TripAdvisor has been accused of failing to stop a torrent of fake five-star reviews artificially boosting the ratings of some of the world's best-rated hotels and largest brands – including Travelodge.
A Which? Travel investigation saw reviews of the top 10 ranking hotels in 10 of the most popular tourist destinations around the world analysed, with one in seven of the 100 establishments showing blatant hallmarks of fake reviews.
In London some suspicions were raised among the 10 top ranking hotels, but not at the scale seen elsewhere, however Which? also compared the two biggest UK hotel chains Premier Inn and Travelodge.
While Premier Inn did not arouse suspicion, at two Travelodge hotels almost half of the hundreds of five-star reviews – 48 per cent and 40 per cent respectively – came from first-time contributors. In contrast the figure for once-only three-star reviews was much lower.
TripAdvisor acknowledged that the latter hotel – Travelodge Wembley Central – had already been given a red warning badge, the site's most severe warning, to warn travellers that reviews may have been manipulated by the business.
Which? Travel's Naomi Leach, said: "TripAdvisor's failure to stop fake reviews and take strong action against hotels that abuse the system risks misleading millions of travellers and potentially ruining their holidays.
"Sites like TripAdvisor must do more to ensure the information on their platforms is reliable and if they continue to fall short, they should be compelled to make changes so holidaymakers are no longer at risk of being duped by a flood of fake reviews."
TripAdvisor has claimed that the analysis presented by Which? is based on a "flawed understanding of fake review patterns".
It added: "It is far too simplistic to assume all first-time reviewers are suspicious. Every genuine reviewer in the world is at some point a first-time reviewer.
"Accurate fraud detection requires analysis of a wide range of data-points, such as IP information, location data or details about the device an account was using when submitting a review. This crucial data is missing from Which's analysis, and therefore its findings do not and cannot provide a reliable indication of the true volume of review fraud.
"By contrast, we employ sophisticated fraud detection technology that is able to analyse hundreds of data-points based on a knowledge and understanding of review patterns gained from tracking hundreds of millions of reviews over a near twenty-year period."
Travelodge said: "The integrity of customer reviews for our hotels is extremely important to us and we receive more than 70,000 reviews every year. We hold a strong established relationship with TripAdvisor.
"We did experience a breakdown in our internal communication when TripAdvisor identified an irregular pattern of reviews at our Wembley Central Travelodge hotel that needed investigating. Unfortunately on this occasion that matter was not managed effectively within the timeframe, and we have taken appropriate action to ensure this does not happen again.
"Wembley Central Travelodge has undergone a full refurbishment earlier this year and we are satisfied that the hotel reviews accurately reflect the customer experience at the hotel."