I have recently been troubled by a case in which a hotel appeared to be “stuffing” its five-star reviews with anodyne four-line ‘thank you, thank you, everything was wonderful’ reports from people with one review to their name
More of that in a second.
First, a couple of product liability get-out clauses:
In the first place, I’m not suggesting, as some have earlier tried to suggest on these pages, that these “1 review” individuals are necessarily fakes, even though they do look and smell a bit funny.
Secondly, I’m not suggesting that “more is inevitably good” in terms of how many reviews a TA member can bring to the table. That is absurd. There are, I’m sure, plenty out there with a prolific review count who can barely string two words together, let alone give a sensible account of their stay or their meal.
Thirdly (sorry, having read what has happened to a few other thread-starters before me, I really DO have to get these “I’m not suggesting…“ things out of the way first), this particular case is not a matter of competitors putting up fake negative reviews to throw mud at other establishments, but a clear attempt to hoist the establishment up the all-important (well, to some people, at least) TA rankings of “#xx in Hotels in Toytown-on-Sea”.
It’s a hot-button discussion topic, clearly, and these threads usually generate flames and end up in acrimony and accusations that: “It's like trying to turn an oil-tanker/Trip Advisor doesn’t care/is only interested in the traffic and revenue/won’t go after the offenders” OR “You’re just being paranoid/people should read reviews intelligently/yeah, but EVERYBODY does it/99.95% of reviews are completely legit…”, etc, etc.
This made me reluctant to even voice my views here, but the numbers in question were rather compelling, and I very much doubt this particular hotel is a one-off example.
Here we go:
In order to check if my first hunch was exaggerated, a few days ago I looked more closely at the 120 most recent five-star reviews and the 70 most recent three-star reviews of the hotel in question.
This seemed a reasonable sample to take, roughly proportional to the total numbers of each through the hotel’s TA history, and covering pretty much the same time-frame.
Of the 120 ***** reviews, 108 were "1 Review". (and many also "Via Mobile"). This is 90%.
Incidentally, of the most recent fifty, 47 were in this category (94%), and of the most recent 100, 92 were single review posters (yep, 92% - maths is dead easy!).
In very stark contrast, of the 70 most recent *** reviews, just THREE were from single-review reviewers (roughly 4%).
ALL THIRTY of the 30 most recent three-star reviews were from multiple-review TA members.
So, 90+% noobs for the five-star reviews, and fewer than 5% for the 3-star reviews????
Given the numbers involved, I think it would be naive to suggest this imbalance is pure coincidence. I am, of course, open to your other explanations for the skewing, but I should warn you I will be hard to persuade that it is other than: “Hey, we’ll give you free this-or-that if you write us a nice TA review” (or some similar slightly dodgy receptionist gambit).
To return briefly to the “people should read reviews intelligently” counter-argument – YES, I quite agree, and I DO, and so do many others, but the point of such an exercise as described above is to gently shove the establishment up the ladder so it gets noticed by those users who think staying in hotel #8 is better than staying in hotel #88, and who cannot be bothered to find out WHY the two hotels are ranked where they are.
Just getting your hotel or restaurant “on the dance-floor" as far as organisations like TA is concerned may be as important as having reliable reviews. Begging for good reviews from noobs as they check out - or giving them a complimentary cocktail as a quid pro quo - is not exactly pernicious behaviour, but if you are a hotel or restaurant NOT doing this and you are watching the irresistible rise of one who does, you might well feel a bit peeved.
As to what TA can do about these sorts of things, that’s beyond me.
I don’t buy the “credit card details required” approach, as it plainly won’t work, and I’m also reluctant to have a weighting/handicapping system for “1 review” reviewers, although it might be worth noting that in places like eBay, vendors and buyers DO discriminate against people with minimal feedback. Amazon, too, allows users to sort reviews by their perceived worth: "5 of 6 people found the following review helpful".
Would it be quite impossible for TA to add a third means of sorting reviews: Rating, Date, and “Number of Reviews”? Or even a fourth, flagging up "Helpful Reviews"?
Many of us already subliminally use this technique, and I hardly imagine it would do any harm if TA made it that much easier for its users. Since it is possible to reward what seems like a good review with a "helpful" tick, it seems rather curious to me that there is no rapid mechanism for searching for such reviews...