The phrase 'victim of its own success' has surely never been so true as in the current fiasco surrounding TripAdvisor. Well,'victim' may not be quite the right word...just yet. It would be hard to class them as victims when they've just announced an astonishing 44% increase in quarterly revenue vs Q3 last year to $139m. Parent Expedia claims that the site is the first ever travel brand to reach 40m unique monthly visitors in a single month. Impressive. Except that the gentle winds of mutual discontent that for a long time have been ruffling the feathers of hotel proprietors on the one hand and TA & their users on the other, is developing into a full-blown hurricane.
Hotels for their part are claiming that what was once an occasional fake bad review from a disaffected employee or scurrilous neighbouring property is now turning into a series of highly coordinated campaigns of deliberate sabotage and an increasingly common expression of competitive activity. Reputation Management company, Kwikchex, has declared war on behalf of the industry and is reckoned to have 800 hotels and restaurants lined up ready to 'name and shame' the fake reviewers. Far from taking this threat on the chin, TA has struck out with equal measure, claiming that fake positive reviews, penned by hotel staff, family and friends (not to mention the likes of Kwikchex and their ilk) are deliberately misleading customers with glowing reports of 'attentive staff' and 'dinners to die for'.
One glorious example of such sharp practice has just been uncovered in rural Ireland. According to the Belfast Telegraph, the following email from an un-named manager at the Clare Inn was sent to his staff:
"We have come up with a plan for everyone on this email only to post a review about their stay at the Clare Inn," the email read. "You must do this from your HOME PC or internet cafe, do not use a Lynch PC or the IP address will be picked up. I'd rather you didn't discuss this with your team. This is not something we would normally endorse but the reviews of the Clare Inn at the moment leave us with no choice.Please do not use hotel language or else our plan will backfire."
..and of course it has backfired now that the story is all over the free world. TA is responding to these shenanigans by posting red warning labels on the profiles of hotels thought to be guilty of bigging themselves up. The battle lines are drawn.
All of this of course is an inevitable consequence of the enormous influence that TA now has in the hotel bookings market. When a hotel business can succeed or fail on the basis of TA reviews is it any surprise that reputations can be bought and sold like an eBay auction? Quite where this leaves the poor consumer is at this stage unclear.Stripping out the fake good reviews and the fake bad reviews from the genuine articles is becoming as hazardous as choosing a hotel in the pre TA era. But such is the wonder of the web that no doubt as TA and its detractors wrestle themselves to the floor another player will emerge from the wings as the real, authentic, unadulterated, neutral, trustworthy hotel review site... who's your money on?