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.

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,, 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.

“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.

66 thoughts on “Does TripAdvisor have a problem with fake reviews?

  1. Lets connect the dots:
    – TripAdvisor charges nothing for access to it’s reviews, unlike, say, Angie’s List.
    – When something is “free” from an online business, the consumer isn’t the customer, they are the product being sold.
    – TripAdvisor sells listing placements, ads, special offer placements, etc.
    – While they don’t list it, they’d be foolish to not be selling analytic anonymized site statistics also.

    All this means is that TripAdvisor is more concerned with hurting the tender feelings of a large hotel operator (and large hotel) than with a few savvy customers figuring out that some of the ratings are gamed.  A few astute customers that judge TripAdvisor isn’t credible are much less costly, short-term, than losing a large advertising campaign.

    Yes, this hurts the long-term credibility of the site; eventually more and more users will figure out they cannot be trusted.  But they are a public company now, and long-term thinking hasn’t exactly been the strong point of many public companies of late.

    It certainly sounds like this hotel was up to some shenanigans; I suspect they were “encouraged” to offer a positive review via a bribe. Probably a discount off a future stay… Car dealers do it all the time; offering, say, a free oil change in return for a perfect review.

  2. We just got back from posting at the site, and I say with 100% confidence: the site is just wonderful!  The layout is beautiful, as though it was created by a professional designer with the highest marks in the most respected universities!  The host of the site is intelligent, charming, handsome, and most of all, one of the most caring people in his entire industry!  Everything he does is impeccable, as though he has the Midas touch!  I highly recommend the site!

  3. Could you please send me your PayPal details again? I seem to have misplaced them. Oh, and loved the Midas comment. That was a nice touch. 

    By the way, when you’re posting on other blogs, please be sure they’re as organic as possible and hit key words like “trusted” and “authentic.” Those are the SEO terms I’m really trying to hit.

    (Uh, not really.)

  4. TripAdvisor, Yelp, Google reviews, brand site, etc. all have the same issue of having postings that are biased in extreme ways both good and bad. It does not matter to me if they are fake reviews or not. I take any and all of these reviews with a large grain of salt as should other readers. What is of value to me is to find out issues with the hotel that may impact my needs. Things like nearby restaurants or things to do, parking, internet, cleanliness, condition of the property, noise from surrounding neighborhood, etc.

  5. Like.

    I was looking for a tacky, old school Polynesian/Chinese restaurant that served crazy drinks and pu pu platters. Going through reviews was tough, because those reasons are why the one I ended up going to got BAD reviews! As I read into the negative reviews, I found consistently people said the decor was tacky, the food was like something from a ’60’s Chinese food restaurant, the waiters wore Hawaiian shirts and the drinks came in tacky glasses. Typical statement “If you’re looking for Chinese food…keep looking.”

    Perfect! I ignored the bad reviews and went…just what we wanted, food was good, drinks were strong and we had a blast.

    You have to read into the reviews, your tastes may be different. Once you do, you can pick up on the fakes.

  6. I never place any confidence in reviews that are extremely glowing or extremely negative….unless they give specific examples of why they are giving such extremes.

    Fake reviews aside, there are always people who can never be satisfied with anything as well as those who think everything is perfect and lovely.

    I read the reviews and look for specifics that make or break a property for me. I also look to see how many people mention the same issue. If only one person sees a dirty bathtub and fifty more people say the property was spotless, I assume that someone simply missed that particular bathtub on that particular day.

    If ten people say the rooms are dated and drab and one person raves about how beautiful the place is….well, you get my drift.

    I look for location, amenities, cleanliness, noise, room furnishings, helpful staff, etc. A review that simply goes on about how wonderful or how awful the property is is absolutely useless.

  7. Tripadvisor has been responsive to concerns I’ve had with (possibly) fake reviews. I frequently contribute, and respect the site’s integrity, but am also aware that there are planted reviews that are difficult to ferret out. That said, I read more than one page, and do a search if there is a particular issue I have a concern about. Like any public forum, consumers must be smart about what they read and determine whom they trust.
    On a recent trip I stayed at the Wyndham Lake Buena Vista, and the hotel was liberally sprinkled with cards instructing customers how to review their stay on Tripadvisor. That seemed a bit overboard; a card at the front desk should suffice. The hotel was great, though.

