TripAdvisor tries to respond to fake hotel reviews

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The giant of user-generated hotel reviews, TripAdvisor, has nearly 25 million reviews and opinions—enough to give a quick gauge of mass opinion on any given hotel. But the trust factor has always been somewhat questionable. The site allows anonymous reviewers, who may have agendas. (Is that rave from the owner?)

I've long wondered with TripAdvisor didn't duplicate Amazon's "Real Name" feature, which offers third-party verification that a reviewer is the person he or she claims to be.

This spring, Beat of Hawaii and (a man who needs no introduction) Arthur Frommer have relentlessly critiqued TripAdvisor for failing to police against fake reviews (among other site flaws).

In the past week and a half, these blogs have spotlighted warning language that accompanies about 92 TripAdvisor hotel reviews (including Oahu's Hotel Renew).

TripAdvisor has reasonable cause to believe that either this property or individuals associated with the property may have attempted to manipulate our popularity index by interfering with the unbiased nature of our reviews. Please take this into consideration when researching your travel plans.

TripAdvisor has long had terms and conditions about moderation warning users that some reviewers abuse anonymity and that the site is unable to vet every review. What's new is that TripAdvisor is putting warnings in much clearer language on particular hotels that have been especially plagued by suspicious reviews. This additional information strikes me as a good thing.

Christopher Elliott has, of course, also been following this story, and this morning he has posted a fresh statement from TripAdvisor spokesperson April Robb.

We believe our nearly 25 million reviews and opinions are authentic, honest and unbiased, from real travelers, which is why we enjoy tremendous user loyalty. Also, the sheer volume of reviews we have for an individual property allows travelers to base their decisions on the opinions of many.

The integrity of TripAdvisor reviews is protected by three primary methods:

1. Every review is screened prior to posting and a team of quality assurance specialists investigate suspicious reviews

2. Proprietary automated tools help identify attempts to subvert the system

3. Our large and passionate community of more than 25 million monthly visitors help screen our content and report suspicious activity

When a review is suspected to be fraudulent, it is immediately taken down and we have measures to penalize businesses for attempts to game the system. Penalties are handled on a case by case basis.

Nevertheless, Elliott's advice to travelers is sound:

"Ignore the best and worst reviews (those are typically the fake ones)."

I'd also chime in that, Orbitz, Priceline and some other travel sites get hotel reviews by surveying guests after they've completed their stays. "No stay, no survey," as Priceline spokesperson Brian Ek puts it.

What do you think? Do you trust user-generated review sites?

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