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TripAdvisor co-founder and CEO Steve Kaufer took an uncharacteristic step and responded to a prominent UK restaurant critic by publishing a blog post on TripAdvisor’s blog and LinkedIn defending the company and its users.
The Guardian Weekend magazine’s restaurant critic, Marina O’Loughlin’s opinion piece on TripAdvisor claims the site is “riddled with fakes and idiots,” and “a huge number of otherwise sensible people continue to give credence to the aggregated opinion of, at best, unqualified strangers.” Throughout the piece, O’Loughlin focuses almost exclusively on TripAdvisor restaurant reviews rather than hotels. Restaurant reviews on TripAdvisor may carry more weight in Europe where TripAdvisor’s The Fork does restaurant reservations than they would in the U.S. market.
She leaves no doubt about her opinion of TripAdvisor with a pinned tweet on Twitter:
No review. Instead, here’s what I think about Tripadvisor. (Clue: I HATE it) https://t.co/fFPklCKZvE
— Marina O’Loughlin (@MarinaOLoughlin) July 9, 2016
The essay claims TripAdvisor has convinced its hordes of amateur-review writers “that it is ‘one of us,’ like a digital version of [Brexit partisan] Nigel Farage or Donald Trump.”
Kaufer didn’t mention the Guardian critic by name but clearly had her in his sights and was irked by her views.
“As co-founder and CEO of TripAdvisor for over 16 years, I have seen my share of newspaper column inches dedicated to the impact that our platform has had on the travel industry,” Kaufer wrote. “While I’m gratified that many of these articles are positive, from time to time I do see some articles that question whether travelers’ reviews on the site help or hurt a business. Over the weekend, I read one such article by a professional food critic who had some pretty strong opinions about TripAdvisor and our community of travelers and businesses, and I disagreed with almost all of them.”
In his post, Kaufer traces the evolution of TripAdvisor and explains that its user reviews — which were not part of the business plan he helped craft more than 16 years ago — have “fundamentally changed the way we travel. Our community’s voice has done more to improve service standards than professional reviews ever could.”
The Guardian restaurant critic claims she isn’t against the wisdom of the crowds but instead believes that TripAdvisor needs to immerse itself in fact-checking. O’Loughlin has been an open supporter of fellow food critic Jay Rayner’s #noreceiptnoreview campaign, which was started by @EaterWriter, according to The Guardian, to require proof of a transaction at a property before a review can be left.
In 2012, the UK Advertising Standards Authority ordered TripAdvisor to stop touting itself as hosting “trusted advice from real travellers” because the site doesn’t verify that review writers actually ate at the restaurant or stayed at the hotel they are praising or taking to task.
Kaufer rejects the notion that a review writer must prove he or she stayed at the property by presenting a receipt. What if someone writing a restaurant review didn’t pick up the tab? Or the writer of a hotel review wasn’t the one who paid for the stay?
“Interestingly, most advocates for a receipt before you can write a review don’t realise that most attempts at review fraud are committed by the very people who have the easiest access to receipts — a small minority of business owners trying to boost their own profile unfairly,” Kaufer writes. “Far from catching fake reviews, all it would do is censor those genuine customers who, quite innocently, don’t have or can’t find their receipt.”
Kaufer claims in his post that TripAdvisor adapts “technology borrowed from the banking industry” to combat fraud and hires staffers well-versed in fraud detection. At the same time, though, Kaufer also argues that “the voice of the traveler is the self-regulating force that helps good businesses rise and gives poor performers the feedback they need to improve.”
“What is interesting is that the criticisms I hear often come from two opposite ends of the debate,” Kaufer writes. “On the one hand, there are those who say we should engage in greater levels of censorship to counter fraudulent reviews. On the other hand, we are critiqued that our guideline process is too stringent. Both viewpoints are flawed in their own unique ways.”
TripAdvisor has taken a few bruises in the UK and the bashing by a prominent critic in The Guardian undoubtedly was a factor in Kaufer’s decision to pen a rare, formal response to a pundit. With TripAdvisor ramping up airlines reviews for the first time in a big way, Kaufer’s defense of user reviews takes on added import for the brand, too.
“Like any business, TripAdvisor is also open to feedback to better serve our community of travelers and business owners,” Kaufer wrote yesterday. “Professional critics are free to disagree, but I am going to stand by the hundreds of millions of travelers and millions of business owners who also know from their own experience that TripAdvisor is a force for good for both the traveler community and for the global travel industry.”