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TripAdvisor failing to stop hotel rankings being boosted by fake reviews

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Written by: Emma Lunn
06/09/2019
A report by Which? has found a flood of fake and suspicious five-star reviews which artificially boost the ratings of some of TripAdvisor’s highest-ranked hotels.

The consumer champion analysed almost 250,000 reviews for the top 10 ranked hotels in 10 popular tourist destinations around the world. It flagged one in seven of these 100 hotels as having blatant hallmarks of fake reviews, while others raised serious concerns.

Which? Travel reported 15 of the worst cases to TripAdvisor and the review website admitted that 14 of the hotels had already been caught with fake positive reviews in the past year.

TripAdvisor said six of the hotels had been penalised for breaking guidelines and two had previously been given a “red badge” warning for suspicious activity. However, this was not made clear to travellers and a highly suspicious pattern of reviews had continued to appear.

Following Which? Travel’s investigation, TripAdvisor has taken down hundreds of reviews.

There were striking results in the Middle East, with what Which? described as a “hugely suspicious pattern of reviews” at the “best hotel” in the whole of Jordan. The hotel denies doing anything wrong but shortly afterwards TripAdvisor removed 730 of its five-star reviews.

At the best hotel in Cairo, according to TripAdvisor’s traveller rankings, a startling 79 per cent of five-star reviews were left by profiles that had no other contributions on the site. Which? compared this figure with the results for three-star reviews – a rating less likely to be fake – at just 14 per cent. Shortly after Which? shared its findings, TripAdvisor removed reviews from the property and it lost its status as the official “best hotel in Cairo”.

Some of the most concerning findings were in Las Vegas, where two of the10 highest ranked hotels had received almost half (48 per cent and 41 per cent) of their hundreds of five-star ratings from reviewers who had never made any other TripAdvisor contributions before or since – raising suspicions that the reviews could be fake.

Some of the best-rated hotels in London, Paris, Barcelona and Cape Town gave some reason for suspicion but had none of the similar extreme patterns.

Which? Travel also compared 10 London hotels at the two biggest UK chains, Premier Inn and Travelodge.

While Premier Inn did not arouse suspicion, at two of the Travelodges, almost half of the hundreds of five-star reviews – 48 per cent and 40 per cent respectively – came from first-time contributors who’d never reviewed anywhere else. In contrast the figure for once-only three-star reviews was much lower.

The findings come 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? says the regulator should ensure the scope of its investigation includes online sites that host reviews, and that platforms like TripAdvisor should be more responsible for the information presented to consumers.

Naomi Leach of Which? Travel 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.”

TripAdvisor said the analysis by Which? was based on “a flawed understanding of fake review patterns” and was “reliant on too many assumptions, and too little data”.

A statement from TripAdvisor said: “It is 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, and therefore its findings do not and cannot provide a reliable indication of the true volume of review fraud.

“By contrast, we employ sophisticated fraud detection technology that is able to analyse hundreds of data-points based on a knowledge and understanding of review patterns gained from tracking hundreds of millions of reviews over a near 20-year period. This includes an ability to track and analyse first-time reviews in far more detail and with far more rigour than Which?’s team was able to do. We also have an industry-leading team of fraud investigators who work tirelessly to protect the site from fake reviews.”

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