Tripadvisor, bane or boon to small lodging?

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There has been much talk in the last year or so about Tripadvisor in the lodging communities: complaints of other lodging owners posting positive fake reviews on their own listings, bad reviews posted by guests who never actually were guests or by angry ex-employees or by the competition. Also issues with owners not being able to post management responses to review postings.

The biggest problem I hear about from inns that are clients and friends, are great reviews either never being posted to Tripadvisor, or even worse being posted by legitimate guests and then the reviews were taken down for no apparent reason.

This seems to have escalated in the past several months. In trolling the members/owners forum over 200 individual issues from lodging people with reviews removed just in a two week time period. More since then as I compiled comment data from Aug 1-Aug 15.

There seems to be an issue here. Not every lodging property monitors their reviews (and they should be) so one wonders how many removals don’t get tagged as being removed.

TA makes a point in the forums of saying that just as many negative reviews get removed as positive ones but don’t give the criteria for why or how reviews are removed aside from a canned response.

Tripadvisor when asked about the reviews being taken down or not posted, gives very pat answers as to why. In the members forums answers to specifics are not given aside from:

Reasons a review was removed or never posted:

  • The reviewer has asked for his/her review to be removed
  • The moderation team has discovered that the reviews did not meet our posting guidelines
  • The reviews were found to be biased
  • The reviewers did not respond to verification e-mails that we sent
  • The property has changed ownership or changed brands and all reviews under the old property were removed as they no longer accurately reflect current conditions.

A bit of clarification about “reviews did not meet our posting guidelines” would be EXTREMELY helpful to owners. This is probably one of the vaguest statements I’ve ever heard.

Emails returned to owners about issues, contain this response: Hello Thank you for contacting TripAdvisor. At TripAdvisor, we have very specific posting criteria for member reviews. Any review that does not conform to these criteria will be removed from the site. I’m sorry that we cannot provide reasons for the removal of a specific review, as this is considered proprietary information. However, you may read TripAdvisor’s review guidelines here: Please note that if any of your guests are concerned about why their review was not published, they should contact us directly via our Help Center. Best Regards, Jane Doe TripAdvisor Support Team

In the members area, specifically in the topic Re: Missing reviews., there seems to be a cavalier attitude and much smoke and mirrors by TA staff, “what’s a missing review more or less, think of all the others you have” or if you would like a direct quote “To those of you who already do have many great reviews and are ranked highly in your destinations, I’d like to first offer my congratulations. Second, I have to admit you had me puzzled. After looking at some of your property’s listings, I found myself wondering “why on Earth is this person taking the time to post about a removed review, in some cases multiple times, when they have all these other great reviews?” I know there’s a lot of competition in some destinations, and I know that every review can make a bit of a difference in the rankings, but honestly I think it’s mostly a point of pride for some of you. Not that I blame you for that. After all, if you didn’t take a lot of pride in what you do you probably wouldn’t have so many great reviews. And I’m sure you take great pride and receive great satisfaction each time you get another great review; that’s only natural, and I’m not going to try to tell you there’s anything wrong with that. I would just ask you to remember, though, that given that you’re clearly doing something right, you’re going to get more great reviews, and travelers are going to know how exceptional your business is despite the occasional review removal. It also occurs to me that if you already have great reviews and are ranked highly in your destination, you stand to gain a great deal more by subscribing to Business Listings than you ever will fretting over a removed review or, alas, reading my never-ending posts.”

If I was a lodging owner reading this, I would be livid, this after reading all the other excuses and non-answers in there as well.

A couple of the issues/explanations that seem to happen regarding non-posted/removed reviews: which if this is the case, Tripadvisor should have them posted in more geographically visual areas on their site (as opposed to not easy to find at all) specifically when a guest reviews a site.

Issue #1:

From Information for TripAdvisor Owners: We recommend that guests submit a review when they return home from their trip. A review submitted from a hotel lobby computer may appear to be written by staff.” This is true even if your guests are using their own laptop. (the last from a comment “helpfully” supplied by a non-TA employee trying to be helpful.)

What this means is TA is employing Geolocation tagging by IP Address, which quite frankly as a potential guest somewhere makes me somewhat uncomfortable. TA as big brother. So if you’re a lodging facility that encourages happy guests to write a review on TA, make sure you kick them out first before they write the review. All in the name of good hospitality practices of course.

