6 years ago

TripAdvisor launches rating display, suspends it after five days amid complaints from hotels

The wheels move fast at TripAdvisor – sometimes. The user review giant has temporarily removed a new rating system from product pages after scores of complaints this week.

TripAdvisor has been collecting ratings for hotels and other products such as activities, restaurants and attractions since November last year, a process where users could simply score a property on a scale of one to five, without leaving an actual review.

The site officially started showing the ratings against products earlier this week, but an outpouring of negative comments about its launch on forums and the hotel management centre intranet has led to it suspending the feature.

TripAdvisor admits it has “some work to do” with its implementation, thus the suspension today.

The rating was displayed on product pages alongside the information such as number of reviews, website (if applicable), link to booking services.

But a sudden influx of ratings from mysterious reviewers that had not been particularly active elsewhere on the site for months on end had prompted significant disquiet.

An official says:

“We are always open to the results of these tests and have listened to the valuable feedback we have had over the past few days.

“From this feedback, we recognise we have some work to do to ensure that ratings are as useful as they can be and so we have decided to remove displaying ratings from a business’s listing page today.

“We believe that the TripAdvisor community is seeking many ways to provide feedback, whether via ratings, photos, room tips or other opinions, and we will continue to look at ways to gather these opinions to help travelers plan and have the perfect trip.

TripAdvisor says it has not used the rating data to influence the Popularity Index used on the site position a product in terms of overall ranking.

The collection of the data was seen as a purely separate part of the user generated content element of TripAdvisor.

However, such was the ire from product owners (hoteliers, activity providers, restaurants, etc) that just one comment thread on the official TripAdvisor forum has run to almost 230 responses in a matter on days and another has attracted over 300 since the end of January when users and supplier started noticing the new feature.

Ratings were collected from either TripAdvisor members or – perhaps most interestingly given how much TripAdvisor has talked up its integration with external social networks – connected Facebook users.

Whether there was suddenly a widespread gaming on the system is unclear, but some activity has caused alarm in recent days.

For example, user Will83 had contributed three reviews since January 2008, but suddenly almost 560 ratings appeared under the profile in a matter of days – curiously, one of the biggest influx of new ratings by the user appeared on Christmas Day 2011.

While it is perfectly possible that the user suddenly realised that he or she could leaves ratings for all the places they had ever visited, there appears to have been no process put in place to evaluate each rating given.

TripAdvisor says it will continue to collect the ratings but will not display them on the site for the time being.

More to follow…

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Kevin May

About the Writer :: Kevin May

Kevin May was a co-founder and member of the editorial team from September 2009 to June 2017.



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  1. TC

    As a B&B owner I would give anything to be able to opt out, we have never had a bad review nor have we ever asked friends or family to write one for us but I can honestly say that it is making us hate a business that we once loved and have dedicated our working lives to, not a minute goes by that we are not worrying ourselves sick over what might be written on there, it could be written by anyone, customer, friend, foe, competitor and about anything from how you do your job to your appearance to your personality and as a susequence we have decided to sell our much loved home and business. It’s not right.

    • CS

      I agree, I think TA fundamentally changes the relationship between us and our guests/potential guests. We, in the industry, are walking on egg shells, we never know from what quarter we will be attacked, it does not even need to be someone who has stayed with us. They didn’t like your tone of voice of the phone, you didn’t get their email so didn’t respond, they come thinking about what they are going to write about you, rather than having a nice stay, you didn’t respond to their blackmail threats. Then there are the competition who are blatently playing TA to get to the top of the tree. Mutual suspicion where there would once have been friendly co-operation and referrals if we are full. Another nail in the coffin of the independant accommodation sector, we who care so much about our guests and our businesses.

  2. Robert Feal-Martinez

    Well according to some the reviews are back. So much for listening.

  3. Amy Kennedy

    As an owner of a Travel agency listed on Trip Advisor I can say that TA sucks. I have seen companies posting as much as 20 or 30 fake positive reviews and climbing to the first positions. This is:

    1.- Unfair to companies with real reviews
    2.- The end of Trip Advisor (once they lost their reputation completely)

    Asking for credit card details to become a TA member (without charging any money) could be a solution to get rid of most of the fakes. Of course this would affect enormously the number of members. Unfortunately, as the last issue with the ratings showed, TA seems to be more interested in quantity than quality. I don’t think they will last as someone will do it better.

