TripAdvisor stands accused of failing to stop a flood of “fake and suspicious” five-star reviews from artificially boosting the ratings of some of its highest-ranked hotels.
Which? Travel analysed almost 250,000 reviews for the top ten ranked hotels in ten tourist destinations around the world including Barcelona, Paris and Rome.
The investigation flagged one in seven of the 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 it admitted that 14 of these had already been caught with fake positive reviews in the last year.
The world’s biggest travel website revealed six of these hotels had been penalised for breaking guidelines and two had previously been given a “red badge” warning for suspicious activity.
Yet Which? claimed this was not made clear to travellers and a suspicious pattern of reviews had continued to appear – suggesting a lack of serious ongoing oversight and action to address repeated abuse of the system.
TripAdvisor has now taken down hundreds of reviews, while Travelodge admitted having previously been hit with the website’s most severe red badge warning for suspicious reviews after two of its hotels in London were flagged in the research.
The findings come as the Competition and Markets Authority is carrying out a probe aimed at tackling the increasing problem of fake and misleading reviews.
Which? believes 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.
Which? Travel deputy editor 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.”
TripAdvisor said: “The analysis presented by Which? is based on a flawed understanding of fake review patterns and is reliant on too many assumptions, and too little data.
“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 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.
“We are confident our approach works, and is one of the reasons we continue to retain the trust of many millions of consumers worldwide. They know from their own experience of using TripAdvisor that it is a source of useful and accurate information on which they can rely.”
Travelodge said: “The integrity of customer reviews for our hotels is extremely important to us and we receive more than 70,000 reviews every year. We hold a strong established relationship with TripAdvisor.
“We did experience a breakdown in our internal communication when TripAdvisor identified an irregular pattern of reviews at our Wembley Central Travelodge Hotel that needed investigating.
“Unfortunately on this occasion that matter was not managed effectively within the timeframe, and we have taken appropriate action to ensure this does not happen again.
“Wembley Central Travelodge has undergone a full refurbishment earlier this year and we are satisfied that the hotel reviews accurately reflect the customer experience at the hotel.”