Does TripAdvisor have a problem with fake reviews?

Who is hunnyb62?

The answer matters to Daniel Corcoran and a group of contributors to TripAdvisor’s Baltimore forum. It should matter to you, too.

TripAdvisor, which claims to be the world’s largest travel site, bills itself as a place that offers “trusted advice from real travelers.” Corcoran, an office administrator in Baltimore, says that trust was broken when a string of flattering write-ups about the Sheraton Baltimore City Center Hotel began appearing on TripAdvisor and Sheraton’s corporate site in June.

“These reviews have always awarded the hotel the maximum five stars,” he says. “They gush about the wonderful service.”

Corcoran has never stayed at the hotel, so he can’t say whether the reviews are fair. But the sudden influx of raves aroused his suspicions. As part of a group of self-appointed travel site watchdogs, he’s aware that some properties have found ways to sprinkle the Internet with bogus reviews.

So what’s the problem? Well, the integrity of user-generated ratings is important. Fake reports don’t just sway travelers into booking a hotel that doesn’t deserve their business or turn them away from one that does. They also destroy the credibility of the host site.

TripAdvisor says it ferrets out fakes with a proprietary fraud detection algorithm, and Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, which owns Sheraton, says it also has an aggressive policy toward manufactured ratings.

Corcoran started asking questions and connecting dots. On the Sheraton site, most of the reviews were coming from a user named hunnyb62. On TripAdvisor, similar write-ups appeared under different user names from various cities. Yet they were all saying the same thing: The City Center Hotel was one of the greatest properties ever.

Corcoran tried to contact the reviewers to determine whether they’d stayed at the hotel. He says that no one responded. He asked TripAdvisor whether the reviews were legitimate. More silence. But Sheraton agreed to look into hunnyb62.

A Starwood representative responded to him by e-mail, saying that although he would not be able to discuss the details of Corcoran’s complaint because of “a privacy concern,” he could confirm that there was a “known glitch in our review system.”

“We have identified a fix and are working to address it,” the representative wrote.

But that wasn’t enough for Corcoran. He asked me to help him solve the hunnyb62 riddle.

I asked Starwood whether it could fill in a few details. Helen Horsham-Bertels, Starwood’s senior director of consumer affairs, said after concerns about hunnyb62 were raised, she spoke with the hotel’s general manager.

“The manager confirmed that her team was encouraging guests to share their positive experiences,” she says. One employee in particular had been “a little overzealous” in her efforts to recruit positive reviews. “That said, the reviews are legitimate and an honest assessment of the guests’ stays,” Horsham-Bertels says.

So, then, who is hunnyb62?

The Starwood system arbitrarily assigned that handle to certain reviews — an electronic hiccup that Horsham-Bertels says has been fixed. “I can also offer you our assurance that the hotel team will be less aggressive going forward in their encouragement of guests to post reviews,” she told me.

What about TripAdvisor? A representative told me that the site had removed “a number of reviews” of the City Center Hotel in response to a complaint, but it declined to say how many. It also erased the forum thread in which Corcoran and other members had presented their initial concerns, claiming that the discussion violated its forum guidelines.

“No system is perfect,” TripAdvisor spokeswoman Amelie Hurst says. “We’re continually working to stay ahead of those attempting to game the system.”

I sent her response to Corcoran and his cohorts, who deemed it unsatisfying. They say that TripAdvisor should be more forthcoming about the way it identifies and deals with questionable reviews. Its approach to the string of Sheraton reviews, Corcoran adds, makes him “uneasy.”

“Why remove the thread?” he asks. “They could have simply added a note declaring the matter closed and locked it.”

TripAdvisor’s actions are troubling to me, too. And a little ironic.

Here’s a publicly traded company that has made millions by offering a platform for user-generated reviews, insisting that transparency would help the entire travel industry. Yet when it comes to being transparent about the way it operates, it goes strangely quiet.

When questions about the authenticity of a review are raised, the legions of reviewers who made TripAdvisor what it is today deserve a prompt and unambiguous answer. In fact, we all do.

Share this story
Share on Twitter Share on LinkedIn Share on Facebook

Underwritten by

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Cavalry Travel Insurance

Cavalry takes the worry of out travel by providing 24/7 access to medical and security professionals combined with the best medical evacuation and security extraction services. Cavalry gets you home safely when you need it most. Learn more at Cavalrytravelinsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Seven Corners

Seven Corners has helped customers all over the world with travel difficulties, big and small. As one of the few remaining privately owned travel insurance companies, Seven Corners provides insurance plans and 24/7 travel assistance services to more than a million people each year. Because we’re privately held, we can focus on the customer without the constraints that larger companies have. Visit Seven Corners to learn more.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Sodexo North America

Sodexo North America Sodexo North America is part of a global, Fortune 500 company with a presence in 80 countries. Sodexo is a leading provider of integrated food, facilities management and other services that enhance organizational performance, contribute to local communities and improve quality of life for millions of customers in corporate, education, healthcare, senior living, sports and leisure, government and other environments daily. Learn more at Sodexoinsights.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelex Insurance Services

Travelex Insurance Services is a leading travel insurance provider in the United States with over 55 years combined industry expertise of helping people dream, explore and travel with confidence. We offer comprehensive travel insurance plans with optional upgrades allowing travelers to customize the plans to fit their needs. Compare plans, get a quote and buy online at Travelexinsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by AirHelp