    As a final note, even worst than getting a bad review from someone complaining that you didn’t answer their email is getting a fake one from the competition. Very common also on TA.

  4. Robert Feal-Martinez

    Genevieve of course a measured management response can neutralise a bad or malicious review, however what we are talking about here is thousands if not millions of reviews already posted by people who admit on the TA site that they were simply spamming or whatever a false review would be called. They see it as some kind of perverse fun and this was made possible by TA’s new system.

    I also use Eviivo as my booking site, that almalgamates some 30 of the biggest booking agents, but all the customer details go through Eviivo so every guest is genuine, and hence every review is genuine, ie no Eviivo booking number review not allowed. You can opt in or opt out of any particular booking agents. More importantly you can add a management comment without ‘censorship’, and if you feel particular aggrieved you can ask for a site review, if you are still not satisfied you can still asked for the review to be taken down. That to me is clearly fair.

  5. Genevieve Atkinson

    Thanks for the reply – it’s nice to have a real discussion about a contentious issue.

    Ok, sounds like you had a raw deal, but how often do you come across people who are that malicious – must be 1%. The majority of people are decent human beings.

    I think the issue is that we assume we should have all positive reviews. Th point of feedback, is to give ways to improve your service, any feedback good or bad is a gift to a business. Big retailers go to great lengths to get that type of customer feedback and engagement. The problem is when a customer had a genuine issue, we tend to get defensive. Motels/B&B’s in my experience very much so, as you don’t have a big staff. Hotels generally do better as the responses are written by someone with distance.

    No-body is perfect all the time, and most consumers are looking to how you respond to issues or even something malicious. In my opinion, most negative reviews are made far worse by the owners comments. A decent and measured response to a poor review, makes a drastic difference to how it’s read by a new guest.

    See these two responses.

    “You’ve never stayed here and these comments are completely unfounded and untrue!”

    “Hi, thanks for the comments, we appreciate all feedback. However in this case I believe your being malicious, but we will look into the accusations and look to rectify anything that’s relevant. Please look at the other reviews for a more balanced example of what it means to stay with us”.

    As a new potential guest, the second response completely deflates whatever comments were made in the review, Whist the first one has me guessing, he said, she said….

    (I have no idea of your property name/reviews, these are made up)

    • jeremy head

      The problem from what I’ve heard though is just a couple of negative reviews can have a disproportionate impact. So you work your arse off building a great reputation and one nasty customer having a bad day can totally screw it. And like everyone is saying you have no real control over this.

      • Caroline Jones

        How sadly true this is. We generally have great reviews, apart from one poor review from a lady who never stayed with us, but was angry we didn’t reply to an email we never received. We plummeted in the TA rankings for our area, and despite many excellent reviews since, we never have been able to reclaim our place in the top ten. I too baffled at how the ranking system works, I have come to the conclusion one poor review counts for far more than several excellent reviews. Her poor review is now more than eighteen months old, but it still continues to cause us damage.

    • Sarah

      Genevieve, you are refreshingly optimistic but sadly you have no idea what the general public both in the US and UK are capable of. Last year a woman threatened me that if I didn’t let her stay one night during the holiday season, she would go on TA and write a bad review. Another was screaming at me because I was out when she rang to try and book. She got as far threatening me via email but I threatened to copy and paste the email to my TA response and she thought better of it.

      Your comment that all ‘publicity is good publicity’ may well have been true in the 60s and 70s but it is not true now. 1 bad review has cost me 2 positions on TAs site and the so called guests did not stay at my house. TA will not remove it and yet, despite the fact that I have more ‘excellent’ reviews than anyone else [other than the property in no1 position] I am number 7 on the list.

      I don’t mind if a review is bad if it is justified, true and they actually stayed here. TA have given a forum to thousands of people who use the site to complain about not having their wishlist met when they are only prepared to pay motel prices. If you read the reviews they are often complaining about the weather, location or possibly that they had a bad journey to get there. None of these topics are relevant to the property but TA allow the review to go on. After all if you don’t like the countryside and you still choose to go there it is not the fault of the accommodation provider that you found it too quiet or there were too many cows around!!!

