Hoteliers are increasingly being approached by professional reviewers offering to improve their TripAdvisor rating – or damage that of their competitors – it has emerged.
The issue was discussed at the Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International’s (HSMAI Europe) conference on internet marketing strategy, held at the Hilton London Metropole this week. It follows news that the official government backed star rating system for hotels in the UK may be ditched in favour of consumer reviews.
An American hotelier in the audience said he was regularly called by people who charge $25 (£15.60) to leave a false review on sites such as TripAdvisor.
Panel member, Debbie Milburn, director of marketing services for QHotels, agreed fake reviews were an issue: “I’m regularly contacted by regional managers about reviews where the person has exaggerated, has lied. They’re terrifying.”
She added: “It sometimes takes much longer for the managers to respond than it does to post a review. They go through more rigorous checks and sometimes they get turned down by TripAdvisor.”
TripAdvisor’s hotel trade relations manager EMEA, Guillaume Thevenot, said the net was closing on fake reviewers: “We identify hotels trying to manipulate our system. We’re currently working with a chain where one of the hotels got caught. We don’t want to disclose how we got them but we know stuff in the background. There was also a hotel having a problem with an ex-employee and we caught that person. As we grow our fraud system is getting better. People are not dumb, they can read what is real against what is fake.”
Hotel consultant Daniel Craig urged hoteliers to work with the site: “A hotel’s response can have more of an impact on a traveller’s decision than the complaint itself, but most hotels remain silent,” he said. “Only 7 per cent receive responses and that leaves other travellers to draw their own conclusions. It gives the impression that the hotel doesn’t care.”
QHotels' Milburn agreed: “Our general managers are encouraged to respond directly to the reviewers, making comments specifically to those they have made and rewarding those who make five-star reviews. Their success on TripAdvisor is measured as part of their balanced score card.”
She added that the chain now advertises on TripAdvisor with basic listings, which has resulted in £15k revenue from users clicking through to book.