How to fight against TripAdvisor blackmail
 
How to fight against TripAdvisor blackmail
04 SEPTEMBER 2014 6:18 AM
Compassion is the best approach to calm angry guests, sources said. But if they threaten bad reviews, it’s important to take immediate steps to minimize damage to a hotel’s reputation.
GLOBAL REPORT—While TripAdvisor and other travel review websites can be powerful marketing tools for hotels, they can also pose threats. Operators said some disgruntled or unscrupulous guests have threatened to post negative reviews of hotels unless they receive compensation—a room upgrade, a free room or even cash.
 
While there is little data to indicate how widespread the problem is, TripAdvisor and many hotel operators and companies are prepared to combat this kind of blackmail. 
 
“Hotels need to accept that a small unscrupulous segment of travelers may use their social media clout to demand unreasonable concessions,” said Daniel Edward Craig, founder of online reputation management consulting firm Reknown. “Review threats can put staff in an extremely difficult position. They don’t want to cave in to unreasonable demands, but they also don’t want to be blamed for a bad review.”
 
Hoteliers at times might confuse a threat of a bad review with a basic service issue, said Adele Gutman, VP of sales, marketing and revenue for New York City-based Library Hotel Collection.
 
“What some hotels say is blackmail 99% of the time is simply a very weary, frustrated traveler,” she said. “We coach our staff to be compassionate and disarm (angry guests) by being kind and trying to put them at ease. Even if you ultimately can’t fix the problem, at least the guest can see there is someone who is truly trying to make things better for them.”
 
Gutman said associates are trained to find out what is really bothering the guest and then offer alternatives such as a change of rooms or moving the guest to another of the company’s properties in New York.
 
“If the answer is no and they just want a free room or a suite and there is nothing left to do for them, we offer to let them out of their reservation and help them find another hotel that better suits their needs,” she said. “That may be a financial burden for us, but we believe it is best for us if the traveler is happy, even if that means they stay someplace else.”
 
Documentation is key
While Gutman and other hoteliers believe there are ways to calm angry guests, they also have action plans to blunt vindictive TripAdvisor reviews.
 
“If there is that kind of activity going on—a review generated under suspicious circumstances—it doesn’t serve either TripAdvisor or the property to let it happen,” said Bill Carroll, a clinical professor in the School of Hotel Administration at Cornell University. “If you’re blackmailed once you could be blackmailed again. You’re saying to these people your system is susceptible to pressure.”
 
TripAdvisor has a protocol for hotel operators to report threats at its Management Center before a corresponding review is submitted to the site, said Kevin Carter, senior manager of public relations for TripAdvisor.
 
“Our fraud detection experts will then investigate and, where we find evidence of threatening behavior, take action to stop those reviews from ever reaching the site,” he said.
 
The key for hoteliers is documentation, Gutman said.
 
“It’s important to document everything, starting with a gracious note to the guest telling them you tried to do everything for them, and while all those things were declined let us know if there is anything else we can do to make them more comfortable,” she said. “It’s also important you report the incident immediately to TripAdvisor. It’s much better to get them the information before a review happens than after. You should report it within an hour of the conversation (with the guest) because the person could be sitting in the lobby writing the review.”
 
Education and training
Last year, executives at Best Western International heard from some members about problems with TripAdvisor blackmail. The membership group reached out to property owners with guidelines on how to handle these situations.
 
“We tried to be as proactive as possible,” said Michael Morton, VP of member services for Best Western. “We let our members know about this issue, and we added this topic to our member training. As a result, we’ve seen few of these problems bubble up recently.”
 
Morton also used the situation as a way to reinforce how TripAdvisor can be a tool to engage with guests.
 
“Our members are starting to understand that not being placed on page one of TripAdvisor reviews can have a significant negative impact on their bookings,” he said. “It’s what guests are doing, so let’s embrace it. Our members learned to get more reviews and get them more frequently and always respond, at least to the negative reviews.”
 
