TripAdvisor could be ruining holidays by failing to stop fake reviews which boost its top-rated hotels, according to Which?
The consumer watchdog looked at almost 250,000 reviews on the site’s top 10 ranked hotels in 10 popular tourist destinations and found one in seven had “blatant hallmarks” of fake reviews.
Which? Travel reported 15 cases to TripAdvisor and said the website admitted that 14 of those had already been caught with fake positive reviews in the last year.
It said TripAdvisor revealed six of the hotels had been penalised for breaching guidelines, while two had been given a “red badge” warning for suspicious activity, but this was not made clear to travellers.
Which? said TripAdvisor took down hundreds of reviews following its investigation. One hotel in the Middle East, which was rated the “best hotel” in Jordan, had a pattern of “hugely suspicious” reviews, Which? reported.
Although the hotel denied any wrongdoing, TripAdvisor removed 730 of its five-star ratings.
At the “best hotel in Cairo”, 79% of the five-star reviews were left by profiles with no other contributions on the site.
Shortly after Which? shared its findings, TripAdvisor took action, and the reviews were removed, which lost the hotel its status as Cairo’s best hotel.
In Las Vegas, two of the top 10 hotels received nearly half (48% and 41%) of its five-star reviews from users who had not made any other TripAdvisor contributions, before or since, raising suspicions they could be fake.
Another hotel near the top of the TripAdvisor rankings for Las Vegas had just 3% of nearly 2,000 five-star ratings from one time only reviewers.
Which? compared 10 London hotels at the two biggest chains, Premier Inn and Travelodge. While Premier Inn did not arouse suspicion, almost half of the hundreds of reviews of five-star rankings for two Travelodges came from first-time reviewers who hadn’t left reviews anywhere else.
It comes as the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is carrying out a programme of work aimed at tackling the increasing problem of fake and misleading reviews.
Which? Travel’s Naomi Leach said: “TripAdvisor’s failure to stop fake reviews and take strong action against hotels that abuse the system risks misleading millions of travellers and potentially ruining their holidays.
“Sites like TripAdvisor must do more to ensure the information on their platforms is reliable, and if they continue to fall short they should be compelled to make changes so holidaymakers are no longer at risk of being duped by a flood of fake reviews.”
A TripAdvisor spokesman said: “It is simply far too simplistic to assume all first-time reviewers are suspicious. Every genuine reviewer in the world is at some point a first-time reviewer.
“Accurate fraud detection requires analysis of a wide range of data-points, such as IP information, location data or details about the device an account was using when submitting a review. This crucial data is missing from Which’s analysis.
“We are committed to ensuring reviews on TripAdvisor offer useful and accurate information, and we are very aggressive in catching fake reviews and pursuing the fraudsters behind them.
“We have a dedicated team of fraud investigators who work tirelessly to protect the site from fake reviews.”
A Travelodge spokeswoman said: “We did experience a breakdown in our internal communication when TripAdvisor identified an irregular pattern of reviews at one of our hotels – Wembley Central Travelodge.
“Unfortunately on this rare occasion that matter was not managed effectively within the timeframe, and we have taken appropriate action to ensure this does not happen again.”