An Evesham hotelier has entered a stand-off with the TripAdvisor website after it "red flagged" her business for allegedly posting false reviews, which she claimed had led to a collapse in bookings.
The note, which appears next to the rating for the Riverside Hotel and Restaurant in Evesham, warns that "individuals or entities associated with or having an interest in this property may have interfered with traveller reviews and/or the popularity index for this property".
The hotel's owner, Deborah Sinclair, who claimed that she was not warned by TripAdvisor of its decision to "red flag" the business, denied that she had ever posted a fake positive review on the site.
She claimed that she had first noticed the warning around three weeks ago after a spate of cancellations from customers, and has had to halve her rates in order to bring occupancy levels back up.
Sinclair has since contacted online reputation management company Kwikchex for assistance. Kwikchex said it suspected the most likely cause of the notice was the use by genuine guests of the hotel's Wi-Fi system when placing positive reviews, and claimed one guest who posted a recent positive review has already confirmed that he had done this.
"They have never contacted me and they never told me they put that on my site. I can't get hold of them - you can only do a management response [on the website]. On a point of principle I can't respond to that [the TripAdvisor red flag statement} because it is untrue and I intend to prove that in court," Sinclair told Caterer and Hotelkeeper.
"If you could see the reviews on there [TripAdvisor], I would hardly have written half of those. And I certainly wouldn't have written the other half either," she added.
But in a response, TripAdvisor said it was standing by its actions and that the red note had not been added for the reasons cited by Kwikchex. A spokeswoman said that not only did the company believe that fraudulent positive reviews had been posted about the Riverside hotel and restaurant, but it also believed that negative reviews had been posted on a competitor's property. It also disputed Sinclair's claim that she had never been contacted.
In a statement, the company said: "As a result of our investigation, we have reasonable cause to believe that the owner and/or individuals associated with the owner fraudulently posted positive reviews on the Riverside Hotel and Restaurant and negative reviews on a competitor's property. The red badge was NOT applied as a result of an isolated review posted by a guest from the hotel's lobby. We issued warnings to the owner on 16 March and 23 August and have since received communications from the owner. The identified activity continued despite our warnings and, as the activity is against our policies, we applied the red badge to protect consumers."
By Neil Gerrard
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Published by: The Caterer