A blistering report in TimesOnline paints a dismal picture of customer-authored-review sites. Fake reviews by people who have never stayed at the reviewed properties and fabricated, gush reports about the “charming hospitality and service” (written by hotel management) are just the tip of the iceberg. Companies are using review sites to get back at competition, promote their own cause and jack up ratings. Even top-ranked travel sites have fallen prey to the tricks of user-generated-content! The report goes on to list another breed of websites that authenticates reviews, contacts reviewers, assigns ratings and generally take the whole business of guest-authored-travelogues seriously.
In reality, this was bound to happen once the doors of website content were opened to the user. People have made a career of blogging on travel, cooking, technology, jobs and everything else. User content has brought honesty, engagement and involvement to the Internet and ordinary folks have rediscovered themselves as Marco Polos and Ski Moms. While the report makes a good point about keeping the review system unbiased and free of unverified comments, the true power of reviews lies in a negative pen. As a country, we love to crib, carp and complain about everything, given an opportunity. This itself should make a reader suspicious of reviews bursting with superlatives! Second, the more negative the review, the more the halo of “credibility” surrounding it. People are more interested in knowing why they should avoid a particular property and not why they should visit one! In such circumstances, a fake “guest” posting insulting notes on the hotels’ “rude, uncivil” staff and “third-world-country-like treatment” (real reviews) is capable of doing more damage than a hotel owner lamely battling a poor rating with his “wonderful world” travelogue. Perhaps, travel sites could come up with an algorithm that flags “fake reviews” by noting the careful turn of phrase, whether negative or positive. Online lie detectors, anyone?