Consumers have once again been warned by consumer group Choice to be wary of reviews posted on sites like TripAdvisor, with research suggesting many reviews aren’t trustworthy.
Choice research reveals user-review sites are the second-most trusted source of information for consumers, beaten only by personal recommendations, but the practice of ‘astroturfing’ means consumers should be sceptical.
Astroturfing occurs when a local hotel posts a glowing review for their property, but slams the competition.
Figures reveal there are 260 million unique visitors to TripAdvisor each month from 30 countries, with 100 million reviews covering more than 2.7 million places to stay, eat and visit.
But in May this year, TripAdvisor’s reliability was questioned when Accor and Sofitel’s former general manager of communications admitted to anonymously posting more than 100 hotel reviews on the site.
Peter Hook was stood down from the hotel group when it was revealed he wrote a fake review talking up the Sofitel in Phnom Penh and another unfoundedly criticising the Intercontinental Hotel in Adelaide.
In August last year a study of 381 hoteliers in Australia by the Accommodation Association of Australia found half of all respondents regarded TripAdvisor as inaccurate.
More than half also reported customers threatening them with a malicious review about their hotel.
Spokesperson for the Tourism and Transport Forum, Rowan Baker, told SmartCompany transparency and legitimacy is needed on both sides from hotels and consumers.
“We don’t want any people skewing the results in the industry,” he says.
“We’d like to see processes in place which prove people posting reviews have actually stayed at the property. There have been examples of people rocking up to hotels and threatening to post a bad review if they don’t get an upgrade.”
Baker says it’s also difficult for hotels to get fake reviews taken down.
“We’re happy for legitimate feedback, these businesses want to improve their product and want people to come back and tell their friends about it, it’s in their interests to know of legitimate complaints,” he says.
“Illegitimate feedback is of no benefit to anyone. It’s possibly worse for TripAdvisor out of everyone. It’s in their interests to make sure the reviews are genuine.”
Baker says the review sites claim they will reach a critical mass where a balance is achieved and the reviews will be dominated by those which are legitimate.
“The sites will tell you… the key is to have the critical mass of legitimacy in the middle which will iron out the discrepancies,” he says.
“The research says a lot of people use these sites, and they can be extremely valuable, but only so if the reviews are legitimate on both sides.”
Choice says in absence of adequate review verification processes, third-party services have started to emerge.
“One in particular that appears to be changing the game is UK-based Feefo, which partnered with four Expedia websites in Europe (UK, France, Germany and the Netherlands) in February this year,” Choice says.
Feefo’s head of marketing, Paul Cranston, told Choice all people submitting reviews must provide details to verify their stay or use of the service.
“Our relationship with merchants is built on the condition that they provide information about every transaction, and this is used to give every customer the opportunity to submit a review, Cranston says.
“As part of the process, we request either a transaction identification reference or evidence there has been a commercial relationship. This process, skipped by other review providers, assures consumers of the trustworthiness of Feefo ratings and reviews.”
But despite businesses like Feefo coming into existence, Choice says many review sites, like TripAdvisor, are yet to partner with an independent verifier.