      • Robert Feal-Martinez

        I always prefix my comments about TA by saying I am number 1 in my area Swindon in the UK. Merely to illustrate that my view is not sour grapes.

        It rather seems to me that as well as the clear and obvious fake reviews that one sees, whether good or bad, there is manipulation. It is also clear (quite what is in it for them) owners (or are they) defend TA and the same names come up no matter where the article appears. Is this in itself another coordinated fraud at ‘real’ owners expense.

        Frank makes some interesting points about copyright. I will post it on TA and put money on it that it will be down in minutes.

  6. jeremy head

    This is an interesting point. If a property owner wants to opt out of Trip Advisor they should be able to. But presumably they can’t? If there anything in copyright legislation that would mean a property owner could threaten legal action for using the name of their property without consent?

    • Frank

      Hi Jeremy,

      This I think may be TA’s achilles heel.

      I am watching the dotcom saga at the moment. in this the us justice boys are going after dotcom for allowing material to be exchanged etc. it is quite complicated but at its core is that a third party ( here dot com) is hurting someone ( here copyright holders).

      It does not seem to hard to stretch such arguments that a third party ( here TA) is operating in a way that hurts someone ( say sarahs B&B who has posted here). It is arguable that TA is operating TA in such a way that allows others to do damage to her and when it happens TA has not the verification systems to rectify it eg detect and get rid of fake reviews. So TA should be stopped from operting as it does and be made to be like expedia and the others that check people stayed etc

      the only core difference is that the music companies have combined muscle and money and create pressure. one B&B owner has nothing. but in time they might band together enough for the regulatory authorities to try to have a go at TA. it would be interesting. might not succeed in law but the taking of some action ( even if it failed) would edcutye more people some of whom are TA users of the deficicnes in what they are being given as “fact”

  7. Robert Feal-Martinez

    Genevieve Atkinson probably 95% of providers have never asked to be on TA. I am one of them. Even though I have reached number 1 in my area against some big hotels(currently no 1) I have tried numerous times to have my page taken down because I can see all too clearly the abuse that takes place. One reviewer even boasted on local forums to me what he intended to do, ie post a bad review about us even though he had never been to our Motel let alone stayed.

    At first TA refused to take it down, then fortunately for me the person responded to an email I sent via TA, where he admitted being malicious, so it then was taken down, but my position not immediately re-instated . TA could be a source for good if they adopted a robust and secure review method.

    They have made it clear by this latest stunt that they are interested in volume not quality. They don’t care that they are damaging businesses.

    As for reputations and marketing, when TA are the biggest all the rest are simply worthless.

  8. TripAdvisor’s new rating display suspended after five days | Hotel Marketing News

    […] Continue at Tnooz Filed in: Social Media Tags: Tripadvisor […]

  9. Robert Feal-Martinez

    Simon, sadly your wish about TA caring will never be fulfilled. They are simply playing a numbers game, the more fake reviews on this system would have put them in a position to claim ‘X’ million a month and hugely increase their own presence. It seems they thought they could just slip this in without anyone noticing, little understanding as business owners we do care about how we are perceived, and thus check regularly.

  10. Simon Brand

    We are a small tour company providing bespoke tours of the Loire Valley. As part of our quality control we contact all of our clients to ask how their trip was and if there is anything they think we could improve. This we do via email a week of so after the tour.

    As I had ratings from people I could not identify as clients I messaged those who had identified themselves with tripadvisor nicknames to say “thank you for rating us on xx/xx/xxxx” and asked if they could give me:

    The date they took their trip

    Anything they think we could have done to make their trip better.

    The one response I have received so far said that they didn’t know who I was, and they rated a lot of places on the date I mentioned.

    Our actual reviews have been overwhelming positive – we take great pridein the service we provide. It is a premium service providing chateau tours nof the Loire Valley in calssic French car and we try very hard to maintain that service at a high level.

