to writing “probably 80 per cent” of its own reviews. Others apparently bribe guests to give positive feedback in exchange for discounts and upgrades, pay people to leave fake panegyrics, or even libel their rivals with claims of food poisoning, bedbug infestations or credit card fraud. The customers are no better: stories abound of amateur blackmailers threatening to pan a hotel unless they get a discount on the bill.