TripAdvisor slammed by UK advertising standards body for ‘misleading’ reviews!


TripAdvisor is hated by hospitality players if they receive poor reviews, and loved by those that perform well. Many in the industry are not bothered by its reviews, despite the negative impact that they can have, because they lack trustworthiness. Now the British Advertising Standards Authority has ruled against the UK TripAdvisor website for its misleading claims that the reviews are ‘trustworthy’, a welcome ruling for all establishments in the hospitality industry worldwide!

The Tripadvisor claims of ‘reviews you can trust’, ‘from real travellers’, ‘trusted advice from real travellers’ were found by the Advertising Standards Authority to be ‘misleading because the company could not prove reviews were genuine or from real travellers’. In its ruling, the Advertising Standards Authority stated that the TripAdvisor claims ‘implied to consumers that all review content would be genuine and that users might not be able to detect and separate non-genuine content‘.  TripAdvisor has made the copy changes on its site, it says, and hit back at the Authority, calling it ‘out of touch with real people’ and ‘The ASA ruling flies in the face of common sense, and is out of touch with the millions of real people who use and trust consumer review sites like ours every day’. The company also stated that it stands by its‘independently endorsed review integrity process. The ASA upheld the complaints on the basis that we could not provide 100% certainty that every single review on the site was written by a real traveller and could be trusted. No system, verified or not, could provide this‘.

The TripAdvisor complaint was lodged by two hotels and UK reputation management company Kwikchex, a company which is becoming a thorn in TripAdvisor’s side, in threatening a class action on behalf of 120 British and American hotels against the review website for its ‘defamatory statements’, partly precipitated by the annual TripAdvisor ‘Dirtiest Hotels’ list, based on its reviewers’ comments re cleanliness.  TripAdvisor CEO Steve Kaufer is quoted on Tnooz as saying that the company will no longer publish this list, in part due to the class action threat, one would suspect, as well as stating that the company wants to ‘stay more on the positive side’.  TripAdvisor will be publishing more ‘best of’ lists this year, he said.

TripAdvisor hotel complainants argue that the reviews are ‘untrue and damaging to their business or legally unsubstantiated’.  Kwikchex is demanding that all defamatory statements about hotels and their staff be removed, or else face the class action.  TripAdvisor does allow hotel business management to reply to reviews, but has very strict guidelines of not allowing disparaging comments related to the reviewers, not mentioning the guests’ names (reviewers write anonymously), and often refusing to post the hotel reply, in our experience.  The company is also seeking information about TripAdvisor’s algorithm for the rating system for hotels ranked in a city.  One is well aware of hotels and restaurants writing their own positive reviews, and therefore the rankings are not trustworthy either.  TripAdvisor does flag suspicious self-written reviews on its site, and does admonish the establishments.

Kwikchex says its communication with TripAdvisor has become more ‘fruitful’.

In our experience guest have written reviews about guest houses that they have not stayed in, have written exaggerated ‘reviews’ about their stay, are personally disparaging, do not acknowledge service recovery and refunds given, are used as a blackmail tool in return for refunds, and generally smack of vindictiveness for mainly uncommunicated problems during the stay. Each establishment should have an opportunity to fix a defect, given that it is done so on the same day.  It will be interesting to observe how KwikChex drives the future of TripAdvisor, as more hotels join the company and place pressure on this bully review site!

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: Twitter:@WhaleCottage

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22 replies on “TripAdvisor slammed by UK advertising standards body for ‘misleading’ reviews!”

  1. Hi Chris,

    I agree that there maybe isolated instances of malicious behaviour or of establishments cheating with fake reviews. However, as a regular user of & contributor to Tripadvisor, I & millions of other travellers swear by both its usefulness & accuracy.

    All establishments have the right of reply to ANY postings. The savvy owners & managers use this very effectively to improve their standing & customer experience.

    The fact that there is a “class action” emanating from the USA leaves me cold. The Americans would sue you for breathing their air if they could!!