    If people who have never used our service, never even emailed us about using our services, and don’t know who we are because they “reviewed a lot of places on that date” are allowed to damage our business reputation – however unintentionally – it makes running a business very difficult.

    We have had a couple of reviews that we have sucessfully challenged through TripAdvisor, but only because we knew the people concerned were reviewing either the city of Tours or the Loire Valley, not our company. We wouldhave no issues with receiving a less than perfect review if a client feels it is deserved: it would help us improve. With a lot of effort we have had nothing less than “very good” so far

    We receive a large percentage of our business because of our TripAdvisor reviews, but last week we received no enquiries from TripAdvisor users. An hour after the ratings were removed we received an enquiry.

    It would be nice to receive some assurance from TripAdvisor that the review and ratings system will remain fair for all parties. If too many companies receive reviews that are false they will stop trading. Certainly if our reputation continued to be damaged the way it was last week we would have to consider stopping the business. Especially as ALL of our disputed ratings were by non clients. I know this – we don’t do tour during winter, and all of the ratings were given after we stopped for the year.

    Having to cease trading wouldn’t be good for us – and it wouldn’t be terribly useful if a travel forum drove all travel companies out of business. If the ratings are to be kept it should be at least a process where the date the service/place was used/visited has to be entered, and a system for disputing the rating set up.

    • Genevieve Atkinson

      Thanks for your comments, it’s an interesting read.

      So what your saying is that if your ratings go down, you’d go out of business. So essentially that means that your using tripadvisor as your sole marketing method.

      And how much are you paying for that!

      Everyone loves to bag tripadvisor, but we also like to forget that they seem to be advertising your business (generally for free) to loads of people.

      And below about TA caring – there offering you a free way to advertise your business to hundreds of potential customers, that as a small business you’d never be able to afford to advertise too. (via google or print advertising)

      Sure the system is not perfect, but it’s also largely free. Stop moaning. There will always be competition, your competitors trying new things, offering a discount, trying to steal market share, that’s the nature of business.

      No I don’t work for tripadvisor, but have started a smaller more localised review site. I just find it amazing, the amount of flack they get for offering free advertising to travel companies.

      • jeremy head

        Free advertising is only good if it’s positive though?

        • Genevieve Atkinson

          There is still a lot of truth to all publicity is good publicity.

          If your a half way decent operation who think there doing good by their customers. It shouldn’t be hard to get a majority of positive reviews.

      • Brian

        Free?? Hardly. It cost a lot of money to have a TA listing that will actually generate descent revenue. I bet most people, including hotel owners don’t realize that unless you pay you don’t even own the link associated with your hotels image. Unless you pay it leads the customer to Agoda, or expedia or other OTA’s which then cost a hotel 17-22% off the top. TA is not ‘free’ and you also have no control of being present on the site or not. At least with J.D. Powers and others they spell out their criteria and you know your faults and how to improve.. TA is a true mystery.

  11. Robert Feal-Martinez

    Great news but it would have been nice to hear it directly from TA first.

    • Kevin May

      Kevin May

      @robert – in fairness to TA, the decision to remove the ratings was only made on Friday afternoon and sometimes the quickest way to get the message is out is via the media.

      I got a statement from TA at 3pm GMT yesterday.

  12. Jeremy Head

    Really interesting info Frank, thank you. I googled ‘trip advisor optimisation’ and found a couple of US based cos offering these services but it was mainly about monitoring and making sure listing info, images etc were properly done.
    I completely agree – I think a lot of gaming is probably going on. It seems so easy to do. I do think TA needs in start insisting reviews have to tie directly to a booking reference or at least to significantly up weight those that do

  13. jeremy head

    I’m slightly fascinated by the TA ranking system.
    My focus group of one is my good friend who runs a tour co in Seville. Used to be #4 for Tour cos. Now dropped to #8. They have around 65 reviews most good – 2 negative which they responded to. How come they have been superceded by a relative newcomer with only 15 or so reviews (all of them excellent). Likewise hotels in Seville. The top 2 are both new properties that opened within the last 18 months – with fewer reviews than many far more established properties. (Though both have garnered a lot of reviews in such a short time window… maybe encouraging guests to review?)
    I’m sure loads of people have done way more analysis than this but as someone who works with a lot of people obsessed with rankings for search engines I can see that if it isn’t happening already, people will be soon really hammering that ranking system with spoof reviews and all sorts to try and game it. And right now a relatively simple piece of analysis suggests to me it doesn’t work that well. the difference between being #1 on TA and say #8 is probably considerable – in revenue terms. It is so ripe for exploitation.
    Does anyone know of companies offering Trip Advisor Review Optimisation?

