The Seattle Times has recently taken an interest in a topic that’s often on the minds of B&B and small hotel owners everywhere: the truthfulness or otherwise of online reviews, particularly those on TripAdvisor.
They report that Daniel Corcoran, an office administrator and self-appointed travel website watchdog in Baltimore, became suspicious when a series of raves about the Sheraton Baltimore City Center Hotel suddenly began appearing on TripAdvisor (and on Sheraton’s corporate site) in June.
Digging a bit deeper, Corcoran noticed that most of the reviews on the corporate site were coming from a user named hunnyb62. On TripAdvisor, similar write-ups appeared under different user names from various cities.
Having tried and failed to contact the reviews themselves – and received no response from TripAdvisor – Corcoran got in touch with Sheraton, who did admit that there had been… well, let’s call it a mishap.
“The manager [of the Baltimore City Center Hotel] confirmed that her team was encouraging guests to share their positive experiences,” said Helen Horsham-Bertels, Starwood’s senior director of consumer affairs. One employee in particular had been “a little overzealous” in her efforts to recruit positive reviews. “That said, the reviews are legitimate and an honest assessment of the guests’ stays.”
In the meantime, a TripAdvisor representative told the Seattle Times that they had removed “a number of reviews” of the City Center Hotel in response to a complaint, but it declined to say how many.
Seattle Times reporter Christopher Elliot sums up the situation very well: “Here’s a publicly traded company that has made millions by offering a platform for user-generated reviews, insisting that transparency would help the entire travel industry. Yet when it comes to being transparent about the way it operates, it goes strangely quiet.”
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