Ciaran Fahy, the managing director of the award-winning four-star Cavendish hotel in Jermyn Street, London, has described TripAdvisor as "sinister" after it accused the property of allegedly submitting positive reviews about the business with the intent to improve its rating on the internet site.
The case has come to light just a week after Caterer and Hotelkeeper reported the case of an Evesham hotelier who had lost a spate of bookings after TripAdvisor "red badged" her business for allegedly posting false reviews.
While the 230-bedroom Cavendish has not received a red badge on the TripAdvisor website, as was the case with the Evesham hotel, it has been abruptly dropped 10 positions to number 42 in the popularity index of London hotels, which it believes could be a form of penalty imposed by TripAdvisor and may impact bookings.
The hotel was informed on 5 October by the TripAdvisor Support Team that it was being actively monitored for suspicious activity on its website and could take one or more of several actions. These include dropping the Cavendish - the only hotel listed in the Sunday Times Top 100 Best Small Companies to Work For list - by several pages in its popularity index, posting a red penalty notice explaining the reviews are suspicious, and excluding the hotel from TripAdvisor's Travelers Choice awards and Top 10 lists.
Fahy denied strenuously that he or any of his staff would have the time - when running a £15m turnover business - or the inclination to submit reviews about the hotel and explained that the hotel has three computers in the lobby, with free internet access for guests, which share the property's IP address. "We assume that a guest or guests have written reviews on these PCs," he said.
"We operate our business to the highest level of integrity. A red badge would not only cause massive damage to the Cavendish hotel, it is a slur on my personal reputation as the implication is that it would be me or one of my management team that were submitting reviews.
"We have embraced social media at the Cavendish and have invested over £3,000 a year to be a business partner of TripAdvisor. It is very sinister when a US corporation can make an accusation against a hotel based on a trigger in their computer system."
"It is against all the natural laws of justice that a corporation like TripAdvisor can set itself up as judge, jury and executioner. UK hoteliers have enough to contend with maintaining their market share in these difficult times and engaging their hard-working teams. Having to divert resources to fight unfounded allegations is extremely damaging and is not acceptable."
A spokesperson for TripAdvisor said that as a result of its investigation, it had reasonable cause to believe that an individual associated with the Cavendish hotel had fraudulently posted a positive review on the property.
"We have notified the management of the property and have confirmation that our message was received," she said. "If activity continues after our warnings, we will consider adding a red badge to protect consumers.
"TripAdvisor uses constantly evolving and highly sophisticated filters to scan reviews for biased material, monitoring a wide range of attributes associated with electronic correspondence. Suspicious activity is flagged for further inspection by our team of dedicated agents who then use a variety of additional confidential investigative methods designed to identify potential fraud."
A spokesman for the British Hospitality Association, where Fahy is a member of the national executive, said it was very concerned and would be contacting TripAdvisor to discuss the situation.
By Janet Harmer
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