Monday, February 13, 2012

TripAdvisor - Reviews You Can Trust? Not According to the Advertising Standards Authority

"World's Most Trusted Travel Advice" or "Worlds Largest Travel Site"?

In the United Kingdom the Advertising Standards Authority, is an independent organization which is recognized by the government and various regulatory authorities, whose charge is to be sure advertisements are "Legal, decent, honest and truthful" and it has been doing so for half a century.

A complaint was filed against TripAdvisor by KwikChex, an online reputation company and two hoteliers, over its use of the following three phrases:

- "World's Most Trusted Travel Site"

- "... read reviews from real travellers ... TripAdvisor is the world's largest travel site, enabling travellers to plan and have the perfect trip. TripAdvisor offers trusted advice from real travellers and a wide variety of travel choices and planning features ... TripAdvisor.com features: More than 50 million honest travel reviews and opinions from real travellers around the world".

- "Reviews you can trust"

While TripAdvisor claimed that it has sophisticated software to identify fraudulent reviews and that "they believed that users of the site had a healthy scepticism as a result of their experience of review sites more generally", the admitted that if its users didn't trust the information on the site, they would not be successful.

I pause here to note that many users of TripAdvisor (and other similar sites, such as its own Cruise Critic...yes, it is the same owner!) blindly believe what is posted and, in fact, I am regularly criticized for being skeptical about Cruise Critic.  I can attest that many, many, people that read TripAdvisor and Cruise Critic are not skeptical, but consider it to be an unchallengeable source of accurate information (much to some's subsequent regret).

In fact, ironically while I was advised of the TripAdvisor decision today, just the other day someone posted concern over my skepticism and how it affects my attractiveness (though not necessarily my abilities) as a travel agent.  You can join that discussion here:  Who Is This Iamboatman Guy And What's The Deal This Forum?

As I say to so many people:  Do you know by what measure the poster is judging that hotel?  Is he a McDonald's/Holiday Inn kinda guy while you are a Four Seasons woman?  I have read reviews of pretty marginal hotels and the reviews are great...because to those writing the reviews they are great, but they have no experience with anything better.  So what does 5 stars really mean?  What is a comfortable bed?  What is - and this is huge - "clean"?

OK, now, back to the TripAdvisor ruling:

The ASA noted that reviews can be placed on the site without any form of verification, and that whilst TripAdvisor takes steps to monitor and deal with suspicious activity, it is possible that non-genuine content will appear on the site undetected.

But  consumers would necessarily be able to detect and separate non-genuine reviews from genuine content, particularly where a hotel or other establishment had not received many reviews.

It also found that a hotelier’s response in itself (TripAdvisor allowed hoteliers a ‘right of reply’ to critical or negative reviews posted on the site) would not go far enough to alert consumers to, and moderate, non-genuine content.

As such the ASA required TripAdvisor to withdraw its claims and thus, in the United States TripAdvisor says it is "The World's Most Trusted Travel Advice" and in the United Kingdom it says it is "The World's Largest Travel Site".  You can read the ASA decision here.

So this skeptical travel agent and writer remains so...and feels pretty darn good about it.  So, let me ask you, "Who are you going to trust to give you accurate advice?"  Give me a call or drop me an email!