Looking for truth in online reviews
 
Looking for truth in online reviews
14 SEPTEMBER 2018 6:00 AM

Fake online reviews, good or bad, are a disservice to guests who are looking to spend their money wisely.

A man in Italy is going to jail for writing fake hotel reviews on TripAdvisor. Before anyone rejoices over the thought of someone facing serious consequences for writing fake online hotel reviews, it’s important to know he was actually paid to do this by hoteliers.

The Guardian reports a court in Lecce ruled that writing fake reviews under a false identity was a crime under Italian law. The court convicted him of selling fake hotel reviews to “hundreds of hospitality businesses across Italy in order to raise their profile on the website,” according to the article.

A few thoughts come to mind. I’m a bit wary of jailing someone for something like this. You can definitely argue this amounts to some level of fraud, but I have a hard time believing the best course of justice in such a situation is to criminally charge and jail the accused. While it would be hard to figure out a way to repay people who were tricked by his reviews, jailing seems incredibly harsh.

Another thought: I’ve heard about plenty of hoteliers and restaurateurs who complain about people writing fake negative reviews about their properties and services. Such fake reviews are written out of spite, some misplaced sense of revenge or simply being a jerk. Regardless of the reason, it can hurt business by turning away future guests.

I would certainly hope then that any hotelier who has ever dealt with or even feared a fake negative review would never even think about paying someone to write fake positive reviews.

It’s tough out there for consumers who are looking to spend their money wisely, whether it’s for products, services or experiences. Any company or person who wants to sell something can’t be 100% trusted to give a fully honest review; after all, as honest and trustworthy as they might be, they’re still trying to make the sale. Critics offer a more objective perspective, but it’s their own perspective, and that might not mesh well with the life experiences or situations the average consumer might have. Bloggers/social influencers will often write about their experiences with products, restaurants, hotels or cruises, but it can be tough, depending on the reader, to determine whether the review is positive because it really was that good or because it was sponsored in some way by the company behind it.

So we rely on each other, other buyers, users, travelers—you get the picture—to give us a more honest, grounded review. If I’m looking to buy a new washer and dryer, I want to know what other people who have actually used the set have experienced. Is it worth the investment? How long did they have it before something broke? How often did they use it? Was it a lemon right off the delivery truck?

It used to be that you could generally trust online reviews when making your decision whether to buy one thing over another, or even to buy something at all. But, people had to go and ruin it because of—what else—money.

Every now and then you read stories in the news about companies buying reviews or writing their own reviews on places like Amazon and other major online retailers. It places a seed of doubt in your mind whether you can trust any of the positive reviews, which in turn lessens the trust in the product and company behind it.

As you go about your online reputation management, should you feel any temptation toward paying for good reviews, remember that when the truth comes out, fake reviews—good or bad—can hurt your reputation among guests.

Have you run into fake reviews in your career in the hotel industry? How prevalent are fake good reviews in your experience? Let me know in the comments below, or reach out to me at bwroten@hotelnewsnow.com or @HNN_Bryan.

The opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Hotel News Now or its parent company, STR and its affiliated companies. Bloggers published on this site are given the freedom to express views that may be controversial, but our goal is to provoke thought and constructive discussion within our reader community. Please feel free to comment or contact an editor with any questions or concerns.

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