    • Frank

      don’t know if anyone does review optimisation but i have looked into the ranking system for a small business I am starting up doing cost benefit analysis of options so businesses can go up google ( eg seo vs adwords). I thought i might get a few clients that were in the travel industry so I had a look at how it seems to work. I am building a little website now.

      Anyhow first the tripadvisor algorithm seems to create quite a lot of volitility – a hotel can move up and down a few places quickly with no obvious change in those ranked above/below. As you mention it does not handle “number of reviews’ well with a hotel with 8 reviews can oddly sit amongst ones with 200. I looked at a cluster of hotels over time eg ones say 15th-19th and did some comparisons eg % of excellents, % good or better and in some changes that occurred I could not pick why they would have occurred .

      From my reading I did find out a few things that may help readers – the like button is a factor so the more people like a review the more weight it has. Old reviews carry less weight. people can post a second review ( i think there has to be about a 6 month gap)

      so i am not going to offer optimisation as I am not sure it can be done successfully and legally. I am going to offer “monitoring’ which will at least give managers some information about changes ( and why they may have occurred) as tripadvsior has become a huge factor in measuring their performance they need to be able to understand a little more about movement when reporting to the owners ( or themselves if they are owner/managers)

      But I think there is huge gaming going on. ie the posting of fake positive reviews by owners, friends of owners or payments to third parties to do it. Not just in the sense of trying to get customers who stay to post good reviews which so long as there is no incentiving going on is legal ( ie ok with tripadvsor).
      But sophisticated stuff. You see there is no tie up between a booking and a review. Anyone with a bit of web knowledge can create email addresses. get tripavsor status and then post reviews from anywhere in the world. If it was done slowly and systematically it would not even create a blip in the stats.

      A way to spot (potential) gaming is to have a look at say certain hotels. if one of them is a big five star chain and has at least 200 reviews use it as a benchmark. its profile will be along the lines of 65% excellent. and 22% very good. at the bottom it will have about 3% terrible. If a hotel ranks above them and does not have a similar ratio it is certainly odd. eg if they have 80% excellents and just 10% very goods. At the bottom they will have less 3% terrible reviews. It may be innocent ie the place may be a small boutique place that does really standout.

      It is telling to me that Expedia (one of the biggest booking agencies in the world) that owned tripadvsor started up its own system once it sold trip advisor off. Its own system means it matches reviews to bookings as the bookings have come through it.

      I think in 5 years time Expedia and its competitors will all have good data volume and tripadvsor will not be the dominant force it is

      • Sarah

        Hello Frank

        I know I’m a bit late on this subject but I can tell you as a tripadvisor victim that they are an unscrupulous company who pretend to give owners a fair opportunity to reply. However, they don’t. I own a small bed and breakfast in the UK and my property has 65 excellent reviews, 10 very good and 1 poor. The ‘1 poor’ review went on recently allegedly from a couple who stayed here in March from Kent. We [by law] have to keep all booking forms and I told tripadvisor that I thought the review was suspicious as we had not had any visitors from Kent in March 2012. They said I shouldn’t worry because I had such good reviews otherwise. This is nonsense. Since that review went on I have dropped 2 places in the list for this area. I am now number 7. Others above me have many fewer excellent reviews and some have no very good reviews. This means that the 1 poor review must weigh very heavily against all my excellent reviews. How can this be fair? Indeed tripadvisor have refused to remove it even though I said they didn’t stay here. I’m stuck with it and one of their ‘advisors’ said that bad reviews stay on indefinitely and also that the system they use is only known to three people at the top of the company. In short this spurious report will continue to damage my rating until they decide to change their system.

