Trouble with TripAdvisor
TripAdvisor bills itself as the world’s largest travel site. For those of you who haven’t used it, it is a like a social media site or online “travel community” where you can go for travel tips and recommendations on destinations around the world. Millions of users post their experience with travel accommodations and tour operators, so you can get “trusted travel advice from real travelers” – except when you can’t.
Unfortunately, numerous media stories have reported problems with abuse of the popular site both from resort and tour operators posting fictitious positive reviews of their own businesses and from travelers or purported travelers posting malicious negative reviews – or threatening to – in order to extort money or refunds from travel operators. With 40 million visitors a month, the site’s success creates an incentive for anyone with a fortune to be made or a bone to pick with the travel industry to try to game the system for their own ends.
Recent news stories have also reported the practice of bogus posting by armchair travelers about places they have never visited in order to increase their total number of reviews. A prolific reviewer apparently gets a higher ranking so their reviews get seen more, a fact that may translate into money from travel operators willing to pay for positive reviews.
TripAdvisor has procedures for reporting abuse but to date the emphasis has been more on flagging bogus positive reviews by business owners than on protecting reputable businesses from untrue or grossly distorted defamatory comments made against them. TripAdvisor has been slow to help targeted businesses by investigating and removing malicious comments.
As a result, a class action lawsuit is being brought by businesses in the United Kingdom who have received little recourse from TripAdvisor in defending themselves against false comments. You can read more about the issue on at Tnooz, the online technology news service for the travel industry.
Why are we talking about the issue? Recently Discovery Voyages was targeted by a disgruntled client who began posting comments on TripAdvisor in an attempt to extort money in exchange for removing malicious postings about me and my business. He implied that our cruises are not safe for single women, made false postings under other usernames to support his claims, and posted links to court documents archived online from a child custody case many years ago. The fact that the Alaska Court System awarded me sole guardianship of our two children proves the groundlessness of the claims, but the readers of TripAdvisor don’t know that. The poster eventually removed his defamatory posts after we pursued legal action, but there are still many posts by armchair travelers who have never been on the Discovery but who have taken up the cause to keep the issue alive on TripAdvisor. They direct other readers to the link to old court filings and even use the fact that negative comments have been removed by the original poster as a sign of shady business. The two most egregious of these armchair posters each have over 5,000 reviews to their names. Neither has been a client on the Discovery, nor do they claim to have been, but whether to keep their post numbers up or because they truly believed the original allegations, they seem to have made it a mission to belittle or attack actual clients who posts positive reviews or recommendations on the site, and they accuse us of driving reviewers to the site in search of free advertising.
We are left in a Catch 22 where positive reviews about us are not to be believed while grossly distorted and untrue negative reviews are not allowed to die, even after the original poster has removed them. The whole TripAdvisor experience for us has become poisonous, and the class action lawsuit being prepared shows that we are not alone.
While the real and potential loss of business from the false accusations and innuendo on TripAdvisor is most likely significant, the experience has also been personally painful.
We have nothing against honest reviews, even from guests who were not completely happy with every aspect of their trip. Despite claims to the contrary, we are not asking our clients to go online and post positive reviews. We know from 19 years of guestbooks, where clients have been lavish in their praise, that we offer a high-value cruise that is greatly enjoyed by families and independent travelers who want to see this astonishingly beautiful part of Alaska in the luxury and intimacy of a small ship setting.
I’m now researching joining KwikChex, an international reputation accreditation firm, who conduct extensive business member background investigations before allowing membership, in order to offer this additional quality assurance of my tours to our traveling guests.
The Discovery has been catering to guests from all over the world going on 19 years this season. If anyone has questions or concerns regarding the appropriateness or safety of a trip on the Discovery, or about something that they read on the web, I encourage you to contact us directly. We will be more than happy to answer any of your questions or concerns about our operation or staff and to provide you with a list of references of past guests who are happy to share their first-hand experiences on board.
~ Captain Rand