Consumer reviews website TripAdvisor has pledged changes to the way it handles information regarding the opening hours of businesses featured on its site, after restaurateurs highlighted a series of inaccuracies that then proved hard to correct.
Janice Gosson, who has co-owned Mallams restaurant in Weymouth, Dorset since 1990, contacted Caterer and Hotelkeeper to highlight some of the problems her business had been having with the site, which came to light after she nearly lost a dinner booking for five people.
It transpired that the opening hours of her business were inaccurately displayed on TripAdvisor. The most serious error was a claim on the site that the restaurant was closed on a Monday, which in actual fact it has opened on Mondays throughout the 23 years Gosson has been running it.
Unfortunately for Gosson, information on opening hours cannot currently be amended using the management tool on TripAdvisor, and she said she has experienced difficulty persuading the site to change it to alter it. At one point, Gosson who admitted being frustrated but not rude or abusive, claimed a representative who appeared to work in the US put the phone down on her.
"I thought this is crazy. This is a massive company that allows people to get online and vent their spleen about our businesses but when you contact them about their business they put the phone down on you," Gosson said.
"We have always opened Monday to Saturday, for 23 years. Now I am wondering how many people have looked at TripAdvisor and assumed we are no longer open on Mondays, because I don't know how long it has been like that."
Mallams was not the only business to experience such problems. Will Holland, chef patron at La Bécasse in Ludlow, Shropshire, told Caterer and Hotelkeeper that TripAdvisor had incorrectly listed his restaurant as being open on a Monday when it is actually closed, with incorrect opening hours for the rest of the week, and incorrect pricing information. He described the process of getting the information changed as a "bloody nightmare".
And Wesley Yates, who runs his own chef consultancy business Xtra Virgin said that while working as a chef in an Australian restaurant he had had customers turning up expecting to be able to stay the night because TripAdvisor listed the business as a hotel. In actual fact, it offered no accommodation but was attached to a hotel business.
"They need some sort of verification setting on the website that explains that as of this date, details were correct. It could be something as silly as a verification box like on Twitter," he said. "Sometimes it seems it would better to add an ‘s' to the end of the name of your business and start with a clean slate," he added.
Chris Emmins, from online reputation management company Kwikchex, which has also helped Mallams to highlight the problems it has suffered, said: "The issue here is not whether errors occur because of glitches in systems - we all know that can happen. The real issue is that it is an important matter which can easily lead to loss of income and the owner has reported it to TripAdvisor and they have failed to resolve it. If they are taking in third party data which may be inaccurate and potentially damaging to a business, they must have a system of correcting errors quickly when notified. If this is not the case, then they could and should be held liable for any losses incurred. Like the old saying goes - with great power comes great responsibility."
A TripAdvisor spokesperson said that the company was aware of the problems and was working to fix them. "Presently, TripAdvisor receives restaurant opening hours information from third party sources, such as toptable," she said.
"We are aware of hospitality business owners' concerns about the accuracy of opening hours for their business on TripAdvisor and are actively working on updating the current system to address this concern. We are continually working to improve and enhance resources for owners on the site to ensure the best possible user experience for both travellers and owners. In the meantime, we urge business owners to contact us via the Management Centre (www.tripadvisor.co.uk/owners) with any concerns."
However toptable denied it supplied opening hours information to TripAdvisor. It said in a statement: "We do not provide opening times to TripAdvisor. We provide various restaurant information to partners, however opening times are not part of the data feed we currently supply. Opening times on toptable are managed by the restaurants themselves so they can be updated at any time."
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