Is TripAdvisor censoring negative reviews?

By | August 19th, 2009

occidentalTripAdvisor, which appears to have weathered a fake-review scandal thanks in no small part to a plausible explanation from its chief executive, has never been accused of pulling any punches. Until now.

Mark Leon stayed at the Occidental Grand Hotel in Cozumel, Mexico, earlier this month. He posted two reviews: An account of a “wonderful” restaurant called Capi Navegante. And a scathing write-up of the Occidental.

Guess which one got posted?

Before we continue, here are the TripAdvisor reviews for the Occidental Grand and Capi Navegante.

See the unflattering review from gatormark91? Until late yesterday, it wasn’t on the site.

Leon picks up the story:

[Our] stay at the Occidental Grand was terrible. The food bad, the room A/C was terrible and the room stank, there were swarming flying termites in the room, and management would not move my room despite only being half full.

So I went to TripAdvisor on my return and posted a scathing, and completely honest, review.

Leon received two emails from TripAdvisor promising the reviews would be posted “within 24-48 hours.” But only the positive restaurant review appeared on the site. His critique of the Occidental was missing in action.

I used no foul language in my review, but I was very, very detailed about my experience, and how it was not handled well by the hotel manager.

This property is only receiving about 1/4 to 1/8th the bad reviews on Tripadvisor than it is on other travel review sites. I trusted TripAdvisor to guide my travel choices, but now I am not sure that they can be trusted.

If I had seen the number of bad reviews that other sites had, I would have made different plans.

I really want to know what happened to my review. If it was disallowed for some reason, I should have been notified. Right now its looking to me like they are cherry-picking positive reviews. I made expensive travel plans based on their scoring of the hotel, and my trip was ruined.

I contacted TripAdvisor on Leon’s behalf on Monday afternoon. I heard back from my contact almost immediately, promising I should hear back from the company “sometime tomorrow.”

Related story:   Why won't Fiesta Americana honor my $90 reservation?

On Tuesday afternoon, Leon sent me another email, asking about the review. I asked TripAdvisor for an update. “I’m tied up until shortly after 4:00 but should get you something soon after that,” my contact said.

At 8:17 p.m., I received the following response from TripAdvisor.

Since the reviews in question were submitted to TripAdvisor by Mr. Leon, and not by you, we need to hold off on commenting until we get direct consent from him to speak with you about them. Sorry for the delay; I’ll be back in touch when we hear from Mr. Leon.

It is my experience that companies citing “privacy concerns” are more concerned about their own privacy than that of their customers, but I’m willing to give TripAdvisor the benefit of the doubt. If and when it has a response, I’ll post it here.

In the meantime, Leon’s review is up on the site.

This incident raises a few important questions. Why did TripAdvisor publish the positive review but not the negative one? Weren’t the positive, allegedly fake reviews getting it into trouble? Shouldn’t it be more cautious with those, rather than the negative ones?

Also, why hold a review without explanation? When a review is rejected — as Leon’s apparently was, initially — he’s entitled to know why.

If TripAdvisor wants to maintain its credibility as the leading source for online travel reviews, I think it needs to be more transparent with its members.

Update (11:30 a.m.): Leon just received the following note from TripAdvisor.

TripAdvisor was contacted by Chris Elliott of National Geographic Traveler regarding your recently submitted reviews.

Your first review of Occidental Grand Hotel in Cozumel, Mexico was flagged as it contained comments about other reviewers, which may not have met our guidelines. Your submission was pending a more in-depth review by our content moderators. While our reviews are usually processed within a few days, occasionally it takes our moderation team a little longer.

In the meantime, your second, edited review of this property was determined by a moderator to meet our guidelines, and was published last night.

Please note that the issue with your original review was not that it was negative; you’ll notice both positive and negative reviews posted throughout the site. We do our best to uphold our traveler review standards to ensure that the content on our site is relevant and helpful to travelers.

We’re happy to comment on these reviews with Mr. Elliott as well, but would first like your permission to discuss your submissions publicly. We respect your privacy and want to ensure that you approve the disclosure of details about your reviews.

We appreciate your contributions, and we look forward to addressing any concerns you have about your submissions.

