Is TripAdvisor suppressing some 'inconvenient truths'?

SSTH Editorial Team | 30 Nov, 2017

Since its beginning in 2000, TripAdvisor has grown to be one of the world's biggest online travel platforms.

It began as a guest commentary website and then morphed into metasearch and has tried its hand (rather unsuccessfully) at offering 'instant booking' for hotels.

However, customer reviews which has remained its core activity, has been the subject of controversy from time to time.

For instance, it has been found on occasion that some hotels wrote fake negative reviews to denigrate their competitors in certain markets.

TripAdvisor reportedly deleted reports on real danger

Serious allegations

Now potentially more damaging charges have been levelled against the internet behemoth.

The site stands accused of removing commentaries alerting travellers to real dangers and hazards at various hotels and resorts.

A 1 November report from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel revealed that TripAdvisor had deleted reports of rapes, blackouts, injuries and deaths concerning travellers vacationing in Mexico and elsewhere.

Since that time, dozens of travellers have informed the Journal Sentinel that TripAdvisor suppressed their reports of unsettling, sometimes horrific experiences.

And now the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has begun an investigation of TripAdvisor's business practices.

In addition, the president of the International Hotel & Restaurant Association in Geneva, has stated that his organisation is considering establishing its own system of 'punishment' for hotels and other establishments where serious injuries and deaths occur.

TripAdvisor removed reviews warning travellers about real dangers

In one case, for example, according to the Journal Sentinel, TripAdvisor repeatedly deleted a post from a Dallas woman who warned of dangers at a resort in Mexico in 2010 where she had been raped by a man in a security guard uniform.

A TripAdvisor spokesman stated that the post was rejected because it violated the company's "family friendly" guidelines.

In early November, a Texas attorney said that he had received about 30 calls in the prior couple of weeks from people who had their negative posts deleted by TripAdvisor.

Danger at the Grand Oasis in Cancun?

If any resort merits a warning label, it's the Grand Oasis in Cancun, according to Maureen Webster and Karen Smith.

The two women have been trying for years to warn prospective guests about staying there. Tragically, both of their adult sons drowned at the resort's pool under suspicious circumstances, six years apart. A young woman drowned there in 2012, as well and, according to Mexican news reports, an employee of the hotel was murdered there while on the job.

According to the Journal Sentinel, the victims went unconscious after drinking small amounts of alcohol. Webster and Smith were blocked from reporting their sons' deaths on TripAdvisor because they weren't traveling with them.

Indeed, TripAdvisor claimed that their comments were hearsay. "It's not hearsay that my son died at this resort," exclaims Smith, who adds that, "It's not hearsay that the resort refused our phone calls and emails and would not help us get any information, whatsoever."

TripAdvisor suppressed travellers' reports of unsettling, sometimes horrific experiences

Encouragement, followed by let-down

Smith was encouraged in early November when she tried again to post on TripAdvisor, following news about the company's stated commitment to ensuring information about safety is easily shared.

"Stay away," she wrote. "My son tragically died while vacationing here. He drowned in waist-high water in the late afternoon after consuming a few drinks at the swim-up bar. ... No one from the resort would speak with us ..."

She got an email from TripAdvisor the next day saying that, "Your review of Grand Oasis Cancun has been published!" Success, at last, she thought. However, four days later, the post was deleted.

TripAdvisor claims to have changed

On 3 November, TripAdvisor's CEO, Steve Kaufer, stated that, "Over time TripAdvisor has updated this policy to allow more descriptive reviews on the site about first-hand accounts of serious incidents like rape or assault.

When we were made aware that this user's post had been removed, we republished it in line with our current policy ..." However, Kaufer's statement appears to contradict the experience of a travel writer from Russia who tried to post a review describing how she was raped at knifepoint by a housekeeper at the luxury Six Senses Zil Pasyon in the Seychelles, in 2017.

She tried in June and again in July to warn other travellers using TripAdvisor.

Despite the criminal charges of sexual assault filed against the man, her attempts at posting her experience on TripAdvisor failed.

"I was looking for TripAdvisor people in Russia to give them my documentation," stated the woman, who asked that her name not be published because her son and parents don't know what happened. "There was nobody to connect with and ask why they didn't publish it. I write letters to general mail. I got nothing back."

Travellers had their negative posts deleted by TripAdvisor

Meanwhile, the Journal Sentinel has confirmed her report through legal documents and interviewsThe man's trial is scheduled for December.

A spokesman for Bangkok-based Six Senses said in an email the resort is cooperating with the investigation, stating that, "We are eager to hear the ruling in this case and look forward to setting the record straight as there are great discrepancies in the claimant's account."

A TripAdvisor spokesman stated that the company did not initially publish the woman's review because she didn't respond to a verification email and then tried to post from a different email address.

However, TripAdvisor did publish the woman's review on 1 November - the day the Journal Sentinel published its investigation.


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