  8. And I’m not sure what the OP is looking for Tripadvisor to additionally do – share their algorithm?

  9. I do not put full trust into any reviews from people I do not know, but find that TripAdvisor is great for spotting trends of hotels, as well as excellent at learning more about a hotels location. As many people have noted, look at online review sites like figure skating scores. Take out the highest ones, and take out the lowest ones, and in the middle you have some great data. Many times I have used TA to help me find a hotel is a city I am unfamiliar with, looking for information about where a hotel is located more than the service or amenities.
    I travel all the time, and will typically only enter a TA review if something was amazing or disappointing. If it was a ho-hum stay at a Homewood Suites in Lexington, I will probably not take the time to review it. But if the staff went out of their way to make my stay the best possible one they could, then I will review it. So most of my TA reviews are four and five star ones, and I always include pictures to help people determine if they will like the hotel or attraction as well.
    So, it can be a very useful site when used properly.

  10. Ever since my child graduated from college (freeing up money for me to be able to travel!) and got a job in Internet marketing, I am extremely skeptical of any “free” reviews. Being the dinosaur that I swore I would never be, I didn’t understand how reviews could be manipulated until this experience. Do lots of research and take a chance every now and then – and contact Chris if things go horribly wrong!

  11. I use TripAdvisor all the time, and have posted several reviews there myself–some glowing, some definitely not. I never gave its credibility too much thought until some head-honcho from TripAdvisor was interviewed on BBC a few months back. There was a lead-up: some tiny English B&B claimed they were destroyed by phony, malicious “reviews” posted by a competitor. The interviewer cited this particular example and wanted to know how TripAdvisor could ever be sure that reviews are genuine.

    The TripAdvisor head-honcho’s response was appallingly bad.  Oh, we have a complex system in place to catch fake reviews! we were assured.  Yes, we can spot them and remove them, we’re always on the look-out!

    …Except that he seemed genuinely unable to explain HOW they can tell a real review from a fake one.  The head-honcho’s strategy apparently was, go on-air and vociferously insist that we at TripAdvisor have zero tolerance!  Repeat as needed!  Speak in decisive tones!  Nod head vigorously and look determined!

    Ironically, paradoxically, he lost me.  It was lamer than lame.

    KUDOS to Corcoran for doing the detective-work on this one.  Wouldn’t you love to know what “a little overzealous” means, if you translate it from Sheratonese into plain English?  And wouldn’t you love to know why Corcoran–not the allegedly super-alert at TripAdvisor or Starwood–was the first one to notice this case of obvious abuse? 

  12. I post reviews on TripAdvisor (but I’m only up to 18, I’m still not quite the fanatic some are) but read other people’s reviews with a grain of salt.

    When it’s a negative review, I look at:
    1.  Other reviews written by the same person
    2.  All the negative reviews on a location.

    What these two things tell me are whether the reviewer is just someone who complains a lot or that there really is a problem at a location.

    I posted a negative review about a place in Montana.  I wasn’t the only one and my review was along the same lines as a couple others – Ah, I thought, so it’s not just me!  But, someone who was obviously affiliated with the hotel, sent me a private message to berate me for not being a good travel writer by giving them a negative review.  According to them I wasn’t a travel writer or I’d have know not to do that.

    Also, this same review was about how poorly the chef was running the kitchen when, at 6 o’clock in the evening, they were out of about half the items on the menu at the dining room attached to the inn.  The person who PM’d me also started attacking me about my saying something about that!  According to them, I’m a travel writer, not a chef, and I couldn’t possibly know what I was talking about.

    (Well, which is it, sweetcheeks? Am I a travel writer or not?)

    They ended the exchange, after demanding I change my review, when I shared with them not only was I NOT changing my review, I was going to write an article about the exchange AND contact TripAdvisor about it.  I did all of the above (or didn’t, in the case of changing the review) and did contact TA.  The person’s account was removed a couple, three weeks later.  I don’t know it TA made them do it or they did it on their own.  

    Either way, a common traveler who was probably approached by this person about their negative reviews would, most likely, have caved and changed it.  Since that time, my distrust of what goes on at TripAdvisor has become much stronger.

