dieting

Is Trip Advisor deleting reviews for fear of being sued?

The Loft Sidmouth and a review about that restaurant on Trip Advisor…

There has been much fuss in the past about nasty reviews on Trip Advisor being to blame for hotels and restaurants going out of business with some saying they were subject to fake reviews from competitors. dieting

Undoubtedly some of those businesses might even have threatened to sue Trip Advisor as legally publishing laws can be complicated -is the website responsible for publishing a review that could be fake or defamatory for example?

But something has happened recently to Trip Advisor. I’ve noticed lately the bad reviews have got fewer and the good ones have become more plentiful. There are also some surprising eateries at the top of Trip advisor…

Nevertheless when I was looking for a great restaurant during a recent break to Devon the first place I looked was Trip Advisor and I booked The Loft Sidmouth on their excellent Trip Advisor reviews. After all, this is an establishment that is judged to be number one out of 69 restaurants in the town.

And although The Loft Sidmouth is an extremely small place, the excellent five-star reviews are in abundance – there are hardly any average ones. So we were very keen to see what all the fuss was about confident from the reviews that we would have a lovely evening.

Alas, we did not have a good evening. Suffice to say the food is bland, revolves around far too much bread and is definitely only average at best. That said, we only got our starters (one of which was wrong) because following a bizarre and deeply distressing incident just as the main course was being served (and for which shockingly we have received no apology from The Loft Sidmouth) we were forced to leave.

I wrote a review for Trip Advisor, it went on and Katrina Lort, on behalf of The Loft Sidmouth gave its version of events (Tip: I have learnt the way the management of a business responds tells you more about how good it is – if they never apologise to anyone as shown in this example that another reviewer wrote defensively claiming what went wrong is the customer’s fault, steer clear…!)

Friend or independent reviewer?
Friend or independent reviewer?

I then went on the Facebook page of The Loft Sidmouth to see they had clearly objected to my review (obviously it wasn’t a good one) and it had been removed. Meanwhile, The Loft Sidmouth openly wrote on the site saying my review had been removed. And then they asked someone called Gin Jenks to write a review for them.

So presumably to counter my poor review anyone looking at Trip Advisor for The Loft Sidmouth will be reassured by her five star review instead. Meanwhile, in order to get my review back on, I had to hugely edit it – how many people can be bothered to do that? It appears a way for Trip Advisor to put reviewers with less than favourable reviews off as it put me to a lot of extra writing – and perhaps the difficulty getting them on is why there are generally fewer poor reviews on the site these days.

Indeed a quick google search reveals Trip Advisor seems to be deleting more reviews now (albeit it says they can be resubmitted). Maybe, in the light of Google’s recent introduction of ‘right to be forgotten’ deletion policy, Trip Advisor is running scared of restaurant owners who might threaten them with legal action if they publish a damning review.

As a result Trip Advisor reviews mostly consist of advertising puffs for establishments (when it’s a fact people are more likely to review something a place they were unhappy with than somewhere that was just as expected.) For example, The Loft Sidmouth, a tiny restaurant which has been open since only July 2013 has far more reviews (and more short, excellent ones) than its much larger established competitors who’ve been going for decades (and really are consistently good eateries where you are lucky to get a table.)

Bigger establishments also appear to have more variety of reviews.

I also feel Trip Advisor should link establishments that a proprietor has owned before (or still owns). The Loft Sidmouth used to own another restaurant in Sidmouth (now under new management and nothing to do with The Loft) during which time, according to Trip Advisor one family were asked to leave because he used too many napkins to wipe down an outside seat that was wet. Meanwhile another couple were told by Katrina Lort, who now responds on Trip Advisor to reviewers for The Loft, they were the ‘rudest people we have ever had the misfortune of dealing with.’

I did ask The Loft Sidmouth what they had to say about asking Gin Jenks to review them on Trip Advisor because it appears to violate guidelines that Trip Advisor reviews should be completely ‘unbiased’. Indeed Trip Advisor confirms it has since investigated The Loft over this issue.

The Loft Sidmouth replied to my request for clarification about ‘Gin Jenks’. They said, via their Facebook page, she was not a friend but someone they had not met before, who ate in the restaurant only the night before and she planned to do a review anyway.  They say: “It is within TA rules to ask people to write reviews.”

Katrina Lort admits Trip Advisor has since removed some reviews from The Loft’s pages. She says: “Trip Advisor reviews removed have been by legitimate customers, who have liked the Loft page and then been added as friends, therefore they seem ambiguous. These are Facebook friends, not close personal friends.

“Trip Advisor have confirmed that they have accepted that it was a genuine mistake that I was adding Facebook followers as friends and have advised me not to continue to add people that like our page.  We have never knowingly violated their guidelines.”

However as this conversation (below right) on The Loft’s Twitter page reveals, it’s certainly not the first time The Loft has asked someone to do a review.

The Loft Sidmouth, Trip Advisor
Within Trip Advisor guidelines?

Needless to say the Facebook conversation between Gin Jenks and The Loft Sidmouth has now been removed (albeit you can see it here and decide for yourself from my screenshot.)

A spokesman for Trip Advisor told Sellyourstoryuk.com: “Our content specialists are investigating the property concerned. Our guidelines are absolutely clear that we do not allow reviews to be written by anyone who may be associated with that property, including friends and family, and we have systems and tools in place to catch this activity.

“Attempts by owners to offer incentives such as discounts, upgrades, or any special treatment in exchange for positive reviews would represent a breach of our guidelines.”

Have you had an experience with a Trip Advisor review? I am currently researching this for a national publication. If you would like to contribute, contact me in confidence here.

 

Alison Smith-Squire

Alison Smith-Squire is a writer, journalist and media agent selling exclusive real life stories to newspapers, magazines and TV. She owns the sell my story website Featureworld.co.uk, which was set up to help ordinary people sell their stories to the press.

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