TripAdvisor’s misleading reviews damage Sri Lankan resort’s global image

Friday, 27 March 2015 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  By Rajkumar Kanagasingam Dietmar Doering is a Sri Lankan hotelier from Germany who has been running the Cosy Beach Resort in the coastal hamlet of Marawila in the North-Western province of Sri Lanka for the last 30 years. He operated another two hotels and pioneered sports tourism in Sri Lanka during the early ’90s. His hotels accommodate approximately 5,000 guests, mainly from Germany, and have helped him gather vast experience in the hospitality business over the years. “Guests’ feedback has been a vital instrument in enhancing standards over the decades. Since the internet offered a platform for online operators, the marketing of hotels changed drastically and the online operators became major players for the entire hospitality sector, making hotels dependent on what online operators’ reviews say,” he said. He added: “TripAdvisor emerged as a platform where even anonymous reviews could be placed by actual guests or even fake guests who might not have been guests in the respective hotels. Hotels do not have an opportunity to deny the publication of malicious reviews after they have been instantly channelled through various social media platforms.” Doering recently became a victim of a malicious review from an alleged guest named Chew Kim Chew, a Singaporean passport-holder, who claims to be residing in Mumbai, India and have visited the Cosy Beach on 31 October 2014. He claims that “none of the rooms have a sea view” while in fact 11 rooms have an undisturbed direct sea view. The Singaporean guest said: “The long swimming pool had been replaced by an octagonal shape swimming pool which does not allow swimming experts to cool off.” “In fact, our hotel never replaced a pool with another one and the existing pool is 25 years old and is 15 meters in diameter allowing people to swim in all directions,” he responded. “This malicious and clearly wrong review has been published on TripAdvisor and would have been read and noticed by many potential guests. Apart from other malicious complaints written by the same guests, these two described by Mr. Chew created serious damage to us and may result in people restraining from booking our hotel while expecting a sea view which according to Mr. Chew’s review does not exist at our hotel.” Mr. Chew has been classified by TripAdvisor as a Top Contributor with 104 reviews of hotels and restaurants and was introduced as a person who visited 34 cities in nine different countries. “I assume that our hotel is not the only one experiencing these kinds of damaging TripAdvisor reviews from guests who may not be coming with good intentions to hotels but intending to create wrong reviews for reasons we do not understand. Being a German national who has made Sri Lanka his second home for nearly three decades, I strongly believe that Sri Lanka’s authorities should start having a closer look at these malicious practices and follow the course of other countries to restrain TripAdvisor from publicising these kind of malicious and highly defamatory reviews,” Doering asserted. Doering and his Board of Directors have decided to file legal action against TripAdvisor in Sri Lanka by means of forwarding claims through the US Embassy in Colombo. The damages are estimated in the range of $ 500,000. TripAdvisor has previously been the subject of controversy for allowing unsubstantiated anonymous reviews. According to British newspaper The Guardian, the UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) launched a formal investigation against TripAdvisor in September 2011 after receiving complaints that its claims to provide trustworthy and honest reviews from travellers are false. The ASA found that TripAdvisor should not claim or imply that all its reviews were from real travellers or were honest, real or trusted and as a result of the investigation, TripAdvisor was ordered to remove the slogan ‘reviews you can trust’ from its UK website. It changed its hotel review section slogan to ‘reviews from our community’. ASA commented that it was concerned that consumers might be fooled by fraudulent posts since the entries could be made without any form of verification. In March 2014, TripAdvisor’s Chinese site came under scrutiny because a Chinese research firm uncovered that a reviewer had reviewed 51 Parisian restaurants in one month, while also reviewing 50 hotels in other countries. In December 2014, the Italian Antitrust Authority fined TripAdvisor 500,000 for improper commercial practices on the TripAdvisor website. The Italian authority stated that Tripadvisor and its Italian arm should stop publishing misleading information about the sources of the reviews. In already initiated legal cases against TripAdvisor it was learnt that the user review giant had maintained its silence throughout the issues, indicating it would not comment on “threatened or pending litigations.” Assuming that TripAdvisor’s Sri Lanka case will also hold the same position it may require action by unifying other Sri Lankan hotels or guesthouses or restaurants which may have experienced similar malicious reviews too. Furthermore, if more numbers are appearing with similar experiences, the Sri Lanka Tourism Authority may come forward to assist these hotels with legal assistance or initiatives suitable to stop malicious, untrue and grossly misrepresented comments made about reputable businesses on the TripAdvisor website. (The writer is a member of the Association of Business Executives, UK)