  13. The fake reviews are sometimes very obvious (the review raves/rants, and it’s the 1st review from that reviewer,etc.). Most in-the-know travelers are able to filter through the crap, and get a pretty good idea of a properties virtues/downfalls.

  14. You’re absolutely correct on all counts.

    But think of the average traveler.  You and others here aren’t exactly “average”.

    The average traveler will to to TripAdvisor for about three or four weeks while they’re planning their once-a-year vacation.  Chances are great they know absolutely nothing about TripAdvisor’s penchant for allowing fabricated reviews to remain.  So this traveler will look at the reviews, make their choices based on said reviews and move on.  Odds are great they won’t even go back to put in their own review unless their experience was a bad one.

    Travel related businesses count on that apathy when it comes to sites like TripAdvisor.

  15. The question is totally ambiguous.  

    Does TripAdvisor have an internal problem in combing through to remove fake reviews?
    Does the site TripAdvisor have too many fake reviews posted without its knowledge or ability to detect them?

    Which is the question?  I voted yes, because the first question is certainly true.

    As a frequent contributor to TripAdvisor, I can tell you this.  Travel Forum members try very hard to keep the Forum postings clean of fakes and phonies.  Why?  If people believe fake Forum contents, then trust in the whole open Forum process diminishes.  

    Sometimes a fake posting will generate far more critical comments for potential destination visitors to read, thereby nullifying the original fake post, if not destroying the reputation of the subject involved.  Many tour companies (not travel agents) over time have employed fake reviews on Forums in an effort to gin up the business.  

    In some Asia Forums, like India and China, these postings are almost ridiculed into oblivion.

    Here is a simple, but not foolproof, way to trust or distrust reviews and Forum posts:

    1.  First time posters are especially suspect.  When the first-time poster has no personal profile, no travel map showing travel experience, even no location, then although it might be genuine, just forget about it.  

    2.  Low number of postings.  OK, maybe the poster has 10 or 12 contributions, click on the reviewer’s name and check out the other ones.  Sometimes you will find out they are two Forums threads about the exact same topic.  In other words, the poster has only one objective, to discuss that one subject, good or bad.  (Remember there are faked bad reviews too to denigrate a competition property or company.)

    3.  Wildly, sweeping review, filled with generalities and nothing specific.  Ask yourself, could this review be lifted and inserted anywhere on the site?  Is there anything specific in the glowing review or is it so generic as to be helpful?  “The Tempest Hotel was a delight to stay in.  The staff were so helpful, the room was very nice and the breakfast was to die for.”  Facts, as any journalist knows, are important.  Opinions are a dime a dozen.  Especially noteworthy on TA are the tourist-contributed photos.  You can tell the hotel’s professional studio-quality photos from the traveler’s with wrinkled sheets, a laptop on the desk, and glare from the window or flash.  The bathroom photos are especially revealing, many times not flattering to the property.

    4.  A pattern of reviews.  As this Elliott column demonstrates, a reader discovered a pattern of reviews.  Sometimes it is the staff of the property or the tour company which encourages the positive reviews.  For example, a common scheme is to tell group tour-goers on the last day in the bus to please write up a positive review on TripAdvisor, that it even means more than a generous tip, as it will generate future business.  So you thought these were spontaneous reviews from people sufficiently motivated to look up the site and contribute?  Hardly.  Some are specifically encouraged.  A few, even, are generated through bonuses/discounts on future travel.  One hotel wrote an email to tell me I would receive a special “best customer discount” when I wrote a positive review on TripAdvisor.  Others frequent travelers report the same thing.  I forwarded the email to TripAdvisor which then sent a warning and a “on-watch” notice to the hotel.

    Anything can be fake on the internet. If you do not believe me, I have an inheritance in Nigeria waiting for you!  Just give me your bank account and Social Security numbers so I can deliver it quickly.

  16. I use TripAdvisor and I’m a regular contributor.  Like others have said, I ignore all the 1 and 5 stars if they come from people who have only contributed very few reviews.  Either they’re fake, or they’re from people who don’t travel much and don’t know what to expect.

