TripAdvisor, booking… are the reviews of these travel sites really reliable?
Norbert Westelynck wavered on his cash drawer. On July 19, 2013, this manager of the Hotel des Vignes, in Juliénas (Rhône), was browsing his TripAdvisor page when he came across the comments of five Internet users who had never set foot in his home: “rotten with humidity “, “it is a Formula 1”, “amateur work”. A click on the sheet of nearby establishments, same authors, same dates of stay (!), same kindness. Only Le Moulin de Saint Vérand found favor in their eyes: “haven of peace”, “perfect stage”, “everything is subtlety there”. Faced with TripAdvisor’s refusal to remove the slightest line, these hoteliers then contacted the owner of the Moulin, forced to admit that behind these bogus messages were hiding “friendly customers”. By the next day, their opinions had disappeared. “But six days of criticism in high season must have scared away more than one customer,” said Tomas Yung, hotel web marketing consultant.
More than one customer? Dozens, yes! Because the opinions of others, travelers can no longer do without them: according to Reputation VIP, 88% of holidaymakers would consult them before booking. And for hoteliers and restaurateurs, a good online rating counts almost more than the number of stars. However, Internet users are less and less fooled. If, in 2010, 93% considered these messages reliable, today they would be only 80%. Paranoid? Not at all: according to the Competition Department, 45% of comments posted on the Net are biased. Twice as many as in 2012. In tourism, three sites account for 90% of comments: booking. Com (62.2%), TripAdvisor.com (22.5%) and Hotels.com (5.1%). But on booking and Hotels, it is impossible to leave a bogus opinion. It is the establishment that sends the form to the client at the end of his stay. On TripAdvisor, on the other hand, all you have to do is build a profile with a nickname (it took us 1 minute 30) to leave pastiches on an establishment without having ever pushed the door.
Of course, the American giant keep an eye out. “We have high-performance computer filters, supplemented by a hundred specialists responsible for detecting fraudsters,” assured its CEO, Stephen Kaufer, to Capital last August. Certainly, but with 139 contributions submitted every minute worldwide, it is difficult to block all the fakes. Especially since cheaters are getting smarter. Gone are the days when hoteliers were content to use nicknames to denigrate the competition, like this manager of Accor in Australia, fired in the spring of 2013 for having published 105 false reviews. Tourism professionals have a real small industry at their disposal. Like the one with whom we could have signed a contract (see opposite), companies based in Vietnam or Madagascar take care of everything for around fifteen euros per message. And these counterfeiters have learned to hide well: varied and credible Internet user profiles, messages dispersed over time on several establishments, natural tone, realistic spelling mistakes, computer servers that are difficult to identify… more difficult to flush out, recognizes Guilain Denis saddle, founder of Tendance Hotellerie.fr. Moreover, in the top 100 best rated hotels in Paris, at least thirty have nothing to do with it”.
In truth, this does not prevent Stephen Kaufer from sleeping. “Out of millions of opinions, basically, it doesn’t matter much that some are false,” the founder of TripAdvisor told us last summer. Logically, the business model behind the incredible success of this profit machine (150 million euros in net profit for 692 million in turnover in 2013) is based on the quantity of messages posted, not on their quality. “The more reviews TripAdvisor garners, the more Internet users book through it, the more money the site earns: the commissions paid by hoteliers represent 74% of its income”, specifies Guilain Denisselle.
Don’t panic though. Are you planning a stay in Greece and hesitating between several addresses? Two reflexes should save you from a bad surprise. Read the messages of Internet users by following our advice above. And then compare the rating of the hotel on TripAdvisor with that of booking obtained, remember, after real stays. If the Trip Advisor score is higher, distrust, false praise may explain this discrepancy. If it is equivalent, you can click without fear.
Proof that posting fake reviews on TripAdvisor is easy
Our reporter pretended to be a restaurateur wanting to buy fake reviews from a Vietnamese pharmacy specializing in the sale of reviews. In addition to her rates, she sent us hotel links as examples, including one in Paris, for which she posted ten bogus messages on TripAdvisor, as shown by those we publish below.
Our advice to avoid bogus reviews (Click on the image to enlarge)
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