Last week, Yelp filed a lawsuit that has the potential to set a precedent for all the major, travel-review web sites. The suit was filed against San Diego law firm for posting fake reviews on their behalf. Yelp and its attorneys allege that the McMillan law firm had their employees create fake accounts to leave positive reviews. They also allege that the firm partnered with other San Diego law firms to trade flattering reviews. Since October of last year, Yelp has flagged numerous businesses caught soliciting reviews on Craigslist and Freelancer.
It’s not just Yelp that’s having an issue with fake reviews. TripAdvisor also allows anyone to review hotels, flights, and restaurants even if they haven’t stayed at the property is also having problems. TripAdvisor claims it has systems in place to catch overly-hyped reviews, both positive and negative.
However, a top executive from the French hotel chain Accor got caught red-handed faking reviews. Using an alias, he posted more than 100 positive reviews of Accor hotels and negative ones of competitors. He claimed to have stayed at each and every property, but there’s no way to verify that. Most revealing, it took authorities five years to discover his deception.
It might seem odd to fake reviews, but when it comes to travel it’s proven that online reviews have a big impact on a business’ bottom line. A study from Cornell’s Center for Hospitality Research found that if a hotel’s score on a user-review site goes up by just one point, they can raise rates by 11.2 percent.
Although writing fake positive reviews are misleading, writing a fake bad review can also cost you. In April of this year, the Hotel Quebec filed a lawsuit against Laurent Azoulay for alleging that he was bitten by bed bugs during his stay. The Canadian hotel not only asked for the review to be removed but also filed a defamation lawsuit seeking $95,000 in compensation.
Last year an employee was fired from the Four Points by Sheraton after 14 years of service for a bad review posted by a guest. After complaining about their visit to the hotel, the reviewer personally singled out one employee. Allegations have been made against TripAdvisor that not only question their integrity but also describe the posts on their website as false and malicious.
So what resources, does the average traveler have when reading online reviews? The key is to do your travel research on websites that offer verified reviews when it comes to user generated content. Here are your options:
By Leah Ford for PeterGreenberg.com