NB: This is a guest article by Chris Emmins, chief executive of Kwikchex
When KwikChex first started publicly challengingTripAdvisor, many were concerned it was an attempt to suppress freedom of speech.
Some had the impression that it was being driven by sub-standard businesses which simply couldn't take criticism. On both accounts, nothing could have been further from the truth.
We are now about to release a report titled "What's Wrong With TripAdvisor?" which will demonstrate the issues we encountered and explain what KwikChex has been doing, the reasons and likely results.
In the interim, with a ruling due on the first of the ASA complaints and a second investigation underway, we have been asked to explain what lay behind these actions.
The businesses that have been contacting KwikChex have high standards. They almost universally even had high ratings on TripAdvisor – but in almost all cases, they were being genuinely and often substantially damaged by false claims and gross distortions.
They had tried contacting TripAdvisor, but had been either fobbed off with a standard template email -or completely ignored.
Many had also tried to use the management response resource to counter the effects of the comments made. For several reasons – which are detailed in our forthcoming report, this didn’t work. So they turned to KwikChex.
We examined every case. We compiled evidence regarding the specific allegations and on the overall standards of the business. We submitted the details, often along with absolute proof or compelling evidence to TripAdvisor via their own recommended (and obligatory) systems.
The number of resolutions achieved was negligible. So we began a global strategy instead that involved media coverage and assistance from some exceptional legal and investigative experts.
We addressed not just the individual cases, but also the workings and methods of the business.
The complaints made by KwikChex to the UK Advertising Standards Authority and to the Federal Trade Commission in the US centre on two aspects.
The first of these involves what we feel are misleading statements – principally, the claims by TripAdvisor to the reliability and trustworthiness of comments made on their website – and the impression that they create that virtually all the reviews can be trusted. Amongst the specific claims and statements challenged were:
TripAdvisor offers "trusted advice from real travellers", and "more than 50 million honest travel reviews and opinions from real travellers around the world".
Review pages on the website featured the TripAdvisor logo next to the claim "Reviews you can trust" above a chart that gave details of the rating summary and percentage recommendation of the relevant location.
Our own investigations and numerous other resources indicated that the impression being given was false – that a very substantial number of ‘reviews’ on their site were fraudulent – and that at the very least, with not even verification that the author was a genuine customer of the business they were commenting on, such claims of trustworthiness were misleading.
TripAdvisor’s statements suggested that complaints about fraudulent and malicious use of their website should be ignored.
We felt that this was an opportunity for independent authorities to examine and provide a judgement on their claims of reliability, trustworthiness and what they have often referred to as "authentication".
The second complaint concerns the use of TripAdvisor reviews by businesses for promotional purposes.
ASA rules quite clearly state that businesses using testimonials in their marketing should be able to substantiate them by providing details of the authors. This is to avoid deceiving consumers with false reviews.
Since TripAdvisor reviews are not verified – and there has already been substantial proof of review fraud, it would appear that any business using such material is in breach of the rules.
The ASA examined our complaint and concluded there were grounds for a formal investigation.
NB: This is a guest post by Chris Emmins, chief executive of Kwikchex
NB2:Image via Shutterstock.