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Frustrated restaurateurs suggest a new way to tackle fake TripAdvisor reviews

It’s the stuff of nightmares for restaurateurs and hoteliers working hard to build a business. Fake TripAdvisor reviews by rival establishments and other troublemakers can, in a worst case scenario, bring the whole enterprise crashing down, the owner’s reputation unfairly destroyed.

Frustrated with seeing fraudulent reviews about their businesses, U.K. restaurateurs and others in the hospitality industry think they may have found a way to reduce the number of fake posts on the site and help maintain trust in TripAdvisor’s vast database of opinionated content.

The idea? To make reviewers send the TripAdvisor team an image of a receipt to prove they visited the establishment. A campaign backing the idea took off on Twitter last week under the hashtag #NoReceiptNoReview.

The British food inspector who launched the campaign told the Guardian he did so because “operators of good restaurants, pubs and other eateries – despite never having chosen to engage with TripAdvisor – see damage to their businesses by reviewers who have not visited them, or post exaggerated details of a visit.”

“A step in the right direction”

The inspector, who declined to give his name because of the nature of his job, insisted that the review site “must decide on a way to repair and maintain trust, and the receipt idea, while not perfect, is a step in the right direction.”

Of course, such an idea could still be open to abuse, as disgruntled customers – or visitors from a rival restaurant – could still post unfairly harsh reviews of a business aimed at damaging its reputation. And what about fake positive reviews? An unscrupulous restaurant owner presumably wouldn’t find it too difficult to hand out fake receipts to associates for a few praiseworthy posts in an effort to boost their TripAdvisor ranking.

Responding to the idea of including receipts with reviews, TripAdvisor told the Guardian it was problematic, saying, “If four friends go out to dinner there will be four different opinions, but only the one person with the receipt would be able to leave a review.”

TripAdvisor, which launched in 2000, says on its site that it has several systems in place to root out fake reviews, including filtering and fraud detection software, and a team of more than 300 people in seven countries that work to identify, block, and remove fraudulent posts. It’s also easy for the site’s users, including owners of listed businesses, to report suspicious reviews.

However, despite TripAdvisor’s best efforts, fake reviews still get through, which can sometimes spell big trouble for the online firm. Last year, for instance, TripAdvisor was fined $600,000 by the Italian authorities after a national hoteliers’ association complained of improper business practices linked to defamatory reviews appearing on the site. Despite the penalty, TripAdvisor rejected the association’s claims that its systems for detecting fake posts were insufficient.