|The Riverside Hotel|
Deborah Sinclair, who owns the Riverside Hotel and Restaurant, in Evesham, Worcs, has seen a "catastrophic collapse in bookings" after her page on the popular travel website was “red flagged”.
Officials from the popular ratings site believed hotel management had in fact posted the glowing review, in breach of its rules and placed a warning notice on its page. The hotel denied this saying it was posted by a happy customer on an internal computer.
But since the statement was recently posted, the hotel, which usually charges rooms from £125 a night and was ranked No 1 in the area, bookings dried up almost overnight. The financial consequences have been immense and she has been forced to drastically reduce her prices by almost 70 per cent to fill rooms that used to be constantly full. She is set to launch legal action against the company.
Experts said the case had “huge significance” for the site’s “inefficiencies, ethics, the consequences and (its) legal aspects”. TripAdvisor claims to be the world's biggest travel site, with more than 50 million reviews, all written by consumers, on its pages.
The “message from TripAdvisor”, posted in bright red on the top right page about her hotel, stated: “TripAdvisor has reasonable cause to believe that individuals or entities associated with or having an interest in this property may have interfered with traveller reviews and/or the popularity index for this property. We make our best efforts to identify suspicious content and are always working to improve the processes we use to assess traveller reviews.”
But Mrs Sinclair, 45, said the review was posted by a customer using the hotel’s WI-FI internet connection, meaning its “IP address” showed it written on an internal computer. The site has started scanning for reviews sent from hotel IP addresses in an attempt to crackdown on fraudulent reviews. The unnamed customer, who had stayed for a month after his home had flooded, was so pleased with his stay he wrote the review almost immediately after checking out and also bought her flowers in thanks.
"When it went up, the phone stopped ringing. I guarantee 100 per cent I've not written anything about my hotel on there," she added. The “catastrophic collapse of bookings, from high occupancy to zero and is endangering the survival of the business”.
Within its advice section, the website says that it recommends “guests submit a review when they return home from their trip. A review submitted from a hotel lobby computer may appear to be written by staff”.
The website is currently being investigated by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) following thousands of complaints from hoteliers about allegedly misleading and fraudulent reviews. TripAdvisor carries more 50 millions reviews which it claims are honest, reliable and written by “real travellers around the world”. But online reputation company KwikChex.com, which is representing Mrs Sinclair, has questioned the legitimacy of those claims.
It believes that up to 10 million reviews are faked, and alleges that TripAdvisor does not do enough to authenticate its reviews or remove fraudulent posts. A TripAdvisor spokeswoman admitted a "badge had been applied" to the site, but denied it was applied as a result of an "isolated review posted by a guest from the hotel’s lobby".
"If an owner feels it has been unfairly applied, we urge them to contact us," she added.
The spokeswoman has not commented on the ASA’s investigation, but said the removal of the slogan “reviews you can trust” was unrelated. The hotel customer has not been identified.