Yesterday, The Today Show ran this controversial and damaging segment (see below) about the hotel and resort industry. Seems that some players in this industry are breaking rules and laws by writing phony reviews about themselves (and their competitors) on super popular review sites like Trip Advisor, Oyster and Frommers. I wanted to comment on this news story, considering I just wrote a review about my own experience with vacation resort the Cancun Palace. My post was then linked to Trip Advisor.
If this piece is accurate, and fake reviews are as rampant as we’re led to believe, then I think this industry is quickly moving head first into a real crisis. These sites are very popular. That’s because the masses who use them (like my wife) believe that other vacationers/travelers will offer up the most honest information and tips on so many important nuances within each hotel and resort. The plain cold reality is that consumers who use these sites are very fickle. Unlike most Internet surfers, many don’t mind spending lots of time on these sites because the reviews are chock full of interesting details on so many significant nuances. But, they are also a highly skeptical bunch to begin with on this very topic. The rationale behind using a Trip Advisor is that there are very few sources which can provide in-depth tid bits on everything from food, to service, to what the rooms are really like, like these sites. If they start to perceive (right or wrong) in any way that any of these reviews are hotel fed propaganda (or worse), a pack of lies, then these once helpful web sites will be panned very quickly.
On the Today Show piece, Trip Advisor and a few other reviews sites commented that they do have systems in place to ensure the accuracy of each and every review. If that’s the case (which right now is hard to believe), I suggest they aggressively start to communicate specifics on what their safe guards are before this spirals out of control. This should include going back to The Today Show and many other key media outlets to prove their case. They should also use their own sites to boldly explain how each safe guard works.
I don’t think anyone is shocked that this fraudulent activity is taking place. It happens all the time in other categories and industries and the web is a perfect medium to create and distribute fake content. But, that still doesn’t help these companies who are only valuable because their readers believe what they are digesting is both authentic and timely.
To Travel Advisor and all the other competitors, the clock is ticking. Now is the time to act. Readers are planning their next vacation and wondering whether they need to start looking for all new, reliable sources in place of you.