  • In my books yes. Ive had reviews on TA pulled even for a beachfront resort that was a rubbish tip on the beach and i put photos on the TA review and they pulled it.  Heres something else i wrote with the review and the response from TA. Nothing profane, racist etc about what i wrote! It was on the system for 1 year and it appears the restaurant must have seen it and asked for removal.  I also had other reviews about a nasty German guy who ran a hotel in Koh Samui pulled

  • Rupal Ganatra

    I had the same experience with a hotel in Zanzibar. The owner threatened me with legal action if I refused to change my review and when I didn’t he completely manipulated all the facts. I removed my review and now TA won’t let me post my edited review stating that the owner has been harassing me for the past two weeks. Many other reviewers have also faced such unethical behavior from this owner, though I know that TA does not allow you to share other’s experiences.

  • karen

    I recently had a horrible experience at Chalet Europe in Radium Hot Springs, BC and decided (for the first time!) to share my experience on TripAdvisor as the reviews I had read were so inaccurate. I sent my review in right after my trip – on August 25, 2011 – and received and automated notification that my review would be posted within 48 hours, but it still has not been posted. I no longer have any faith in TripAdvisor and will be looking to other sources (like Yelp) for information as I booked my stay based on the glowing reviews but do not feel the place deserved even 3 stars. I will not provide all the details here, but will say that I usually stay at 3-star hotels and know what to expect, and felt that the Chalet would be a great value based on the website and TripAdvisor reviews but the Chalet was dirty (the maid did not come after the first night and left blood on the floor after the 2nd night), our light fixtures were missing lightbulbs, there was rodent excrement on the balcony, exposed insulation around the balcony doors and a lot of the amenities listed on the Chalet’s website were non-existent such as wifi, movie channel and kitchenette. The “kitchen” was  a microwave, bar fridge and kettle. Since we were travelling with 2 kids under the age of 2 and find eating out a huge hassle, one of the main reasons we booked the place was the kitchen. We were disappointed on so many levels. I wish I’d known in advance what a dump the place was and we would have stayed elsewhere and saved our money. We were trying to celebrate our 3rd wedding anniversary. : ( I wonder if companies are paying TripAdvisor to keep negative reviews from being posted. 

  • st of wichita ks

    Trip Advisor DOES censor reviews, my negative review about the overpriced Hilton Skirvin in OKCity was not published.

  • WW

    I’ve been trying to post a bad review about the Captain’s Inn in Mount Dora, Florida, and its owners, Barry and Tamara Spieler (who left angry customers in their dust and moved to Key West to run Rampage Fishing Charters–they specialize in bottom fishing).  I have been back at least 5 times to post new negative reviews more ‘in keeping with their guidelines,’ (read: whatever b.s. they could come up with to reject the truth) and Trip Advisor finally actually went to the effort of simply removing the entire screen of reviews!

    The Spielers treated a lot of people badly, and TripAdvisor’s reaction is to simply ignore that and let more people get shafted by their new business.  I used to recommend this site.  Now hell will freeze over before I send someone to look at it, because their reviews are only as trustworthy as their weakest-kneed administrator.  If a site’s only response to legal threats from the worst hoteliers and tourist traps is removing honest reviews, how can they possibly be trusted to have anything but puff pieces?

  • WakeUpSheeple1111

    Trip Advisor is without a doubt censoring negative reviews which brings into question the legitimacy of their web-site.

    Case in point. I wrote a less than stellar review of a resort that I visited in Mexico. The review was honest, factual and detailed and I did make a point of mentioning the bright spots as well as the bad and it met all their submission guidelines.

    Well wouldn’t you know it about three months later my review magically disappeared from the website. Not only that but it also disappeared from my list of ‘contributions’. I immediately attempted to re-post my review which did not appear on the site. I emailed Trip Advisor with my concerns and got no reply from them.

    I opened another account and attempted to post another review and that review was also removed within months.

    To make matters worse I was ridiculed in their forums for my review and received threatening private messages from various users in badly written English (Mexican authors perhaps?) stating the same things like I had ‘better watch what I say’ and that I ‘should think twice about writing a bad review’. I emailed Trip Advisor again about the threats and once more I was ignored.

    I have been monitoring the reviews of the resort in question and it seems that a few other negative reviews have vanished as well.

    Avoid Trip Advisor at all costs. Many of their reviews are obvious fakes and they are obviously on the take from many of the larger resort chains.

    I can safely say that Trip Advisor reviews are biased and should be taken with a grain of salt or simply ignored.

  • Tripadvisor does indeed censor both reviews and forum posts.

    Instead of using sites like Tripadvisor and yelp. Travelers need to use their friends and word of mouth to make their decisions.

