Is this a scam? Hosted reviews on hotel site look bogus

Ellen Gonella is a guest at The Westin Ka’anapali Ocean Resort Villas in Lahaina, Maui, a gorgeous beachfront property with a little smoking problem.

Despite a well-promoted smoke-free policy, she’s discovered that there are “smokers everywhere” — and she wants to give the property a piece of her mind.

Westin, as it turns out, has a brand-new and equally well-promoted policy of allowing guest reviews directly on its property websites, making its parent company, Starwood, the first major hotel chain to allow travelers to publish ratings and reviews directly on its websites, the company claims.

So Gonella tried to submit a review of the smokers.

“Westin allows smoking on all of its patios,” she told me. “So if I want to sit outside on my patio, I have to endure the smoke from smokers next to me and above and below me. This is not non-smoking and a total violation of Westin’s policy.”

And guess what? The review wasn’t posted.

“It was rejected,” she says.

She wonders: Are these hosted reviews a scam?

First, a little background: Hotels aren’t hosting reviews because they want you to know the honest truth about their properties. (Although, I must say I’ve been to this particular Westin, and it’s honestly a good hotel — except for the smoke.)

No, they want to wrest control of guest reviews away from TripAdvisor and other up-and-comers, like Yelp.

Any time a company says it wants you to “tell it like it is” and that it’s interested in offering “honest and transparent information” you should be skeptical.

I asked Starwood about Gonella’s review. A representative responded quickly.

Thanks for bringing this to our attention. Ellen is absolutely right, there is no reason why her review should have been rejected.

We value every review that is submitted and launched this program to be transparent with our guests. With the brand new system we found a handful of reviews that were erroneously rejected.

We’ve identified the cause and fixed it. Ellen’s review will appear as soon as the Westin receives five reviews, which is the threshold for reviews to be published on any of our hotel websites.

Hmm, that’s funny. I don’t see a mention of the five-review threshold in Starwood’s press release. But I commend it for responding to Gonella’s request so fast.

Related story:   Help! My hotel is being renovated - and my vacation just got a lot more expensive

Maybe they’ll also help her get away from the cigarette smoke while she’s a guest at their Maui hotel.

(Photo: Rus ty Stanton/Flickr)

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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