How To Spot Fake TripAdvisor Reviews

by Shelli Stein

Do you read TripAdvisor reviews? Maybe a more important question is do you trust the reviews you read or do you feel there are fake reviews on TripAdvisor? We’d all like to believe the reviews left online are for real and genuinely written by people looking to help other travelers. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. There are ways to protect yourself from getting scammed. Knowing how to watch out for untrustworthy reviews is, sadly, part of the travel landscape and has been for some time now.

I became particularly intrigued by this topic because of an interesting article I read about TripAdvisor reviews. Let me share some of the big takeaways and then you can go more deeply into the issues with TripAdvisor reviews here.

What is TripAdvisor?

As a reminder, TripAdvisor is an online travel agency that provides comparison shopping, Android and Apple apps, and user-generated content. The company operates in 40 countries, using 20 languages. The site reviews cover 8 million businesses globally.

Other familiar TripAdvisor brands include Cruise Critic, FlipKey, TheFork, Holiday Lettings, Housetrip, Jetsetter, SeatGuru, and Viator.

How Does TripAdvisor Handle Fake Reviews?

TripAdvisor says that just 4% of its 30M reviews were either fake or, in other ways, fraudulent in 2022.

Fake reviews are written to improve the ranking of a business or to hurt it. That seems clear.

But are these accurate numbers that TripAdvisor reports?

The article thinks it’s a gross understatement of the actual percentage because TripAdvisor does issue a “Review Transparency Report” and the numbers simply don’t match up.

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Buying Fake TripAdvisor Reviews Is An Industry Unto Itself

Maybe I’m naive, but that there’s a whole industry of fake reviews just never occurred to me. According to the article, TripAdvisor said that just 24,500 fake reviews were associated with companies last year. How could that number be accurate if it’s such a big industry?

The article lists ten of the many companies that offer fake TripAdvisor reviews for sale. I hope you’re not looking to buy fake reviews, but just looking at this list does show that indeed it is an industry unto itself.

TripAdvisor says it penalized rankings of 33k businesses for employing fake reviews. Read here to learn more specifically what TripAdvisor says about their system for catching fraudulent content.

How To Spot Fake TripAdvisor Reviews

The big question, of course, is can you spot fake reviews?

It’s not always easy, right? There are some tips travelers can use to determine whether or not what they are reading is genuine.

Though it is commonly believed that more fake posts are positive rather than negative, do not underestimate the number of negative reviews, especially in competitive businesses. After all, competitors can hire these companies to post negative reviews in hopes of driving business to themselves.

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Check out the reliability of TripAdvisor reviews for yourself.

There actually is a site you can view that evaluates TripAdvisor reviews and reports on their reliability. It’s called Fakespot. Make sure you check on Fakespot to see for yourself if you think what they have to say aligns with your own experience.

Know a hotel well or some other businesses you use that could act as a test case? Match this against what Fakespot has to say about the reliability of reviews.

You might be asking yourself if TripAdvisor’s business model conflicts with review integrity.

The article I read makes the point that TripAdvisor makes money primarily from hotels. There are two ways income flows to them. One is from hotel bookings on the site.

The other is through advertising. Do you think TripAdvisor removes reviews when hotels make this request?

The article goes on to say that TripAdvisor’s business model has failed.

Though it began as a way for travelers to write and check reviews, it has actually become a search engine for hotels and vacations. This makes it complicated and tricky to decide just how much they are actually serving travelers who read the reviews.

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How Many People Use TripAdvisor?

Any guess as to how many people use TripAdvisor?

The site gets 150+ million monthly visitors and has a billion total reviews. They operate across the world.

There is also another source of revenue for TripAdvisor. They offer travel suppliers expensive monthly subscriptions to help them improve their visibility on the TripAdvisor platform. It helps to know this so you can decide for yourself just how much the site reviews can be trusted.

As for its income, TripAdvisor reportedly earned a third of its revenue from Expedia and Booking for paid advertising placed on the TripAdvisor websites and apps. Yet at the same time, they also compete heavily with those same companies for travel bookings. They also compete with Google as a search engine. They have, though unsuccessfully, entered a paid subscription model for additional discounts, known as TripAdvisor Plus.

Final Thoughts

It’s always wise when looking for online reviews to stay aware of many of the things that can lead you down the wrong path and really ruin or at least disrupt your vacations and travel experiences. Fake reviews happen, and it’s on us as consumers to do what we can to avoid them. Make sure to read the comments in the article. Insider information revealed. Knowing what goes on with TripAdvisor and the backstory of how and why fake reviews do appear on their site is a good place to start!

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Mak July 29, 2023 - 10:48 am

Stayed at Hotel 1908 Lisboa – of course in Lisbon – earlier in the year and was fooled by what I now believe to be fake reviews – and not only fake reviews on Tripadvisor. This very mediocre and marginally comfortable hotel still has 5 stars on Tripadvisor, and I could have sworn I left a negative review trying to correct the misimpressions left by the fake ones, but I can no longer find it. Fishy.

Shelli July 29, 2023 - 10:53 am

Definitely sounds fishy and most unfortunate. Good for you in trying to help other travelers see through those 5 stars, though.

Jacob July 29, 2023 - 11:13 pm

Like many, I USED to love using TripAdvisor but not any more for two main reasons:
1. Fake and real but biased reviews. One of the challenges of real reviews is the “qualifications” of the traveler/reviewer. For example: a person who is used to staying at Best Westerns would probably rave about their experience in a 4 star hotel – but how accurate is their review versus a review done by someone who just stays at 4-5 star reviews? Conversely, if someone is used to staying at a 5 star hotel they may give a terrible review of a Best Western. Since we don’t know anything about the “qualifications” of the reviewer, we don’t know if their review is biased in either a positive or negative way.
#2 Their searches and rankings are garbage and totally compromised. For example: their rankings of top hotels in Bali is absurd. Many or most of the fantastic top 5 star hotels are missing or ranked low. It is absurd to rank an incredible Aman hotel way below a mediocre 3 star hotel. They have totally destroyed their search function. It is extremely difficult for someone new to a place to find good hotels to compare because they don’t show so many of the really nice ones.

Shelli July 30, 2023 - 2:01 am

You make two very valid points, Jacob. And you also express the frustration and lack of trust with TripAdvisor that most previous users feel. Thanks for sharing your perspective. It helps others see through the TA process and know whether it has any current validity.

Christian July 30, 2023 - 4:18 am

I generally tread with caution on any TA reviews by anyone with single digit reviews overall.

One thing that I found both amusing and irritating was checking into restaurants in Heraklion, Crete. There were tons of reviews that were either incredibly effusive or a hatchet job. The thing about these reviewers was that they had only a few reviews, pretty much all lived in the area, all spoke perfect English, and all loved one place but hated others that were the competition. It would be more funny if it wasn’t so obvious.

Shelli July 30, 2023 - 4:33 am

When it’s obvious then it’s so much easier to spot the frauds. Great example, Christian!


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