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It's tough to filter out fake hotel assessments

  • Published Sunday, March 7, 2010, at 12:08 a.m.
  • Updated Monday, March 8, 2010, at 6:34 a.m.

Unlike their U.S. counterparts, the British consumer press has been unusually harsh in dealing with accusations against TripAdvisor (www.tripadvisor.com). Newspapers ranging in size from those in small countryside hamlets all the way up to the London Times have headlined various reports claiming that a substantial number of the hotel assessments appearing in TripAdvisor are fraudulent.

This past month, Travel Weekly, the leading U.S. travel trade publication, ran a story commenting on the fact that British journalists, and British travel officials, are turning negative in their treatment of the famed user-generated Web site.

Travel Weekly reports that none other than Bob Cotton, president of the British Hotel Association, has contacted his European counterparts in an effort to persuade them to join a demand that the European Union conduct an investigation of TripAdvisor. Cotton believes that E.U. regulations should be adopted to ensure that people listed as the authors of hotel comments in TripAdvisor be made to submit evidence that they actually stayed in the hotels they are reviewing. This would prevent public-relations agencies and the like from enlisting friends and associates to submit rave reviews of their clients or disparaging reviews of their competitors.

I often have expressed my own opinion that TripAdvisor is unable to filter out fraudulent reviews from honest ones, and I continue to hold that view. It simply isn't possible to carefully review all the multitudes of opinions submitted each day to TripAdvisor, and even if it were possible, the many hundreds of reviewers hired for that purpose couldn't possibly determine with any accuracy whether a particular review was contrived or manufactured by friends/enemies of the hotel in question.

In a related matter, New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo recently collected a $300,000 fine from a company manufacturing false user-generated comments in an industry other than hotels.

All over the world — as has been widely reported — public-relations agencies have been urging clients to adopt proactive responses (i.e., phony reviews) to the user-generated phenomenon. If a user were required to provide the date in which that person stayed at a particular hotel, it would at least be possible for the hotel to determine whether the review was honest or fake.

Perhaps similar regulations could be adopted in the United States.

Arthur Frommer is the pioneering founder of the Frommer's Travel Guide book series. He co-hosts the radio program "The Travel Show" with his travel correspondent daughter Pauline Frommer. Find more destinations online and read Arthur Frommer's blog at frommers.com.

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