Glenn Monroe and his wife own the Westbrook Inn, in Connecticut, which he describes as the “perfect” place to “step back in time to the romantic Victorian era.”
But that isn’t how some TripAdvisor reviewers see it. Although the Westbrook Inn is fairly highly ranked on the site, it has a few critics, some of which claim his rooms are overrated and that Monroe’s staff is “not nice.”
That’s not Monroe’s problem.
It is this: Some of the reviews about Monroe’s bed and breakfast are fabricated, he contends. And TripAdvisor has dragged its feet in removing the bogus reviews, costing him valuable business.
He asked me to look into the problem, and although I rarely mediate business-to-business disputes, I’ll make an exception for this one.
The problem started earlier this year when someone — Monroe isn’t sure who — posted a one-star review that claimed his hotel was a “horrible place” and said he was “rude and classless.”
“They said that they stayed with us in February,” he adds.
But that’s impossible, he says. The property was closed the entire month.
“I provided proof that my wife and I, who are the owners, weren’t even in the state by faxing in documentation of a reciept of our Florida stay for the entire month of February to TripAdvisor,” he adds.
Yet he contends TripAdvisor allowed the “smear campaign” to remain on its site for three weeks.
“I called countless times and got the runaround,” he says.
Finally, TripAdvisor removed the review.
End of story? If only.
We though we dodged a bullet, but the reviewer wrote another review, and it was even worse. It stated that a condom was on the bed, and much more.
We hired an Internet company to help us and to track down who was writing this review. TripAdvisor was no help and left the review posted for another three weeks before the company was able to convince TripAdvisor that this was the same reviewer.
We just got that review removed.
Monroe is upset that TripAdvisor moved slowly, costing him potential business. But he’s even more irritated at the tedious process of disproving a user-generated review, which involved seemingly countless calls, emails and faxes — a process he’s undergone three times now.
I share that concern.
Wouldn’t it be easier if guests verified they actually visited the property, instead of the hotel having to disprove they were there?
At the very least, Monroe says, TripAdvisor should release the IP address of the reviewer in question, so that he can know who’s behind the campaign. But it won’t.
(Hmmm, anonymous reviews? You know, hiding behind the Internet is so 1990s. If you’re going to say something publicly about a hotel, shouldn’t you have to use your real name?)
I asked TripAdvisor about Monroe’s problems. It acknowledged that it had reviewed and removed three reviews.
In all three instances, we immediately followed up with the owner and in two of the cases, removed the review within 24 hours of being contacted.
The third case required us to follow-up with the owner several times, and, following further investigation, we removed the review in approximately three weeks.
In every case the owner was informed by email of the actions being taken.
TripAdvisor also sent me a boilerplate statement about the integrity of its reviews and the effectiveness of its fraud-detection algorithm.
I asked Monroe what he thought of the rebuttal.
TripAdvisor’s comment that two of the reviews were removed within 24 hours of our complaint is blatantly false.
The fact is, one of us is telling a tale.
They refused my request and said the review met their guidelines on all accounts.
They even refused to post our owner’s response which we tried to write since they would not remove the review. Our inn’s reputation was allowed to be comprimised each time while they took their time doing their investigation.
The latest one maintained a three-week time frame and then was reposted by the same user with different writing but the same general attack tactics and content.
I showed TripAdvisor Monroe’s answer, and it said it had nothing to add and stood by its original rebuttal.
Of course, this is a can of worms.
In coming months and years, you’ll probably decide if the TripAdvisor model of anonymous and unverified user-generated reviews is preferable to the professionally-written and verified reviews published by Frommers and Zagat, which are both now owned by Google.
(Full disclosure: My column appears on Frommers.com, which was recently acquired by Google. Something tells me I’m not going to survive the acquisition. But that’s life on the Internet, isn’t it?)
I can’t do anything more for Monroe. If another bogus review pops up, I can’t guarantee it will be fixed in 24 hours or three weeks — or ever.
But maybe you can help me figure out who’s telling the tale.
Update (8/24): TripAdvisor has sent me a chronology of events, which it asked me to publish.
Review 1/3 reported:
• On April 17, a 1 rating review appeared on the site, referencing a stay in February.
• On April 18, Chris Monroe (property representative) contacted Customer Support (CS) staff on the phone and within minutes of the call ending, reported the review through the Management Centre, stating: “Owners not at property as reviewer stated – on vacation in Fl. Supporting documentation provided by fax.”
• On April 19, the review was removed after indications of suspicion were found in data which suggested a connection between the reviewer and the property in violation of our guidelines
• The owner was emailed regarding the removal of the review.
Review 2/3 reported:
• On May 27, another 1 rating review appeared on the site.
• On May 28 the owner reported it
• On May 29, Chris Monroe called CS twice, both times requesting to speak with the staff member they had spoken to the previous month (on 4/18, see first review above). As she was unavailable, staff offered to walk them through the process of reporting/disputing a review, and they declined.
• On May 30, Chris Monroe called CS staff again and outlined her concerns that the review was submitted by their neighbor. CS indicated that the review had been through the appropriate procedures; Monroe requested to speak with a manager, and Sibu subsequently left her a message the following day (no response).
• On June 13, property representative called CS staff requesting escalation; on June 15, CS Manager received an e-mail regarding the review and email sent to reviewer for verification. E-mail sent to property noting that we take reports of fraud seriously, and that our process would require 7 -9 days (to account for the verification process).
• On June 22, the review was automatically removed by the system, following failed verification.
Review 3/3 reported:
• On June 26, a 1 rating review appeared on the site indicating that a condom was found on the bed.
• On July 5, the owner reported it and on July 6 it was pulled down and removed. An email was sent to the owner stating the review was removed.
These three particular cases did not seem one of the more common types of fraud, as these reviews were from public IP addresses from a standard internet service provider in NY (the majority of positive reviews also come out of the same area).