Accor executive posted dozens of anonymous TripAdvisor reviews
Peter Hook, a Sydney-based general manager of communications for Accor Hotels, has posted at least 105 of reviews on TripAdvisor in the past few years — but has done so anonymously, in apparent violation of the site’s rules.
Tavare is the anonymous name of a user who was generally positive when reviewing Accor properties and occasionally critical when reviewing rivals’ properties.
For instance, one review for Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra in February 2012 begins with this typical sentence:
“As a first time visitor to Phnom Penh I didn’t know much about the hotel scene so booked a brand I knew well. It turned out to be a good choice”
A review of the Sofitel Fiji Resort & Spa includes this sentence:
“It was noticeable that families from the adjacent Hilton and Sheraton hotels were sneaking in to use the Sofitel pool.”
He was identified as Hook by Kwikchex, a company that sells online reputation management software.
Kwikchex says that Travare’s identity was revealed after the roll out of TripAdvisor’s Facebook app, which displays a name, photograph and location, taken from each user’s Facebook account.
Travare had incautiously linked his anonymous account to his Facebook account, where his photo would appear next to reviews as seen by Facebook friends. His Facebook page was also visible in public search, until last night.
Kwikchex claims they matched up the face on the photo with the face on his LinkedIn profile.
But how they managed to go through the names of all the people on LinkedIn to find a matching photo remains mysterious, to say the least.
This public pillorying, or random targeting of one individual for shaming, is part of a public relations stunt to get attention for Kwikchex’s services. The company argues that “authentication is the most effective way to help prevent reviews site abuses.”
Peter Hook made the following comments to Tnooz last night:
The reviews were not sanctioned or condoned in any way by Accor management. It was purely a personal thing.
Just looking at my contributions, the overwhelming majority of reviews are for non-hotel tourism activities, which is why I started the account.
But no excuses for not disclosing my professional association.
As a regular traveller I review restaurants, attractions, destinations and hotels.
Every review I have written has resulted from personally experiencing the product.
There have been 5-star reviews of competitors – most recently Four Seasons’ excellent Sydney restaurant The Woods – as well as less-than-favourable comments about our own properties. In terms of forums I have contributed where I thought my comments were constructive and useful to the conversation.
I think that anyone who reads my posts and looks at the breadth of my reviews will appreciate that they are very reasoned opinions.
Because I cover such a wide range of travel experiences, it would not be appropriate to review them as a company representative, hence the pseudonym (as with the vast majority of other TripAdvisor reviewers).
However, it is a fair criticism to say that my professional position should have been mentioned in any reviews of hotels. I will no longer review any hotel-related product under the pseudonym, but will continue to review destinations, attractions, restaurants and other non-hotel product.
I am a great believer in TripAdvisor and its value to the travelling public. I think it is usually fairly clear from each review as to whether it is “reasonable” and I believe that in all my reviews.
I’ve been “reasonable”. That should be fairly evident from reading the reviews posted over many years.
TripAdvisor’s rules say:
No reviews written by ownership or management; including past employees or anyone associated with/related to employees of the property in question. No reviews written by vendors employed by the property.
Individuals affiliated with a property may not review other properties of the same type (accommodation, restaurant, or attraction) within the same city or town, or within 10 miles of that property.
UPDATE: May 30
Because some readers posted comments below raising questions about the language of TripAdvisor’s rules, we sought clarification from TripAdvisor’s Angus Struthers, Senior Director, Global Communications. Here’s what he says:
“It would clearly be inappropriate for a senior executive of a hotel company to review hotels within their own company.
Additionally, it is in violation of our policies as every person submitting a review on TripAdvisor ticks a box to confirm that they have ‘no personal or business relationship with (the) establishment’ being reviewed.”
“Sleeper cells” of shills
This story will undoubtedly add fuel to the debate about the legitimacy of TripAdvisor’s anonymous reviews, a topic pursued by many writers and watchdogs, including Edward Hasbrouck and Christopher Elliott.
In March, the user review giant said it is doing more to verify reviews of hotels via its internal computing system.
Sean O’Neill is Editor-in-Chief of Tnooz.
Before joining us, Sean was the future of travel columnist at BBC Travel, senior editor of BudgetTravel.com, and an associate editor at Kiplinger’s. He now lives in New Jersey, after a four-year stint in London. Follow him on Twitter.