From the Province on-line news feed, October 27th, 2014.
Buying silence or making things right? Hotel gives refund, traveller deletes negative review
Did the hotel buy the reviewer's silence? Or are businesses entitled to ask customers to rescind reviews if amends are made?
The review was written for TripAdvisor by Howard Olarsch, a Florida retiree who loves to travel. Olarsch, in a phone interview, said he'd complained to the hotel while he was there about mould in his room, ants and other issues, but "they couldn't have cared less." Olarsch went to TripAdvisor "to vent. ... My intent was to make other people aware what a dump that was."
After the review was posted, the hotel contacted him. "For a tidy sum of money, I was bought off and had to remove the review," Olarsch said.
Olarsch wrote to The Ethicist, a New York Times Sunday Magazine column, "to justify what I had done, to see who was the most unethical" — him or the hotel, he said.
Chuck Klosterman, who writes The Ethicist, replied in his Oct. 12 column that the unidentified hotel owner was "the least ethical actor." But he called Olarsch "a close second," adding that Olarsch's "decision to remove a review upon the acceptance of a bribe was lame." Klosterman noted that TripAdvisor's policies explicitly state that "owners may not ask reviewers to remove a review."
TripAdvisor spokesman Kevin Carter said businesses are instead encouraged to reply to reviewers publicly on the site. It's not unusual to see a negative review followed by an apology from a business detailing what's been done to make amends.
Travel guru Arthur Frommer, reached by phone, said the refund incident "is a clear ethical violation and yet it is endemic to these user-generated websites." He said online reviews are "massively manipulated by the very hotels and restaurants that are the subject of those sites. Everyone in the industry knows hotels are counselled by PR firms to generate favourable comments about themselves or critical comments about competitors."
Christopher Elliott, a travel consumer advocate, said "hotels that engage in this kind of reputation management are trying to buy their guest's silence. If a property was really concerned about good customer service, it would offer a discount before the review appeared."
Despite a general awareness among travellers about the unreliability of online reviews of all types, TripAdvisor remains a go-to site, with more than 170 million reviews and opinions, and 100 new posts every minute.
Some businesses see nothing wrong with asking consumers to remove negative reviews if complaints are resolved.
"If the refund makes it right for them and the end result was positive, then by all means they should remove or update the negative review as it's no longer an accurate depiction of their complete experience," said Chris Campbell, CEO of ReviewTrackers, a program to help businesses manage online reviews.
Kendra Stephen, a business and Internet attorney based in Florida, said that "if this hotel was my client, I would have advised them to offer the rebate and leave a response under the negative review apologizing for the problem and include the solution that was provided to the customer. This type of response would help the hotel because future customers can see that they care about their customer's concerns and they offer some form of compensation."
Then there's the other side of it: "There's also a special place in hell reserved for guests who intentionally post negative reviews for the purpose of getting a discount. That kind of extortion-by-TripAdvisor is what gives all customers a bad name," said Elliott.
I do reviews for TripAdvisor for a couple of reasons. One, is that I enjoy it...I whip out a camera an do some food porn shots, attach three or four to my review and hey presto. Two, I like to think that I am being creatively helpful. My writing style is not something that any editor would tolerate, but TripAdvisor? unless I use a cuss word, they post it. And three..when I am away for any extended time, it is easy to get bored and this, helps.
I have never been asked to change a review nor have I been interfered with in any way, other than editing out a cuss word here and there. I have been contacted by a reviewed property. Four times. Two hotels and two restaurants. The hotel contacts were asking for more info and we had follow-up E mails, assuring me that things had been looked after and inviting me to return. One food place that was unhappy with my comment about lunch pricing and the other liked what I had suggested about something. So...all good contacts and no request to change anything and my reviews stayed, just as I had sent them.
People use the on-line reviews for their everyday comsumption. Zagat, http://www.zagat.com/
Yelp, http://www.yelp.ca/ http://www.yelp.com/
On the last trip the guy doing the route planning used on-line reviews for all food and campground stops. I seldom do, actually. I like the adventure!
Anyway...consider adding your reviews...it's neat to see your words and photos used.
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