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Report: Irish hotel chain sought to game TripAdvisor's system

Hotels seeking positive reviews on websites such as TripAdvisor have two legitimate options:

  • Provide great service and hope, or even gently encourage, customers to post an online review.
  • Post management responses to guest reviews.

Instead, the marketing director at a chain of 10 hotels in Ireland apparently urged hotel employees to post fake reviews on the TripAdvisor site.

The Irish Times reports that in the summer of 2010, Jean O’Connell, director of sales and marketing for the Dublin-based Carlton Hotel Group, sent email to the hotel’s directors and more than two dozen employees detailing a plan to organize 150 internal “TripAdvisor Posters” who would review the company’s hotels, take pictures and post false write-ups.

In addition to noting how “pooling TA posters” would insure that “IP addresses will be from across the country,” the Irish Times reports that the memo asked hotel managers to appoint employees to take photographs “that reflect the excellent product you have,” and suggested that the photos not be professional “but good quality from a digital camera is fine.” According to the Irish Times, the memo also told employees not to post reviews using Carlton laptops or PCs.   

O’Connell told the Irish Times that although she sent the email, the plan was merely a proposal that had never been put in place. A statement sent to the Irish Times from lawyers representing the hotel group said that “Immediately following the email being sent, steps were taken by our client to contact the hotel managers to explain that a mistake had occurred…”

Still, TripAdvisor is looking into the matter.

“As with all instances of alleged fraudulent activity, we take these claims extremely seriously and a full and detailed investigation is underway as a matter of priority by our dedicated team of investigators,” said TripAdvisor communications director Emma Shaw in a statement. She added that while “attempts to manipulate TripAdvisor are extremely rare … we take serious steps to penalize businesses who are caught attempting to game the system.” 

False reviews, positive or negative, are a big issue for consumer websites such as TripAdvisor. 

TripAdvisor has measures to deal with scofflaws, Shaw said, which include posting notices on properties that have made attempts to manipulate their ratings. "There are significant risks associated with being caught," she said. 

“TripAdvisor and others are continually developing increasingly sophisticated methods to detect false reviews,” Bjorn Hanson, divisional dean of New York University's Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism, and Sports Management, told msnbc.com. “Most consumers seem to understand there may be some false reviews, and that even legitimate reviews can offer extreme views,” he said, but “executives encouraging false reviews create substantial risks and damage to the reputation of hotels and brands.”

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