    I have noticed a trend in the last year where hotels/motels aggressively push their guests to post a glowing review.  I posted a negative review about one of those places (deservedly so!).  My experience was similar to @ExplorationTravMag:disqus ‘s experience.  Lots of pushback to get you to change a review.  I figure the property had its chance to get a good review *before* I posted, not *after*. 

  17. I’m with the vast majority in voting yes on this one for the reasons you present and that others have stated.  As a vacation rental owner and frequent traveler, I get and give reviews on TripAdvisor with regularity, and am considered a “top contributor” by TA.  That said, when I look at other vacation rental properties, hotels, restaurants, etc. I only give credibility to reviews written by people who have many reviews under their belt, who give details on why they are either praising or damning a place and screen out those that seem over the top in compliments or malicious in the wording of their criticism.  It takes time to review the reviews, but it is time well worth it for me.  I am fussy and do not want a vacation or meal ruined because I got taken in by false promises.

  18. I can’t read minds, but here’s what might make the OP happy: A “thank you” from TripAdvisor for helping it find a questionable review and assurances that it will work to keep new ones from appearing. 

    Instead, he got silence — and the removal of a discussion about the reviews.

  19. Anything has to have an ‘as evidenced by’.

    Show me exactly what was done right or wrong. Meaningless platitudes or angry rantings give me little information to go on. Tell me specifically what you liked or did not like. Use your bs meter. Mine pegs to the right a lot today.

  20. I don’t think it was the silence from TA that bothered me the most; it was the removal of the thread/discussion.  This isn’t the act of a transparent organization.  My feeling it, only those with something to hide will hide something.

  21.  Slightly off topic, but it just show you that you really need to take online reviews with a grain of salt….

    Last year my husband and I stayed at a local resort for a short “staycation” ( I actually hate that term) on my birthday.  The resort knew it was my birthday and the girl who checked us in later had a bottle of wine and some  cheese sent to our room along with a card wishing me “happy birthday”, but also telling us to be sure to mention  her by name on tripadvisor if and when we posted a review!  Needless, to say, I posted a review all right…and it was not exactly glowing.  I don’t think hotel employees ought to be asking their guests for positive reviews.

  22. As a Travel Agent owner, we consistently advise our agents and clients to take all reviews with that proverbial grain of salt.  A trend that I have noticed over a period of time, (a subtle one at that) is that as hotel properties move up the ranking scale in a particular destination, average daily rates tend to move up as well.  An average vacationer would probably not notice this since they are just concerned about their 1 week. but when you doing something on a daily basis over a long period of time, and you pay attention you will notice trends.

    Another trend that coincides with the above is that top rated and good value properties seem to sell out over certain time frames, quicker than those rated lower.

    We still find that personal experience, (our agents honest reviews while visiting a certain property), and our clients feed back from their visit are our best information sources.  I guess we would be considered a throwback by still putting stock in first hand experience, especially with all of the viral information out there?  We are beseiged daily with email offers to join webinars for a truly first hand experience.

    Being in a location with a lot of in person client interaction, about 90 % of these individuals will ask agents if they have stayed at this property or been on that ship, if this client do not have a personal experience with the property or ship.  I don’t recall anyone ever asking, (have you seen a webinar on a particular hotel or ship).

    Below is a link from last summer based on a study of review sites.

  23. Of course there are fake reviews on TripAdvisor.  It operates on the internet.  Anyone can write a review.  I rely totally on TA for information; we travel 5 or 6 times a year.  All you have to do is read a couple of dozen reviews and you easily form an opinion of the subject. 

    For example, I’ve never had a problem with a hotel being anything other than how it is portrayed on TripAdvisor.  It’s easy to spot a really negative review that is the result of one issue coloring the entire stay.  Likewise it’s simple to pick out the gushing positive reviews.  Often the negative or positive opinions expressed are on topics I don’t care about; you need to know what’s important to you while reading the reviews.

    TripAdvisor is a marvelous vehicle for travel.  But you have to READ.

  24. I think this is a problem that all review sites have, not just TripAdvisor.  Anyone can manipulate them, and sometimes companies order their staff members to do that in order to pump up ratings.