AirHelp is the world’s leading flight delays compensation company, helping passengers apply for compensation following a delayed or canceled flight or when boarding has been denied. It is AirHelp’s mission to fight for passenger rights by holding airlines accountable for flights disruptions that are out of passengers’ control. AirHelp has already helped 5 million people, taking the stress out of applying for compensation and making it as hassle-free as possible for travelers around the world.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Allianz Travel Insurance

The Allianz Travel Insurance company has built its reputation on partnering with agents all around the world to provide comprehensive travel insurance for their clients. Contact Allianz Travel Insurance for a comprehensive list of coverage.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Chubb

Chubb is the world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurance company, and recognized as the premier provider of insurance for successful individuals and families in the U.S. and selected international markets, offering coverage for high-value automobile, homeowners, recreational marine/aviation, valuables and umbrella liability coverage. As an underwriting company, Chubb assesses, assumes and manages risk with insight and discipline, and combines the precision of craftsmanship with decades of experience to conceive, craft and deliver the best insurance coverage and services to individuals, families and business of all size.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Enterprise Holdings

A family-owned, world-class portfolio of brands. A global network that spans across more than 85 countries. Some 97,000 dedicated team members sharing common values. And more than 1.9 million vehicles taking our customers wherever they need to go.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Fareportal

Fareportal’s portfolio of brands, which include  CheapOair and  OneTravel, are dedicated to helping customers enjoy their trip. Whether you want to call, click, or use one of our travel apps, one thing is clear: We make it easy to take it easy.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Insuremyrentalcar.com

An independent provider of low cost CDW/LDW insurance for use with rental cars. Up to $100,000 cover with no deductible. Policies available on a per day, per trip or per year basis. Also works with overseas rentals. Try  Insuremyrentalcar.comnow.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Mediacom Communications

The nation’s fifth-largest cable operator, serving the smaller cities and towns in the Midwest and Southern regions of the United States. We are a high-performance broadband, entertainment, and communications company that brings the power of modern technology and quality customer experience to life inside the connected home by combining ultra-fast gigabit speeds with personalized local and over-the-top entertainment choices that fit your lifestyle. Details at  Mediacomcable.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Arch RoamRight

Arch RoamRight is one of the fastest growing, most-highly rated travel insurance companies in the United States. Travel advisors love working with us, and travelers feel protected with our trip cancellation and travel medical insurance coverage. We also make it easy to file a claim online with our fast, paperless claims website. Learn more about RoamRight travel insurance.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Virtuoso

The leading global network for luxury and experiential travel. This invitation-only organization comprises over 1,000 travel agency locations with 17,500 advisors in over 45 countries, and holds preferred relationships with 1,700 of the world’s finest travel companies. Virtuoso advisors collaborate with their clients to create personalized itineraries featuring exclusive perks, while also providing advice, access, advocacy, and accountability. For more information, visit  Virtuoso.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by VisitorsCoverage

As a company that is constantly striving to simplify travel insurance, VisitorsCoverage, is on a mission to help travelers make the better decisions about purchasing travel insurance, quickly. VisitorsCoverage has helped millions of travelers globally to buy the suitable travel insurance and explore the world with confidence. Get insurance for your next trip at  VisitorsCoverage. Lowest Price Guaranteed.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by MedjetAssist

Medjet is the premier global air-medical transport, travel security and crisis response membership program for travelers. With a MedjetAssist membership, if you become hospitalized more than 150 miles from home, we will get you from that unfamiliar hospital all the way home to the hospital you trust. All you ever pay is your membership fee. MedjetHorizon members add 24/7 personal security and crisis response benefits. Elliott.org readers enjoy discounted rates. Travel safer with  MedjetAssist.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Southwest Airlines

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by TravelInsurance.com

TravelInsurance.com makes it fast and easy to compare and buy travel insurance online from top rated providers. Our unbiased comparison engine allows travelers to read reviews, compare pricing and benefits and buy the right policy with a price guarantee, every time. Compare and buy travel insurance now at  TravelInsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Squaremouth

Squaremouth helps travelers easily and instantly compare travel insurance policies from all major providers. Only companies that meet the strict requirements of Squaremouth’s Zero Complaint Guarantee are available on the website. Compare policies on  Squaremouth.com to save over 70 percent on your next purchase.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travel Leaders Group

Travel Leaders Group is transforming travel through its progressive approach toward each unique travel experience. Travel Leaders Group assists millions of travelers through its leisure, business and network travel operations under a variety of diversified divisions and brands including All Aboard Travel, Andrew Harper Travel, Colletts Travel, Corporate Travel Services, CruCon Cruise Outlet, Cruise Specialists, Nexion, Protravel International, SinglesCruise.com, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel Leaders Network and Tzell Travel Group, and its merger with ALTOUR. With more than 7,000 agency locations and 52,000 travel advisors, Travel Leaders Group ranks as one of the industry’s largest retail travel agency companies.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelers United

If you’ve been mistreated by the airlines, Travelers United is your voice in Washington. Join the #1 travel advocacy organization working with Congress to improve and protect travelers. Plus, get $400 of annual benefits you can use for travel for only $29/year. Add your voice to ours. Make travel better.  Join today.