Issue #2:

A guest writes a review and has a Gmail or a Yahoo email address. Apparently hotmail accounts are automatically flagged as probably being fake accounts. Gmail and Yahoo are easy enough to set up fake accounts with as well, but apparently hotmail is the major culprit. In any case, online email services apparently frequently get the review response confirmation into their spam folders and never get confirmed. Non-confirmation reviews don’t get posted.

Neither reason gives an explanation of why a review that was there (some that had been posted for weeks or months) gets removed.

Tripadvisor makes a point of saying how every review gets looked at by a person. So questions get raised in my mind……..

How many employees does Tripadvisor have? (Information is not posted publicly anywhere I can easily find)

There are potentially thousands of reviews that get submitted daily to TA, which means logistically there would have to be thousands of people whose sole jobs are to read reviews ALL DAY LONG, talk about the job from H*LL.

This is my theory:

The operations are run by human beings, the reviews being looked at are not. Certain keywords are tagged/flagged. A review either positive or negative that hits all of these keywords gets pulled or not posted. I don’t know why it would happen at certain time periods but if you look at Google’s search algorithms for example (which are constantly changing) Google will spider (look at) a site at varying times, either daily/weekly or monthly, with no rhyme or reason to a human but it makes sense to a computer program.

If this was indeed the case, this would account for the canned responses from TA employees regarding review removal/non-posting. Maybe they don’t know why they were taken down either. As I said just a theory, but it makes me wonder.

Regardless of the reasons behind reviews being removed, this is a problem for lodging properties that have worked very hard to get positive reviews. Having to ask a guest to resubmit a review (sometimes several times) is a hassle, it makes the property look bad, its inconvenient and it shouldn’t have to be done. If a lodging place does have to ask a guest to resubmit a review, they should apparently visit this link:

A suggestion would be when lodging people do find out they have new reviews, make a printout and/or a PDF copy of the actual Tripadvisor review page. Having proof of the review is a starting point. It appears that sometimes TA keeps the review and can reinstate it but other times its gone for good. A great free PDF page converter can be downloaded here: There are two parts to this program that need to be installed and downloaded, the program and the converter. Make sure you install the converter (shows up as a Gray G on your desktop) first.

I keep seeing a lot of articles posted online about fake glowing reviews being posted or bad reviews being posted by competitors trying to wreck their competition but not much about the issues that owners are having with reviews being removed.

Having worked with many B&B owners over the years and having lots of them not just as clients but personal friends as well, I know for a fact that B&B people are not the type of people that abuse the above statement. There may be one occasionally, as there can always be one bad seed in a barrel, but the type of issues that are being talked about are more to be attributed to the much larger properties or to the chains.

While a review for a large property may have very little effect on a big place overall, i.e. having a high occupancy rate and a high number of guest turnovers. A good review being taken away from a small property, i.e. one with a small number of rooms (a fraction of the size of a hotel) and a lower occupancy rate can have a much more meaningful effect on the property.

I think if many of the hotel and lodging consultants got an opportunity to look in on the members/owners area of TA they would perhaps rethink their tune about Tripadvisor being God’s Gift to Lodging and perhaps lobby to get the system working better, not just the reviews being removed, but other issues (like the fake reviews) being better addressed.

Updated: Just attended a webinar put on by NEIRA with a Tripadvisor guy answering questions. A direct quote from him about the spate of recent reviews being removed was due to a computer glitch and should be fixed soon. We shall see whether this in fact gets done. Also reviews get run through a computer program and supposedly living breathing humans. I tend to think my computer algorithm theory is not far off in this case. I realize they don’t want people to game the system, but it would be helpful to know a couple of things that set the flags off.



About Chef Forfeng

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10 Responses to Tripadvisor, bane or boon to small lodging?

  1. Mike says:

    Having just started a small guesthouse, I can relate to some of the things mentioned here. I don’t think there is much awareness outside of the industry of the problems with TA. There is no transparency at all. I hope a real competitor to TA comes along.

    • Chef Forfeng says:

      Hi Mike, good luck with your new venture. Just checked out your site, the ceilings you have a photo of on your rooms page look amazing! I don’t think outside the industry there is much knowledge of issues with TA, hopefully that will change at some point.

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