TripAdvisor has punished an Irish hotel for apparently asking staff to write favourable reviews about the property on the user review website.
The Clare Inn Hotel & Suites from Dromoland, Republic of Ireland, was issued with what is known as a Red Badge - a large red box placed again the hotel's page on TripAdvisor to warn users about the validity of the reviews as they may have been written by the hotel itself.
The warning says:
"TripAdvisor has reasonable cause to believe that individuals or entities associated with or having an interest in this property may have interfered with traveller reviews and/or the popularity index for this property. We make our best efforts to identify suspicious content and are always working to improve the processes we use to assess traveller reviews."
The Clare Inn is part of the Lynch Hotel Group, owner of seven properties in the Republic.
The issue came to light when Irish broadcaster RTE was handed an email from a hotel executive to a number of colleagues asking them write positive reviews about the property.
According to the Belfast Telegraph, the email read:
"We have come up with a plan for everyone on this email only to post a review about their stay at the Clare Inn. You must do this from your HOME PC or internet cafe, do not use a Lynch PC or the IP address will be picked up. I'd rather you didn't discuss this with your team. This is not something we would normally endorse but the reviews of the Clare Inn at the moment leave us with no choice. Please do not use hotel language or else our plan will backfire."
Claire Inn has yet to return requests for comment on the saga.
A TripAdvisor official says the Red Badge punishment has only been issued to a "tiny fraction" of the 450,000 hotels listed on pAdvisor - in other words, a rare occurrence.
The suspect reviews were removed from the hotel's page this week.
"In addition to being a violation of our terms of service and an unethical practice, review fraud is also a violation of the law in many countries including the United Kingdom and Ireland, pursuant to the 2009 EU Unfair Commercial Practices Directive."
The sentence does not end there. TripAdvisor says it employs "several other methods" to penalise those that "attempt to game the system", including dropping the property down the site's popularity index and banished from its Choice awards, press releases and top ten lists.
The Red Badge disaster for the Clare Inn comes against the backdrop of growing disquiet amongst some in the hotel sector over the TripAdvisor system.
A class action against the site is still being threatened by reputation management service Kwikchex - covering alleged defamatory reviews by users on hotel, vacation rental and destination pages.
A debate is also currently raging as to the best methods for responding to reviews on TripAdvisor.