  25. During a stay in Phoenix & then Palm Springs last Winter, relied on 2 restaurent reviews. Both were rated as excellent food great etc.
    Got sick after eating at the awful food in Phoenix & the waitress there even forgot to put our order in. Should have gone with my gut feeling to leave then but wife insisted we stay – HORRIBLE.
    I try & give honest appraisels to Trip Advisor, but now won’t bother & considering dropping theis site!

  26. The Internet/IT technology change nothing to the reality of the travel world.  Don’t expect TripAdvisor to be accurate or reliable. In the Middle-Age there were “Troubadours” in Europe, Story-Tellers in China … and our beloved Marco Polo. They can boast their story or just say what they perceive and each person have their own perception. We cannot rely totally on their story. We have the responsibility of our judgment to discern the true and the fake by different sources.

  27. I am sure people take advantage of the system and post fake reviews in Trip Advisor, but I have used the reviews in Trip Advisor numerous times for the past several years to choose hotels when traveling and have never been disappointed.

  28. I don’t feel TripAdvisor has a problem with fake reviews because I don’t feel TripAdvisor cares if the review is legitimate or fake. 

  29. I agree removing a thread is manipulative and I find it troublesome too. But TAs forums are for travel reviews, not website reviews, and I suspect that is the reason for removal. My experience was that I contacted TA about questionable reviews, they quickly replied they would investigate, and thanked me for contacting them with my concerns. A couple of weeks later, when I checked, the reviews had been removed. Perhaps I received feedback because I regularly contribute? Don’t know.

  30. As a Senior Contributor on Tripadvisor, I have seen a particular Bed and Breakfast in Santa Barbara placing fake reviews to boost their overall negative ratings. Although I cannot prove it, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out what was going on.

    I don’t know how Tripadvisor can monitor these when there are millions of reviews on their site, but it is extremely frustrating. I try to use my best judgment when using Tripadvisor to scout out a hotel, b & b, etc. and I leave reviews as often as I can because the best defense against this problem is for honest reviewers to “outnumber” the fake reviewers.

  31. Even thought I think that Trip Advisor has an issue with fake reviews, I think the site is still a decent option for hotel reviews. By the time I go to Trip Advisor, I’ve already narrowed it down to a hand full of hotels.   I only read the hotels ratings that are threes and twos. That takes out the over gushy and the irate one off mad person.   If I see a consistent complaint, then I disregard that hotel.  Even hotels that have honest (not fed by the hotel themselves) reviews you still have to know what to weed out based on the reviewer.  For example, if the reviewer is complaining that they wanted more programs for children, that’s a plus for me, since I’m not traveling with children.  So, I think the site offers some value, but I wouldn’t trust a 5 star rating.  What’s 5 stars to some else may be only 4 or 3 for me and vice versa.

  32.  I’m glad you wrote abou this incident and reported it to Tripadvisor, but I disagree with you when you say “a common traveler who was probably approached by this person about their
    negative reviews would, most likely, have caved and changed it.” I know I would have reported the person to Tripadvisor myself, and do not think that most people would “cave” and change their review due to some online bully.

  33. Funny you would post this this week. 

    Earlier in the week, I was looking to book a room in Cleveland and was looking on TA for reviews and rates on rooms. I came across one that was a glaring mistake, as it referred to the hotel as being ‘on the gold coast’, and its ‘ocean views’ (not LAKE views) and referred to Australia in the post. 

    So, being a good citezen, I hit ‘report review’, but got stuck in a loop of redirection where I was asked over and over to log in to tripadviser, and getting no where. After a few tries, I gave up.

    So, yes I think they have a HUGE problem, and it will most definitely affect my use of the site from here out. I won’t even address the obvious ‘planted’ reviews, which has been an issue for some time… or the terrible time I have had trying to post reviews. Honest ones. 

  34. First of all most reviews on TA are honest and they are there to be helpful, if the viewer would just take a look at the TA’s reviewer on a hotel they could immediately figure out who they can trust and who they can’t. A first time poster is a dead give away. Sites like Budget travel love to put down TA to feather their own next, please do your home work before condemning TA., It’s a site that is invaluable to most of us travelers.

  35. Wonder if she stood to get a “bonus” of some sort from her employer if she was mentioned by name on TA? I encountered the same type of request during a recent hotel stay that was aggressively promoting TA reviews.

