Just as one would not buy a car sight unseen, travelers are not going to book a room at a hotel without first reading reviews and looking at pictures of the property. So what are hoteliers to do when their properties frequently receive negative reviews on TripAdvisor that damage their online reputation? Unfortunately, many hoteliers resort to TripAdvisor fraud – posting fake positive reviews themselves or encouraging their personal network to do so – in an effort to boost the hotel’s TripAdvisor reputation. While false TripAdvisor reviews may seem like a good idea to the uninformed, it is a practice that results in critical, and sometimes debilitating, consequences from which hotels may never recover.
Why would hoteliers feel compelled to commit TripAdvisor fraud?
TripAdvisor is the second most visited travel site in the world, with an average of 260 million unique visitors per month and more than 150 million total reviews. Those stats clearly indicate why a positive representation on TripAdvisor is so crucial to a hotel’s online reputation and financial success.
Any marketer worth his or her salt knows that word-of-mouth is one of the biggest influences on purchasing decisions. TripAdvisor has enabled naturally occurring word-of-mouth on a global scale. No longer is a traveler limited to their personal network of friends, family, and colleagues for hotel reviews. Now, they simply have to visit TripAdvisor to learn what hundreds of guests had to say about their stays. Studies show that 81 percent of travelers usually or always reference TripAdvisor before booking and that over half of all travelers would not even consider staying at a hotel that has no reviews.
If a hotel has a lot of positive reviews, then travelers will be more likely to book. If travelers are more likely to book, then that means a likely increase in…? That’s right, every hotelier’s favorite word – “revenue.” Simply put, higher TripAdvisor ratings equal more money for the hotel. By moving up one point on a five point rating scale, hotels can increase their rates by up to 11.2 percent without seeing a decrease in occupancy. With hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional revenue on the line, it is no wonder hoteliers consider posting fake positive reviews.
Okay, TripAdvisor is important, but how could someone spot a fake hotel-written review?
Because thousands of reviews are written on a daily basis, it is understandable why hoteliers may think that their fake reviews will slip through the cracks and appear legitimate. In an attempt to discover fake reviews, TripAdvisor claims to track the IP addresses of computers from which reviews are written. The site is alerted if multiple reviews come from the same IP address, signaling that hotel representatives may be writing fraudulent reviews from their offices. Even if they are writing reviews from different IP addresses, many hoteliers are treated to a rude awakening upon learning that their fake reviews were easily discovered by both TripAdvisor and travelers due to five common tells that signal the review is hotel-written.
- Perhaps the most obvious sign of a hotel-written review is one that includes “hotel speak” that the average traveler would not typically use. So that review singing the praises of a hotel’s “well-appointed rooms with complimentary high-speed internet access and ergonomic desk chairs”? Fake.
- Multiple reviews for the same hotel that include the exact same or almost the same wording are almost always fake. In these instances, it is apparent to TripAdvisor and travelers that these reviews were written in an effort to increase the hotel’s overall rating.
- A sudden burst of positive reviews all around the same time is a clear indication to TripAdvisor and travelers that the reviews are likely fraudulent.
- Positive reviews with a general lack of detail, an excessive use of superlatives and adverbs, and an unnecessary amount of exclamation points are the calling cards of many hotel-written reviews.
- Obviously, every TripAdvisor user will have a first review, but if a review already seems suspicious and also happens to be a user’s first review, it is probably hotel-written.
Individually, all of these hallmarks of hotel-written reviews make them quite easy to spot. When these attributes are combined in a single review, hoteliers might as well just include, “by the way, this review is fake and an attempt to boost the hotel’s rating.” That would not make it any more obvious than it already is.
Even if people know the reviews are fake, a better overall rating is all that matters, right?
Wrong. One of TripAdvisor’s core tenets is that the success of the site is based on honest reviews by real travelers telling it like it is. Fake reviews upset this balance and lead to travelers losing trust in the site and possibly not using it in the future. That is the last thing TripAdvisor wants. Upon detecting fraudulent reviews, TripAdvisor imposes a number of penalties designed to punish the hotel and discourage them from writing fake reviews again.
Almost immediately, the hotel’s listing may be dropped several pages in the TripAdvisor popularity index. That means potentially thousands of lost guests and lost revenue, as most travelers do not search for a hotel past the second or third page of listings.
Hotels that have been caught writing fake reviews are ineligible to be included in all of TripAdvisor’s Travelers’ Choice Awards and top 10 lists. These honors provide valuable free marketing and have been shown to greatly boost the online perception of the hotels that receive them.
The biggest penalty that TripAdvisor levies on hotels posting fake reviews is the dreaded “red flag” that is placed on the listing itself. This large red label is prominently displayed at the top of the listing, informing all who view it that the reviews are not to be trusted (screenshot below). One hotelier claimed to have seen a 75 percent drop in revenue and a “catastrophic collapse in bookings” after her hotel was flagged.
If hoteliers do not write fake reviews, how can they ever increase their hotel’s rating?
One of Blue Magnet’s Managing Partners Chris Jones wrote an excellent blog article answering this very question. Hoteliers should always use the reviews of their hotel – the good, the bad, and the ugly – as free market research to learn negatives that the hotel must improve upon and positives that the hotel can further enhance or promote.
Hoteliers should be candid in all communication and marketing regarding the hotel’s quality and what guests should expect from the hotel. Guests do not want to be misled. Marketing a three star hotel as a five star hotel is an invitation for negative reviews from travelers whose expectations were not met.
Happy guests love to leave great reviews. At an industry conference earlier this year, Andrew Wiens, International DMO Manager at TripAdvisor, mentioned that 77 percent of all TripAdvisor reviews receive either four or five “bubbles.”
Whether reviews are good or bad, all of them should elicit a hotel management response. 78 percent of TripAdvisor users say that seeing hotel management respond to reviews makes the users believe that management cares about their guests. Positive perception is everything.
At the end of the day, the best way to receive positive reviews online is to provide an excellent offline experience for guests. As long as hoteliers focus on delivering positive experiences, TripAdvisor fraud will not even be a consideration.