    For my forthcoming trip to SA (leaving 4 weeks tomorrow..yippee!), TA, particularly the Cape Town based DEs, have, as usual, been invaluable.



  2. Hi Chris, interesting, as a user of Trip Advisor I’m not very impressed, I tried to add an establishment and they never got back to me past the initial confirmation. A solid concept though.

  3. Like anything Tripadvisor requires the consumer to exercise a fair amount of common sense. Far from being a bully review site- It’s now one of the first travel destination sites most consumers visit. A certain amount of sifting through the admittedly false positives is required but eventually most seasoned travellers get a feel for the geninue reviews. A simple formula is to look at all the reviews and weigh them pro vs con. Works for me every time. I also review the places I stay and Tripadvisor provides a really useful service for those unsure about a destination’s accommodation. In short Trip Advisor is huge and kwikchex will end up nowhere. It’s a bit like our own food24 review site. Look at all the false positives there and woe betide the reviewer who makes a bad review of a popular eatery –the Nelsons eye debacle is a good example.
    TripAdvisor is a tool for consumers, an incredibly useful tool but like any tool in the wrong hands it can be dangerous.
    As for their best of 2012. I am the first to admit its a laugh. How a couple of guest houses whose names escape me make the top 25 of hotels in the world is absurd. But put the shoe on the other foot Chris and if Whale Cottage was listed at number 5 in the world, would you dispute that?
    Happy Days

  4. Would be interested in Chris’ views about hellopeter who only allow a right of reply in exchange for a fistful of dollars

  5. tripadvisor fills a need for people to excersise some deep seeded pysco-disorder and possible inferiority complex to be a know-it-all foodie and have their opinions broadcasted.

    not unlike some jonny come this morning bloggers.(sic)

    If I hear the “We eat out a lot” line- just one more time I think I will top myself.

    Ironically, I wouldn’t mind so much just so long as the owner was able to reply with the same tone and venom withwhich some of the reviews are posted. This is NOT so. What “Tripadvisor” deems non-personal from the consumers perspective is not the same from the owners side.

    Basically, should a reviewer start using words such as “disgusting,incompetent,etc” when reviewing restaurants,etc…. I see no reason for an establishment to not reply likewise when situations arise with guests that quite frankly, have a lot to say but in all honesty have arrived at the wrong restaurant when in all honesty they should rather have visited the local pizzeria or mcdonalds drive-thru. Why should a restaurant then not be able to reply calling into question the calibre of the reviewer by using terms such as “unkept,poorly dressed,cheap,poor table manners,etc”.

    the Tripadvisor user gladly says that they sift through all the reviews to get a general “feel”, well ,why can they not sift through Owners posts as well.

    And I am not talking about the owners’ posts that say “so sorry we couldn’t meet expectation,thank you for visiting,blahblahblah”.

    As a proper feedback forum…..Tripadvisor is crap. The only factual feedback that I have ever acted on,ironically, came from a very positive review.

    where do I sign up to be part of this class action.

  6. Again, tripadvisor actively encourages owners to remind/get their guests to post reviews. They even have little cards for the establishment to print out.

    Which makes the complaint by The Consumer of fake positive postings rather laughable in my opinion.

    Why would an establishment want to risk the venom and sanction of Tripadvisor by posting their own reviews when they can just as likely get their regulars or mates to post for them?

    way way too many idiosyncrasies

  7. Dear Ryan

    You and I don’t often agree, but we do on this one. I too have tried to post a management reply about a guest who slipped on a floor because she was inebriated (with independent witnesses to verify this), and TripAdvisor disallowed our response – the bias is clearly in favour of the reviewer, much like the CCMA bias is to the employer! The establishment cannot win!

    I also agree that TripAdvisor should have a defamation check on it, rejecting personal attacks on management and staff, which are out of line. Much like Twitter, anything goes in how the guest can disparage the establishment.

    I disagree about the establishment positive reviews – TripAdvisor checks the computer IP from which they are sent, but establishments can ask friends and family to post these on one’s behalf. The Carlton Hotel group in Ireland is reported to have requested its staff to post fake reviews, their disgruntled ex-employees have shared with a newspaper:


  8. Dear Brandon

    The charging of a fee to companies to respond to Hello Peter reviews smacks of opportunism, and that is why most companies don’t bother to reply!