  36. As well as discarding the best and worst reviews like many others, I also look at the reviews for somewhere I have stayed to get an idea of how my opinions compare with other peoples. Then, I have some sort of standard to compare to the reviews of the property I’m interested in. It seems to help, when I’ve done that before booking, the hotel has been pretty much what I expected.
    So as others have said review sites are useful but do your homework. That applies to all types of review sites not just travel ones.

  37. While I don’t travel a lot, I do look at Trip Advisor to give me an idea what an attraction is like. I tend to take reviews on TA like movie reviews. If I find it interesting, I’ll go see it and see if they’re right. I’ve only posted 7 reviews on TA, all good reviews, but only because I don’t like to post bad reviews.

  38. anyone who believes reviews on this kind of site, deserves everything they get.

    Forums are worse.

    We know of one outfit, who gets their employees to rave about them & bag the opposition.

    Absolutely, positively, no way of stamping this out, so the sites blither on about how they can control this, but they can’t.

    The reviews are from friends of colleagues, ie. people you know, not some bogus username online.

  39. am sure you could employ someone in a 3rd world country for $1 day to write rave reviews from hundreds of different user names & at same time bag the opposition !!!

  40.  The article sums up everything that is wrong about TA at the moment: the
    obsession with quantity over quality, the failure to investigate
    suspect reviews in a timely manner, the unwillingness to allow forum
    members to alert other users to fake or suspect reviews and the contempt
    it shows towards those who are actually trying to make it a better and
    more reliable website.

  41. I have to admit, I’m pretty bad about submitting hotel reviews.  Which isn’t fair considering that I do use it as a reference tool.  I think you make a good point about leaving reviews.  I need to up my game. :)

  42. Any open forum can be skewed, and that’s why it’s important to read a number of reviews, as suggested by others, and report glaring or obviously slanted remarks. When I review a product, whether it’s a hotel or a piece of clothing, I note both positive and negative attributes, and it is rare to find only one or the other. Reviews can be helpful to the vendors (as evidenced by the number of owners/managers who reply to comments on TA) and used as a tool by same to improve the customer experience. I also give feedback to my travel agent, and have given her my TA handle to read my comments, if she cares to. Sites like TA can be valuable tools when used wisely.

  43. Very true. You really have to read what people are actually complaining about. I remember about 6 years ago I was planning a trip to DisneyWorld and trying to decide which on property hotel to stay in. There were several posts on each and every hotel from the same user complaining that there were only Coke products available. Seriously, she gave each and every hotel on Disney property a bad review and 1 star because there was no way to get Pepsi. There was nothing else in her posts, just rants about how she couldn’t understand why there were no Pepsi products and that it ruined her vacation.

  44. I will use TA to get a general feel for a property, but I certainly don’t make all of my decisions based on TA alone. I’ve actually run into an issue with them that I find disturbing. I left a very detailed review on a property that had repeatedly encouraged me to leave a positive review. Every conversation I had with an employee ended with a reminder to leave a good review for their hotel on TA. I have never written a poor review for a place (I usually review great service, not poor service), but I posted a detailed review, explaining why I gave a 2 star rating. The hotel immediately posted a response and said that they would be sending me a certificate for a free night stay to make up for the poor service. Of course, they never did. Instead, more reviews showed up praising the things I criticized. If you look at the poor reviews with 3 stars or less, they all say basically the same things I do. It’s suspicious that many reviews mention poor water pressure but then there are  5 star reviews posted immediately following those non-five star reviews that praised ‘great’ water pressure. So frustrating that TA can’t catch the obvious.

    I contacted TA telling that that I never received any contact from the hotel, let alone a certificate. All I wanted was them to let me post a short follow up saying so. TA refused to post anything. I pointed out that there were three other similar responses and that it would be easy for them to follow up with the other three posters to see if they had the same problem, but they refused. They said something to the effect of ‘We don’t allow follow ups, especially negative ones. Feel free to remove your review if you don’t like it.’ This of course offers more incentive for properties to lie.

