TripAdvisor rebuked over 'trust' claims on review site

TripAdvisor screenshot The travel site's UK homepage no longer makes the claims that provoked the complaints

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TripAdvisor has been ordered to rewrite some of its marketing claims by the UK's Advertising Standards Authority.

The ruling follows complaints by hotels that the site had said that its holiday reviews could be "trusted".

The ASA said it was concerned that consumers might be fooled by fraudulent posts since the entries could be made "without any form of verification".

TripAdvisor described the ruling as a "highly technical view" of "copy that was used in a limited capacity".

However, the watchdog said that the ruling served as a warning to all UK-focused sites with user-generated material.

Fraud systems

The ASA said that the US-based firm's site originally carried statements saying that it contained "reviews that you can trust" and that it had "more than 50 million honest travel reviews".

It said that two hotels and the online reputation firm Kwikchex, which represented others, had complained that the claims were misleading since they could not be substantiated.

The advertising body said it acknowledged that reviewers were asked to sign a declaration that their reviews were real and that they had no incentive or competitive interest with the places commented on.

Start Quote

Don't major on trustworthiness if fake reviews can appear”

End Quote Guy Parker ASA chief executive

It also recognised that the site said that it used "advanced and highly effective fraud systems" to identify and remove fake content.

However, the ASA said it was still possible that "non-genuine" reviews could appear on the site undetected and that users might not be able to spot them.

It warned that this was particularly a problem in cases where an establishment only had a small number of reviews. It added that offering hoteliers a right to reply did not fully address the problem.

The ASA ordered the site to avoid running adverts in the same form again and said it must not claim or imply that all its reviews were from real travellers, or were honest, real or trusted.

"This should be regarded as a benchmark ruling which applies to all web sites which make claims about the reliability of their user-created content," the ASA's spokesman Matthew Wilson told the BBC.

Chief executive Guy Parker said that advertising rules policed by the authority applied to companies' claims on their own websites.

"This is a classic example of the sort of thing that members of public are complaining to us about," he said.

"Advertisers must apply the same scrutiny to their websites, as they do to their campaigns in paid-for space. And don't major on trustworthiness if fake reviews can appear."

The pros and cons of having your business reviewed on TripAdvisor: Published January 2012

The ASA's ruling was based on a survey of the site carried out in July 2011 when it was still owned by the travel booking service Expedia.

It has since been spun off as a separate entity. The current management downplayed the risk of customers being misled.

"We have confidence that the 50 million users who come to our site every month trust the reviews they read on TripAdvisor, which is why they keep coming back to us in increasingly larger numbers to plan and have the perfect trip," it said in a statement.

The homepage now contains no reference to the word "trust" and simply describes itself as "the world's largest travel site".

However, its international address - which is accessible in the UK - continues to describe its content as the "world's most trusted travel advice" in the corresponding part of the page. It adds elsewhere that "you'll find real hotel reviews you can trust".

When asked about this the ASA said that its remit only extended to claims targeted at a UK audience, so it would not be pursuing changes at the .com site.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 183.

    My wife booked a holiday in Gran Canaria last Novemebr. I read the reviews on TA and other review sites and was horrified at the stories of petulant staff and hoardes of cockroaches.
    When we got there, we found the staff falling over themselves to help and everything was exceptionally clean. Not a cockroach in site. I will just take my chances and form my own opinions, next time

  • rate this

    Comment number 182.

    I get that a rogue bad review can hurt a small business such as a B&B. But how did these small businesses cope before the internet made it so easy to search for a cheap place to stay? The advent of the internet has been good for them - revenues have risen a lot compared to the pre-internet era. You have to take the good with the bad.

  • rate this

    Comment number 155.

    at the end of the day you make your own decisions on where to stay! you could go to the best hotel in the world where you are waited on hand and foot and every wish is catered for but you can guarantee that someone will complain!

  • rate this

    Comment number 128.

    I use this site and find it very useful,however,one must remember that like almost everything else in life,one mans meat is another's poison.
    I have genuinely put criticism on holidays that I have been on while other's on the same holiday have had nothing but praise for it.
    So remember one must always make one's own mind up in the end.

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    Using Tripadvisor is fallible however if taken with a healthy 'pinch of salt' it can generally be relied upon for getting a broad feel for a place before investing money and time. As with all opinions - they are subjective by nature. I find it very useful but some more proactive recourse for those who have been maliciously targeted would help improve their reputation.


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