Hotels providing a management response to reviews—both bad and good—are 21% more likely to receive a booking inquiry via TripAdvisor than those that don't respond to any reviews, according to a new study from TripAdvisor. Properties that respond to more than 50% of reviews increase their likelihood of receiving a booking inquiry by 24% compared to properties that do not respond to reviews.
 

14 Comments

  • djaurand September 8, 2014 5:43 AM

    What is never mentioned in these stories about negative reviews on Tripadvisor, Yelp, etc. Is what the guest was complaining about and what the hotel did and is doing about the problem. My experience as a Front Office Manager was that when the guest complained about the Air Conditioning not working, it probably didn't work - a preventative maintenance problem, the sheets were dirty - a housekeeping quality control problem. The only example of a guest abusing "the system" was an American Advantage member repeatedly requesting his miles through AA and out hotel repeatedly denying them because he had a discounted rates we didn't offer miles on. We finally complained to AA and never heard from them again, though he did return my hotel several times

  • Rvc September 8, 2014 11:17 AM

    I am curious if the next step will be that hotel brands will no longer allow tripadvisor to use their brand name and delist all their properties. If IHG, Marriott, Hyatt and Starwood agree to do this on the same day, then the likes of Tripadvisor will be done. There always guests entering a hotel and say, i want an upgrade or I trash you on TA, the agent, especially in Asia, and the middle east (because of cultural disposition) will almost always give in to avoid incentive issues (front desk agents are incentivised on good results in online commentary), complaints, or bad scores. As it costs the agent nothing, they prefer to give in. But the club upgardes, free suite upgrades takes away from the incremental revenue opportunity of hotels. I would put my money on hotel companies coming up with their own programs...

  • SamDallas September 8, 2014 10:39 PM

    The above is great advice. We will be putting together hotel protocol to manage this, especially getting a note/letter to the guest offering help. We "live and die", by TripAdvisor and the pen, but trip Advisor themselves need to do more to combat those reviews that are mistakingly placed due to names being very similar

  • Alex Gonzalez September 11, 2014 7:24 AM

    Responsible and irresponsible reviews will always be available from travelers somewhere somehow. The fact remains that when a traveler posts one review and it is bad for the sake of venting, that one review should not show up. The review websites should all have a system whereby reviews (good or bad) can only go live after a user posts five different reviews at five different hotels and cities; or some such system. With today's technology, a simple backend confirmation script can verify that poster's identity and stay at a particular property amongst other means such as a credit card can be charged $0.25 for registration as a confirmation etc... If a reservation can be made and confirmed online, so should a review.

  • Eric S September 13, 2014 7:02 AM

    I've found that TripAdvisor does very little to curtail blackmail reviews. They say their "fraud detection experts" will investigate, but if a guest is willing to blatantly lie what can they do. It's is the hoteliers word against the guest. I've had a guest tell me if they didn't get a free or discounted room, they would leave a bad review. After talking to them for a while it was obvious there was nothing wrong with there stay. They were only trying to scam me. TripAdvisor did nothing. They act like if a person is a scammer they have some secret way of figuring it out, but they don't. Really, how would they. I've also talked to TA about obviously fake positive reviews for competitor hotels. Again there is nothing they can (or will) do about it. I'm starting to hear about business owners fighting back by filing suit against people and/or review sites for posting slanderous or libel statements. I hope this pans out and people start to realize they aren't anonymous and there will be consequences.

  • Anonymous September 15, 2014 8:31 PM

    the truth is that guests write anything when they are happy!

  • Rocco Bova September 16, 2014 10:49 PM

    I am still wondering why Tripadvisor does not restrict people to comment on their media by having to write their reservation number, confirming that they actually stayed at the hotel. It is not the first time that fake reviews are on Tripadvisor and difficult to track a guest if theyr atually stayed or not. I still believe Tripadvisor is a great tool for hoteliers but needs better management in my opinion.