  45. I normally would not respond to your website, although, I find it interesting and sometimes helpful, but as a regular poster to Trip Advisor I feel it is my responsibility to tell the truth about a property, restaurant or historical/market site that we have visited.  I think most people feel this way and do their best to tell the truth as they see it.  I always check out the reviews of hotels and restaurants where we are planning on going.  You need to look at more than one review to get an accurate picture of what is really going on and than make a judgment. 

  46. I have been disturbed with Trip Advisor ever since Chris covered a story where a user wrote a bad review, and the hotel contacted her and asked her to take it down.  She didn’t, and a few days/weeks later it mysteriously went away on its own.  That really hurt my trust.
    Also, I tend to write really good reviews or really bad reviews, and rarely a review in between, I suppose I should be trying harder to review the hotels that met my expectations.  When a hotel goes above and beyond I give it a great review, and when a hotel falls so short I want to leave early, I write a really bad review.  I suppose their algorithm might think I am being paid to write reviews when really I am not.  I did notice that when I wrote a 1 Star review for a property, a few days later a 5 star review was written that countered every exact point in my review talking about how great it was, I feel like it was the property itself who wrote that.

  47. I use to post on TA and stopped, too.  We stayed at Jackson Lake Lodge in the Tetons last year and had an absoulely wonderful room in the lodge and a great time.  I was contacted by them to rate our stay, which I gave them highest marks.  Later I was asked to post over on TA and that didn’t sit well with me. I didn’t post and decided I won’t ever again.

    I do read up on hotels in places were are going to visit on TA but I take every post with a grain of a salt.  One place we enjoyed staying at was the Waimea Plantation Cottages on Kauai.  After our stay I read the reviews and one lady just panned the place.  Everything she hated about it, we loved it. 

  48. I do not think the “common traveler” would be likely to be intimidated when posting a review. Because they are posting their opinion and experience, and not representing themselves as a travel writer.  I too am glad you did report the exchange though!

  49. I also have a problem with their rating system which is also a secret formula like Coca Cola.  There are some properties with very few reviews that never seem to move up or down on the rakings.

  50. like many others I ignore the very good and the very bad. And also the people who appear to be crackers over one very small minor point and go on and on and give a bad rating for something like a cracked pool tile; declaring the entire property a safety hazard because of the aforementioned one cracked pool tile. My issue with the info there is that people who are not frequent travelers to the more exotic destinations fo the world expect third world hotesl & restuarants to be like Orlando or NYC. Not realistic.

  51. When I travel I do read the hotel reviews and look at the date it was posted. Poor reviews are usually one or two years old.  When multiple site reviews suddenly rate a hotel with higher scores I tend to have doubts.  I still take into consideration the overall rating of a hotel.

  52. LMOA, perfect review backprop!

    I stayed in a hotel in Williamsburg a few years back that was so nasty it couldn’t get a 4 or 5 star review unless they gutted the building. But consistantly, you will see some mysterious traveller talk about how perfect the place was. I outed and reported on or two fakes when I questioned how travellers from out of country could know about specific local places to visit that normaly aren’t considered tourist attractions. (in my city with a nasty hotel I stayed at once or twice) False reviews are almost always easy to spot because they rant and rave about how great a place is, yet give no specific details about how or why, or they mention the manager by name.

  53. As a contributor to Tripadvisor and user I take the reviews for who gives them.  One good review from from someone who has only made one review is a no trust. The same goes with one bad review.  When the contributor makes 50-60 reviews over the world at different types of hotels and his starts are from 1 ot 4 then i tend to go thre.  It is what th they rite rather then what

  54. As a contributor to Tripadvisor and user I take the reviews for who gives them.  One good review from from someone who has only made one review is a no trust. The same goes with one bad review.  When the contributor makes 50-60 reviews over the world at different types of hotels and his starts are from 1 ot 4 then i tend to go thre.  It is what th they write rather then what the starts are.  When they say the room has decorations from the 1950s and the hotel says it was updated  last year, that is what I need to know.  Or that the front desk people have the minds of slugs.  I read all the negative reviews on the hotels as these are the people or are really P###ed O## about the service they received.  If you a contributor give a great reveiw then they do not taravel will

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  55. Great example here of why reviews always need to be taken with a grain of salt and the specifics looked at, because different people react far differently to the same events.  I would guess a lot of people would have gladly mentioned her by name in a positive review and the majority would have just forgotten about the incident.  I agree it’s tacky to ask for praise, but bottom line is she did provide excellent service, regardless of her motivation. It sounds like they’d have made out better in your review with average service minus the solicitation effort. Personally, unless the solicitation was completely over-the-top, I’d gladly hear somebody beg for a good review if it meant they were really trying to earn it.