        Interestingly the property that is number 1 has only been open for18 months and in that time accrued 176 reviews in just that short time. Almost all the rest of us have been open 10 years+ and yet I am still only at 76reviews. The truth is that guests just don’t ‘rush home to tripadvisor’ so even if everyone says they’ll put on a review the likelihood is that only a third actually will. That property was operating on 1 room for the first few months, then 6 rooms which were not en suite and I can assure you that there is no way they would have accrued all those excellent reviews without en suite!! The language of the first 100 reviews is almost identical and yet despite tripadvisor claiming that they have procedures in place to stop fraud, it does not.

        I’m not just beefing because I’ve had a bad review. I angry that it is not true and therefore my business is being damaged by the negligence of tripadvisor. They claim that they are only facilitating the site, so if that’s the case why are they acting as arbitrator AGAINST me when these people didn’t stay at my property. I can’t imagine how they get away with it.

        Incidentally, when I respond the the review I am NOT ALLOWED to call the reviewer a liar, or accuse them of being malicious, but they can say what ever they want!!

        • Frank

          Hi Sarah,
          You have my sympathies. TA’s philosophy is that size solves all problems. ie lots of reviews will sort out the system. The problem is that this works at the macro level (overall) but not at the micro level ( and individual owner or an individual reviewer) when things go weird. It would not be so bad if they simply listed businesses say alphabetically or randomly so that people would go to several B&bs in your town and make decisions accordingly. then your 65 excellent reviews would work in your favour ( as it should). but by ranking places as they do and then slipping businesses down them in what seems unfair ways it means all your good work is not rewarded appropriately. Even though searchers on TA may see your 65 excellents – by going to 7th from 5th you look a much poorer choice by prospective guests.

          Lots of owners note what seems to be a very heavy negative effect on their ranking from 1 or a few terrible reviews. This has 2 effects – it encourages and rewards competitors and individual malicious behaviour ( and since TA does not verify stays ) it is “allowed’ under their system.

          I have created a few proxy models of the TA algorithm that determines rankings. I assign a value to each type of review eg an excellent is about 4.5 and a terrible is about -5. I then mutltiply these values for the reviews that are 18 months old or newer and weight them eg an excllent 12 months ago might be worth say 3. an excellent 15 months ago a 1. In short a terrible yesterday is -5 and even lots of excellents if old do not offset it much. So your total score will be worse than it was a month ago and your competitors score will be the same or better if no terribles. hence if you are bunched you drop below them. ie go to 7th.
          the other problem for you is only get 7.6 reviews per annum so a terrible really does matter and and will take 18 months before it is out of the scoring for good. no help for your business in the meantime.

          you also pointed out that the number 1 ranked has got a disproportionate number of reviews per room/over time. it is a common complaint. in a nearby city to me the number 1 is a boutique hotel and the number 2 is a 5 star top chain hotel. The number 1 place has as many reviews as the chain hotel despite the chain having 8 times the number of rooms. Makes you wonder whether or not gaming of the system is going on. again at the highest level TA does not care – since they do not verify reviews they cannot really look into any complaints.

          What i suggest to people like you is try to get hold of your expedia. booking.com etc scores/ranks and get them up on your website and say people should compare these with your competitors. if your TA reviews are genuine then the score/ranking on TA will look like your score on expedia etc. In addition there will be some correlation to the review numbers eg say most b&bs have say 3 TA for each expedia review ( as they are newer) this is the ‘norm”. if the number 1 place has say 20 to 1 then you know they are gaming the system. Unfortuately TA even presented with such info will change nothing. But you cna highlight all this youself as some sort of offensive move against the injustice.

          Finally it is no longer just anecdotal that TA are far worse than their competitors.
          A Cornell study has found that to be the case. And one of the study authors has created a view detection test.

          email me on frank.lawton@gmail.com if you want more info about this or my scoring sytem, expedia comparisons etc mentioned above. I will even do you a free assessment of what might be possible etc.

          sadly though while the flawed TA system has market dominance there is no easy fix solution for little people like you that get tipped over in the volume wave TA rides on. All my assessment can do is provide you with a few buckets to tip out some of the water

  14. Buigas Travel

    They need to get this right. TripAdvisor still needs to fix the number of guests issue too. Currently you can only select up to 4 adults.


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