Hotel wants ‘honest but positive review’
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Hotels in Britain and abroad are bribing guests to write glowing reviews on the TripAdvisor website in exchange for cash or cut-price rooms and meals.
The website, which has 45million reviews of more than 500,000 destinations, is a popular first stop for holidaymakers seeking honest opinions about places to stay.
Already 30 properties around the world have been blacklisted for suspicious reviews - and there is a thriving black market in hotels willing to pay people to write positive reviews.
The Office of Fair Trading says it will launch an investigation if it considers rules have been broken.
The Cove Hotel in Cornwall may face an inquiry over allegations it has breached the website’s reviewing rules.
Set in Lamorna Cove near Penzance, the hotel gives guests a letter from owner Lee Magner suggesting they join a “Friends of the Cove” scheme.
They are offered 10 percent off food and drink in the hotel’s Fireside Restaurant and a “free apartment upgrade”. In return they become “brand champions” and have to post an “honest but positive view” on the TripAdvisor website.
The incentives are also offered if guests recommend the hotel to two leading restaurant guides - the Good Food Guide and the Michelin Guide.
The Cove’s website says “the moment your comment goes live on TripAdvisor or either of the Food Guides mentioned, we will activate your card!”
The hotel rents out 16 apartments from £195 to £375 (about R2100 R4000) to a night during peak season. All but two of 26 TripAdvisor reviews of the Cove this year have awarded four or five-star ratings. Comments include “a dream come true”, “wow - what a find” and “a peaceful paradise that ticks all the boutique boxes”.
Emma O’Boyle, of TripAdvisor.co.uk, said: “Owners are welcome to encourage their guests to submit user reviews upon their return home. But it is strictly against our guidelines to offer incentives, discounts or upgrades. We take serious steps to penalise businesses caught attempting to manipulate the system.”
Mr Magner said: “In no way are we paying people to put positive reviews on TripAdvisor. We are merely rewarding their loyalty.”
An Office of Fair Trading spokesman said: “If complaints are made directly to us then the issue could be something we will look into.” In 2009, a company was fined nearly £200,000 in New York for posting fake consumer reviews.
As well as Britain, it is also an illegal practice in Ireland, France, Italy and Germany. Last year a Midlands hotelier was offering free bathrobes to guests who post favourable reviews and a hotel in the north gave away free meals.
TripAdvisor, which was founded in the US in 2000, places a “red flag” against the names of hotels which it suspects have planted enthusiastic reviews on its website.
The flag reveals “individuals associated with the property may have interfered with traveller reviews” and allowing users to see a record of their wrong-doing.
Hotels also advertise on a website, Digital Point, offering $10 for each positive review posted on TripAdvisor. - Daily Mail