  • Anonymous September 23, 2014 4:19 AM

    Agreeing with Eric here - we had a case where a person wrote a one star review because we would not allow 5 guests and a dog into a suite that our policy clearly states fits a maximum of 3 people. We recommended alternative locations and tried to assist. The guest never made a reservation and never stayed with us, and we have a clearly stated occupancy policy online. Tripadvisor response - the customer had a bad experience and is entitled to write a review - you can write a rebuttal. Then they promptly drop you in the rankings from 5th in the county to 22nd as a direct result of the bogus review. Ridiculous.

  • Mareve October 6, 2014 6:29 AM

    I too have had a slanderous review when a customer did not get what he wanted; my most expensive room for the price of my private cabin. The difference in price was $80.00 and I could not see why I should oblige him since the amenities were totally different. One luxurious and the other Eco-Friendly comfort and affordability. Both were accurately described in the advertising. He insisted and I found him another nearby room as quickly as I could while he threatened to write a review on TA, which he did. It was a bunch of lies and TA posted it even after i spoke to the fraud detection experts. All the other review sites took it down, inc booking.com and Yelp. They need to hire more people in the fraud department and re think how to handle these terrible customers intent on ruining reputations of hardworking Innkeepers with integrity who want to run their business according to their own well stated rules and policies.

  • andre ferreira February 1, 2015 3:59 AM

    Had a terrible review from someone who wasnt even in my restaurant,how can the so called experie ced T/A staff not see it,they are becomming enemy no1 to hotels and restaurants!!then they wont allow me to remove my restaurant!!!!

  • Harry Bailey April 13, 2015 11:09 AM

    Most people relaise that TripAdvisor is not a genuine review platform. Those that post a review are not verified and TripAdvisor make it extremely difficult to challenge or remove false reviews. Links within the TripAdvisor site promoting help are often broken and the customer support is non-existent. It's not fit for purpose and everytime they promote themselves on TV their ads are taken down due to complaints.

  • Congo Travel and Tours Reviews May 31, 2015 6:46 AM

    we had a particularly malicious disaster of a client who arrived owing us still $20,000 (amazing right?) and still demanded her group's tour. Then when we insisted and she was acting extortionate and entitled from the start, she literally verbally and then in email threatened to attack us on tripadvisor to extort for cash. We should have sent her home on day 1. We refused, and she posted fake and creative reviews, but such that I doubt other tourists will know better. I went through the proper channels to address this. - Tripadvisor made it worse than impossible, despite their policies, to take the blackmail and fake review off despite copious proof, and actually I am thinking of literally visiting the TripAdvisor offices now. To think I almost took a job with them after college (TA)...There is no such thing as people to talk to at tripadvisor, and they hold your business hostage to fraud and undue damage unless you give them every personal data and credential and get involved in their system. The bizarre thing is that rent-seeking and extortion is supposed to be endemic in Africa and especially in Congo...however in our case tripadvisor was the worse vessel for extortion and corruption we've had thrown at us...and by Europeans :/ Anybody had something that bad happen to them? C

  • Jack August 4, 2015 12:08 AM

    Tripadviser, Cruise critic all the same tools and platforms to blackmail and encourage people to kick and scream like a toddler until they get what they want. I tell my staff to inform me of any difficult guests and I'll speak to them to see what I can do for them, as bullying the server has become a trend. I treat each guest fairly and each concern I address and follow up with. However I dont feel the need to throw in a bottle of wine because there not happy with something. This giving in to demands just fuels the fire. Ofcourse I do comp it warranted. I know i'll get an exaggerated bad review. But hey I dont want there business back and they wont come back if they know there not going to get a free meal from me.

  • Sandra November 14, 2015 7:44 AM

    Tripadvisor is vile! I have been in the service industry for over 20 years and never in all those years have we been subject to such unjust comments with the aid of tripadvisor! How has this been allowed to go on? I have worked relentlessly to build a good,thriving business in the face of bereavement and sorrow. It's been my life. Please help all of us in this industry to be treated fairly.

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