    Let’s remember that tripadvisor makes their money from advertising. They can’t have their advertisers being put in a bad light.

    I once remembered reading a review about the Luxor hotel in Las Vegas. It claimed how all of the rooms were new with 56 inch plasma screen televisions and bright cheery lobby.

    First of all the Luxor is 17 years old. Also, anyone who has ever been to the Luxor knows they use old tube televisions and the lobby is as dark as a nightclub.

    Reviews like that above get posted. Yet so many negatives don’t. No way in hell should a hotel like the Luxor be rated 4 out of 5 stars.

    Furthermore, the people who contribute on Trip Advisor’s forum (lots of these people also write reviews) are pretty obtuse. Spelling, and grammar mistakes. I would have to say that trip advisor’s user base is pretty dense actually. I’d never trust any review based on the trip advisor collective.

  • C

    They still censor reviews. Too bad. Thought they were the good guys.

  • RobertB

    I recently tried to post a bad review on TripAdvisor for Shark Diving Unlimited and was pulled when I tried to add that due to the carelessness of the owner, Mike Rutzen, that I endured a broken rib. I believe Trip Advisor denies peoples rights when it comes to safety.

  • Jason

    I had left a 2/5 review for one of their “Travelers’ Choice® 2013 Winner” hotels. The review was online for a week and the property owner had even left a reply. Then all of a sudden the review was gone. I resubmitted the review and it was in a pending state for about 5 days and then never went online. Tripadvisor is definitely filtering the truth. I’m a “Top Contributor” on TA and have 36 helpful votes. So frustrating!

  • Should have read your post before joining their discussion forum. Would have saved the trouble They are nowadays censoring also their discussion forum arbitrarily: Tripadvisor Practise Censorship In Discussion Forum. Thanks for blowing the whistle!

  • Robert D’Avanzo

    If you dare to suggest on the forums that their appointed “destination experts” (aka lonely losers with thousands of posts) have it wrong, they are prone to censor the comment and remove it from the “community”. TripAdvisor is an evil empire catering mostly to the most bourgeois,clueless tourist. Its purpose is to make money, that is about it. They also won’t print a review that calls into question the truthfulness of 200 gushing reviews that the management posted about a small dumpy infested hostel in the middle of nowhere. A real travel service! LOL

  • Geraldine H.

    I had a review that WAS posted at Trip Advisor initially, removed recently regarding the Preserved Seed restaurant in Nelson BC Canada. I also noted that other reviews about these restaurants (they have a couple of locations) that were in the same vein as mine, which brought up some real concerns about the cult that runs these restaurants, have also been removed as well.

    When I contacted Trip Advisor about this I was told in no uncertain terms that they would not disclose the reasons for removing my review and that their decision was final and would not be discussed further. I always used Trip Advisor in the past to check out restaurants etc, but now I’m ready to give it a miss and to remove my other reviews from their site too.

  • Carina Reyes

    I experienced the same situation with trip advisor. It’s time for another app that will respect the time I took to write a review. In my case, I wrote a positive review. Once rejected , I posted a question on the support forum as that was how I was advised to reach them. My post on the forum was then rejected, so I still do not know why. I’ve now lost faith as I have created two positive reviews that did not get published.

  • Walter Tersch

    I had a negative review of a bad Holiday Inn experience get removed by TripAdvisor FOUR times until I was able to narrow its phrasing enough to get it accepted. TripAdvisor censors negative reviews. The firm kowtows to companies that find any little technicality to object to a review on, like if it says “glad we stayed at B instead” or even “beware”. (You can’t reference competitors, or — and this can be subjective — be abusive or try to incite a boycott. I am considering taking my reviews elsewhere too, since this has been a recurring problem. It calls the accuracy of their site into question when they vigorously delete negative reviews.

We want your feedback. Your opinion is important to us. Here's how you can share your thoughts:
  • Send us a letter to the editor. We'll publish your most thoughtful missives in our daily newsletter or in an upcoming post.
  • Leave a message on one of our social networks. We have an active Facebook page, a LinkedIn presence and a Twitter account. Every story on this site is posted on those channels. The conversation ranges from completely unmoderated (Twitter) to moderated (Facebook and LinkedIn).
  • Post a question to our help forums or ask our advocates for a hand through our assistance intake form. Please note that our help forum is not a place for debate. It's there primarily to assist readers with a consumer problem.
  • If you have a news tip or want to report an error or omission, you can email the site publisher directly. You may also contact the post's author directly. Contact information is in the author tagline.