  56. For years I have learned that internet ratings are in the eyes of the beholder. As a travel agent, we subscribe to the Star Index; expensive, but 100’s of times more accurate than the online ratings. TripAdvisor gives me the best and the worse feelings on their sight, and I always look at the worse first. Star is rated by professionals on a regular basis. Nobody can visit every hotel in the world, but travel agents have references that the public never sees. If I say a hotel is great, addequate, or stinks out loud, my reputation is at stake. TripAdvisor scares the heck out of me with a 20% error rating from what I see out there. Thats a “C” grade and most people want an “A+”!

  57. When Chris isn’t busy trashing the TSA, he moves on to his next favorite occupation: trashing TripAdvisor.  No the system’s not perfect, but anyone with a brain knows enough to ignore the “gushy” posts as well as a few “horrible experience” posts and consider the median. That’s usually where the truth lies.

  58. Let’s face it: We frequent travelers have raised the value of these reviews. A few malcontents can really damage a legitimate property or restaurant.

    In 2010, my partner and I traveled from Rome to southeasten Sicily over 3 weeks, staying at 9 B&Bs listed on Tripadvisor. We had only the first and last booked before we left – we depended on the then-new Tripadvisor iPad app.

    Of those 9 B&Bs, we found only one really poor – it was in Siracusa, was not really a B&B but an old hotel claiming B&B status – and when apprised of our dissatisfaction, the owner quickly transferred us to the Hotel Livingston at a comparable price. Ironically, one of the most praised B&Bs in Catania turned out to be a floor in a modern condominium (“Neptune”) which had a delightful if overbearing manager – but certainly not the quaintness we and many B&B lovers want. The rest were all pure joys, exactly as reviewed.

    We had similar success with a 2008 Italy tour of B&Bs totally booked through Tripadvisor and a 2009 B&B tour of New Mexico.

    We will go to Istanbul and Israel later this year, booked on TripAdvisor recommendations, and expect similar success.

    What’s our secret? Read carefully. We usually check Tripadvisor recommendations against Venere for European hotels and B&Bs. I look for reviews from travelers like me. When I am interested in a place but see a few bad reviews, I check out the reviewers, so see how many reviews they’ve written and where they’ve been. Malcontents rarely travel a lot, tend to overexpect, and cannot “go with the flow.”

    Fake reviews are easy for me to spot. Little detail, lots of gush, no photos, no reports of area sites. Or, in the case of bad reviews, focus on a stain on the hall carpet.

  59. TripAdvisor is still my go to site for picking hotels and restaurants and I’ve found their reader forums helpful for specific travel questions.  My experience with TripAdvisor is that I get a very good sense of a place from the range of reviews.  There are usually a few outliers in both directions–positive and negative.  They now give you some information about the person who posted the review also.  I recently notified them about what seemed like bogus reviews to me of one particular hotel.  I fear that more transparency about how they identify fake reviews might assist the bogus reviewers to game the system.  

  60. I agree with most of what you’ve said. Generalizations, either positive or negative, are worthless. Give me specific details so I can judge for myself. We all have different criteria for evaluating hotels. If a reviewer rates the hotel negatively because they found bugs in the room and they were overcharged at checkout, I’m going to evaluate that differently than a reviewer who complained that their room had a tube TV instead of a flat-screen.

    I also have found that one of the areas in which reviews are least useful is in judging the safety of the surrounding area. I’ve stayed at places I was leery of based on reviews and found them to be just fine. (I think there’s a certain percentage of reviewers who are terrified if the neighborhood isn’t lily-white and upscale, sadly).

    One thing I wish review sites like TripAdvisor would do is make reviewers list what they paid for the room. A lot of times I’m not concerned about the place being habitable because I’m confident it will be – I want to know if it’s a better value at $99 than the place across town for $129.

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