A group of hotels and restaurants in England are noticing an increase in direct blackmails from patrons threatening to leave a negative TripAdvisor review, The Telegraph detailed this week. Much of the hotel industry, especially bed & breakfast lodging, is dependent on sites like TripAdvisor to increase booking volume during the year. To initiate the threat, the customer usually mentioned that they are a regular TripAdvisor user and will post a negative review about their visit if a demand is not met. Demands include freebies during a meal like a bottle of wine or dessert, a reduction of the total bill or room upgrades.
Speaking about the blackmail threats, British Hospitality Association deputy chief executive Martin Couchman said “While it’s very difficult to put an exact figure on how widespread the problem is, it is clear that a small minority of online reviewers are directly blackmailing – or sometimes subtly blackmailing – restaurants for their own gain.”
Couchman continued “People will either attempt to blackmail during the meal, or sometimes, more worryingly, people who have not even been to the restaurant will post a bad review to try to get a free meal, or a free stay in a hotel’s case. While it can be difficult to prove that somebody has blackmailed you, we would advise that business owners do not respond – or make free offers – to reviewers they suspect are malicious.”
The question of how widespread this issue probably depends on the establishment date of the restaurant or hotel. Organizations attempting to build a name for themselves on online sites like TripAdvisor are probable more sensitive to a damaging review. The manager of the Double Barrel Steakhouse and Grill in Rotherham, South Yorkshire claims that about three percent of guests will claim to be a ‘senior TripAdvisor reviewer’ and demand some form of free item off the menu.
Responding to the situation, a TripAdvisor representative said “Allegations of blackmail or threatening behavior by guests against property owners are taken very seriously. If an owner experiences this, we urge them to contact us immediately. We have a way for owners to proactively report threats before a corresponding review is submitted.”
Businesses within the United States have had similar problems with Yelp, although the accusation is often directed at the online review site itself. Many small businesses have claimed in the past that Yelp forces the business to pay for advertising in order to feature positive reviews more prominently than the negative ones. According to this recent report on the Philadelphia ABC affiliate, Yelp told one business owner to pay $350 a month to raise his score from one star to three stars.
However, that doesn’t stop businesses from directly contacting online Yelp reviewers to bribe them to remove negative reviews. According to this report published by the San Diego ABC affiliate, a San Diego man was offered a $100 gas card by an attorney that was representing a construction company that received a negative Yelp review from the man.