Can we really trust Tripadvisor reviews?

Fake Reviews: Systematic Fraud Uncovered on TripAdvisor

Reviews are one of the blessings of the internet. They should bring real added value for the future buyer: better purchase decisions, fewer bad purchases and higher service quality. Because reviews force companies to invest in service quality.

Reviews take place on review portals. They have the function of referee and promise neutrality and objectivity.

Unfortunately, there are increasing indications that reviews are being tricked on some portals. Two years ago, Jameda, the review portal for doctors, was in the talk. Now we have a case from Switzerland in which TripAdvisor was cheated in a downright manner.

What exactly happened, how can we evaluate this and what does that mean for companies, portals and customers?

The TripAdvisor case - the organized fraud with reviews

As the Swiss radio and television reported in their program Kassensturz, a Swiss catering group systematically tricked with reviews on TripAdvisor.

What happened and what is unique about it?

Said Swiss hotel and catering group operates 30 outlets in Switzerland and has systematically anchored the Tripadvisor fraud in its process organization.

  • The management instructed each individual farm manager to counteract at least 2 positive reviews in the event of bad reviews.
  • These instructions were given in writing with precise procedural descriptions of the evaluation headlines, texts and the type of post.
  • The evaluations should take place from different end devices so that certain IP addresses do not appear too prominent.
  • The managers are required to motivate at least 10 friends to give positive ratings. These 10 people had to be entered in an organization form.

This case can be interpreted as if dizziness in evaluations is anchored in the company's QM system. TripAdvisor itself knew about the fake reviews, according to an anonymous source. However, the portal only reacted when the case became known via the Kassensturz broadcast. TripAdvisor denies this, however, and stresses that action was taken before the program aired.

How is this case to be assessed?

This case is extreme because the fraud was anchored in the organization and made part of the company's instruction system.

It is interesting because it shows detailed insights into a system of trickery and cheating.

Due to the delayed reaction of TripAdvisor, this case also undermines trust in review portals as a whole.

How did the gastro group respond to the unveiling?

The tricking company saw nothing reprehensible in the Tripadvisor hoax. Original sound from the management:

Every restaurateur who doesn't do that is your own fault. And that's what most of them do, I claim. This is part of daily business today.

The fact is that users mostly trust the rating portals. Negative reviews can turn into face value.

In an insider interview with Swiss television packs a marketing entrepreneurwho made valuation hoaxes into his business model:

At that time, the difference between 4.3 and 4.4 stars could mean more or less sales of 100,000 euros per month for a company.

If there is such a dependency on a single rating portal, then the incentive to trick is very high. Advice to use bad reviews as a marketing tool is of little help.

Where is the problem?

The anonymized profiles on most review portals open the door to fake reviews.

For reasons of usability, portals cannot require verified profiles. If a TripAdvisor were to ask its users for an identity card, the portal would only have a fraction of its users,

The incentive system promotes the fraudulent mentality:

  • Rankings in the search portals depend on the rating quality.
  • Quality badgets that companies receive with a certain number of points also have a trustworthy effect.

What should review portals do?

TripAdvisor did itself a disservice by delaying its response to the scam. Confidence-building measures are now needed.

These things increase the credibility of review portals:

  • The evaluation portal must not become dependent on the companies that are evaluated on the portal.
  • Evaluators should be able to verify their identity.
  • The grades of verified profiles should have more weight than those of unverified profiles.
  • The ranking should not depend on the number of positive reviews or the average grade, but on whether reviews are helpful.
  • The quality of a company's response to criticism should also be included in the ranking.
  • The response to a criticism should appear just as prominently on the portals' websites as the criticism or the rating itself.
  • Reviews from inactive reviewers should be given less weight than those from busy and engaged reviewers.
  • The portals should make it clear to the user that the quality of a company does not only depend on the reviews themselves, but also on the reaction to criticism.

Update: TripAdvisor has commented on the case

A Company spokeswoman presents the course of events differently than Kassensturz initially reported, and sent us the following statement:

“We followed up on reports from our community about possible cases of fraud in hotels and restaurants belonging to the Gamag / Remimag group. Our content team then started an in-depth investigation and confirmed that reviews of several companies in this chain violated our guidelines. For this reason, we have taken measures to protect the integrity of our site. This includes removing a number of reviews. We can also confirm that a written warning has been sent to the Gamag / Remimag group as well as to the managers of the companies concerned and in some cases we have taken sanctions.

At TripAdvisor, we take action against possible fraud and are firmly against any attempts to publish fraudulent or falsified reviews. Every review submitted to TripAdvisor goes through our automated review system, which tracks the how, what, where and when of each review. In addition, our Content Integrity specialists work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to review reviews that are flagged as suspicious by our system or our community. As one of the world's most visited travel websites, we have a special obligation to ensure that the content on TripAdvisor is a trustworthy and useful source of information for anyone planning a trip to any place in the world. We are continuously working on further developing and optimizing our systems in order to be one step ahead of fraudsters. We would also like to point out that fraudulent reviews are not only a violation of our terms of use, but also violate applicable law in many countries. "

What should companies do?

What should a company do if a drop in the average rating by a tenth of a point already means a six-figure loss in sales? Here are a few suggestions

  • Reduce reliance on a single portal.
  • React quickly and professionally.
  • Striving for service quality: Constantly optimizing services and processes.
  • Satisfied customers motivate them to write reviews.
  • In the event of negative reviews or poor grade point average, build your own landing page and openly comment on the situation.

What should the user do?

Obviously, no review portal is safe from trickery. Therefore, users should not blindly trust a single portal. What else can the user do besides activating their common sense? Let's take a planned 5,000 euro vacation in a top wellness hotel as an example.

  • Just give a company a call. High quality service companies tend to have a good phone culture.
  • Send the company an email. The manner in which it is answered shows the spirit that reigns in this house.
  • Use and compare other rating portals.
  • In the event of negative criticism, study the company's statement in particular.
  • Reach out to reviewers, both evangelists and critics.


The TripAdvisor case is embarrassing in that TripAdvisor only took action against the trickster when the matter was raised on Swiss television. However, the portal emphasizes that the relevant steps have already been taken.

The review portals are nevertheless required to create confidence-building measures. You can see here, for example, how internet giants do it. Companies should invest in service quality and not depend on individual portals.

In this respect, it is a good thing that the case became public. Because this sensitizes the user to take a closer look at reviews.

What is your opinion on this case? How do you personally deal with review portals? What does your company recommend that are rated on such portals?

Source: SRF - Swiss radio and television

Andreas J. Wieland is a business graduate and was managing director of a jeweler for 20 years. When he set up an online watch shop, he became infected with the online marketing bacillus. As a freelance consultant, he advises jewelers and service providers and supports the editorial team with articles on online marketing topics.