A hotelier has criticised TripAdvisor for failing to keep pace with changes he made to his hotel and restaurant business, claiming that the online reviews website ended up confusing his customers.
Paul Milsom, who owns what is now the Pier restaurant, bar and hotel in Harwich, Essex, relaunched the business in May 2016 after a five-month refurbishment.
The extensive works saw the two restaurants that existed on the site - the Ha'penny Bistro and the Harbourside restaurant - replaced with a single first floor restaurant.
Milsom wrote to TripAdvisor during the five-month closure to explain the changes and hoped that TripAdvisor would alter its website immediately. However, the TripAdvisor pages for the Ha'penny Bistro and Harbourside were not changed and were still live when the Pier relaunched, resulting in confusion among customers as they continued to place reviews on those pages for the revamped restaurant.
Eventually, Milsom threatened TripAdvisor with legal action in November 2016, prompting the reviews website to mark both restaurants as ‘closed' in early January 2017. Unfortunately, the confusion meant that the Pier garnered no reviews and sank to 30th out of 33 restaurants in Harwich. It is now up to 12th.
Milsom claims that once customers learned of the confusion, they started posting positive reviews of their own accord to help boost it back up the rankings but he then received a warning from TripAdvisor late last month, warning him that it was "concerned about the integrity of recent reviews".
He said the experience had left him frustrated and feeling that TripAdvisor was not concerned with the problems of business owners. "Their business is reporting on the hospitality sector but if the hospitality sector carried on like they are, not listening to its customers, there wouldn't be a hospitality sector. We can't carry on like that," he told thecaterer.com.
In response, a TripAdvisor spokesman said: "Firstly, we are sorry to hear of Mr Milsom's frustration at the process involved in marking his businesses as closed on the site. Whenever we receive a report that a business has closed, we take steps to verify that information before making any necessary changes to the site. We have to do this because, unfortunately, a small minority of businesses have attempted to supply us with false information in the past in order to get legitimate reviews removed from their listing page. As a result, we have to take steps to verify the change in status of any listing when it is reported to us, whether by an owner or a member of our community. Once we were able to verify that the two restaurants in question were closed, we made the necessary changes on the site to reflect that.
"Secondly, we can confirm that a warning letter was sent to The Pier restaurant after suspicious review activity was identified by our investigators, which resulted in a number of reviews being removed. We had grounds to investigate the reviews in question and determined that they were in breach of our guidelines on review bias. As a result, we took action to protect the integrity of our site. To be clear, our investigation was not triggered by the activity Mr Milsom described."
Milsom said: "I don't know anything about the actual reviews they are talking about because in normal TripAdvisor fashion they just simply don't communicate. At no point in my email exchange have they given any details or mentioned the fact that they have taken reviews down. As far as I know we have not breached their guidelines. They are one of the most frustrating organisations I have had to deal with and certainly one of the most unhelpful. This is rather ironic as they are meant to be all about transparency and helping the consumer."
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