  9. Dear Pieter

    I don’t agree with your pro-TripAdvisor and anti-Kwikchex sentiments. All in hospitality will be watching the class action with great interest.

    I do agree about the top hotel listings (maybe even the Cape Town one dare I say, as there is no voting request nor tool to vote for one’s favourite city on TripAdvisor). I too had never heard of Villa Zest in Green Point, and I had to laugh when I read that our provincial Minister of Tourism Alan Winde rushed over to them to congratulate them! My first thought was the inevitable posting of false reviews, although I am not saying that they did.


  10. Dear Nick

    I am happy for you that TripAdvisor works well for you.

    You will read in the comments above the problems one has to post an owner/management reply!


  11. I’d imagine only the irish would be daft enough to post reviews about themselves from their own properties ip address. At least walk across the road to the nearest internet cafe?

    And even more galactically stupid to get employees to post reviews.

    like i said, Tripadvisor encourages the establishment to remind happy guests to post reviews. Easy peasy if you wanted to. Mom,Dad,Sis,Aunt,Uncle,etc,etc,etc

    Just take note of our very own “The Famous Pancake House”.

  12. I could also add my ‘favourite’ Cafe des Arts Ryan!

    I smile when I hear some Franschhoek restaurant managers Tweet about how well they are doing in the restaurant ranking, as if it is a contest anyone other than them cares about!


  13. yes as an irishman i can agree with ryan that we are all daft, we were born with it im afraid, im so daft i tried to send an email by attaching my lap top to the back of a homing pigeon.

  14. Hi Chris,

    I know many people in the hospitality business worldwide & you & Ryan are the first I’ve come across who have had a problem with posting a response on TA. Maybe it’s a local problem?



  15. I doubt that Nick – the rules for posting a management reply must be the same around the world.


  16. Nick, all the User needs to do should they not like or accept the management response….is to push the “inappropriate response” key, and Tripadvisor removes the management response.

    Why do you think that 99.9% of management responses you come across are along the lines of “so sorry,we beg forgiveness,let us invite you back,blahblah”

    As soon as a management response calls into question the calibre of the customer much the same way as the customer calls into question the calibre of establishment…..forget it. the consumers ego is now damaged and considered very inappropriate.

    how’s this one……a customer posted a war and peace like review on my establishment a few months back (giving us a 3/5 average rating)hypothesizing on a great many things that had nothing to do with my establishment and were particularly personal. I contacted Tripadvisor questioning the review.Amazingly, Tripadvisor agreed with me,ruling that the review was too personal and had it removed. The customer went back, wrote the review a slighly more PC friendly but now giving the establishment a (1/5 terrible rating).

    Now,please, try and tell me that tripadvisor does not fill a need for some very sad,over opinionated ego driven people that assume they know-it-all and love the fact that they can continue unchallenged.

    I am not against the idea of a feedback forum such as tripadvisor but the way it is managed is wrong and slanted and the reason they are now spending so much time in court.

  17. Thank you for sharing your experience with us Ryan. Do you have the telephone number of TripAdvisor to share?


  18. I’ve just been listening to a very interesting programme on the BBC about this very subject. The UK Government are in the process of forming legislation to oversee this type of open forum, including TA. One of the main ideas will be to strengthen the position of the business owner & to make the appeals process both more transparent & enforceable.

    Hopefully this will make all sides happier. In the mean time I’ll continue to make good use of TA & will be filing several reviews about my forthcoming trip to the Cape.

    However, I won’t be filing them in a “sad,over opinionated ego driven know-it-all” way. Mine will read more like a well known person writing an excellent blog. 🙂

  19. If that was a very British compliment Nick, then thank you!

    Excellent news about your government planning to take action – do keep us posted!


  20. I queried them via the website.

    I was amazed that they actually replied, usually you get only an automated response.

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