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TripAdvisor's treatment of sexual assault allegations at hotels will not please people who would like to see these properties' listings pulverized. But for those travelers scoping out hotels for issues of concern, these feature changes are a modest, incremental, and positive step.

TripAdvisor, the world’s largest travel website with 490 million monthly unique visitors, still won’t delete a hotel listing because of sexual assault allegations or convictions, but it has made it easier to find guest reviews about sexual assault.

The site added a traveler safety filter atop a hotel’s reviews so when a user checks a “See safety reviews” box, it surfaces the relevant reviews, and shows the number of such reviews. There is also a notice, “Traveler safety,” above the reviews of such properties where there have been safety concerns.

TripAdvisor made the changes on its sites around the world, and the reviews appear in 28 languages.

For example, the Beaches Negril Resort and Spa in Negril, Jamaica has a user review from an 18-year-old South African woman alleging that her drink was spiked and she was raped at the property by another guest. Beneath the review is a management response saying it reported the allegation to law enforcement, which concluded that the woman’s “allegation of having been drugged is not sustainable.” The management response doesn’t address whether the guest was raped.

Here’s another review about an alleged 2017 sexual assault at the Palm Beach Hotel in Nha Trang, Vietnam, that TripAdvisor pointed us to. There are two reviews about alleged sexual assaults at this property posted on TripAdvisor.

TripAdvisor plans to add these safety review filters to listings for restaurants and flights, and eventually cruises, as part of a push to enhance traveler safety. On the roadmap, too, are tips to help travelers stay safe, the company said.

The new TripAdvisor features initially focus on reviews posted in the last year alleging sexual assault allegations and sexual misconduct by hotel employees, but the company plans to flag all safety-related reviews, including “sexual assault, death, drugging, sex trafficking, armed robbery, and physical assault” in the coming weeks.

The changes to the way users can post and find user reviews about safety issues, including sexual assault, have evolved at TripAdvisor over the years, and following news reports such as this Guardian story, Hotels at center of rape allegations promoted on TripAdvisor.

TripAdvisor has allowed users to post reviews about sexual violence for the last decade or so, but a couple of years ago it began blocking such reviews if it contained any information that the writer hadn’t witnessed or experienced first-hand, the company said. Subsequently, when such reviews were submitted, TripAdvisor informed the review writers which information it considered second hand, and offered to post the review if the omitted or adequately modified that portion of the review.

In 2017, TripAdvisor began posting a Media Notification next to a hotel listing if there were published reports about a sexual assault or safety issue at a property even if there were no guest reviews to substantiate such allegations.

The changes that TripAdvisor’s Lindsay Nelson, president of core experience, announced Tuesday in a blog post are geared to “make it easier to find reviews that contain reports of safety-related incidents.

“We will also engage TripAdvisor’s global community of travelers, businesses and tourism destinations as we work to share important information and insights about how to stay safe,” Nelson wrote.

Previously, a user review about a rape or assault would be almost impossible to find because it might be mixed in with dozens or thousands of other reviews.

One could make the argument that TripAdvisor should erase hotel listings where there have been allegations of rape or assault, and until there has been a legitimate investigation, and the findings publicized.

[Update: A petition, created May 9, and calling on TripAdvisor to take stronger steps to protect its users, has attracted more than 518,000 signatures.  Backers of the petition said they would protest the company’s policies at its New York City offices Wednesday.

“TripAdvisor is the largest travel site in the world. Join me in demanding that it act as a leader within the industry, by taking action to protect its users and demand safety from the businesses it promotes,” the petition says.

“The company has already bent to public pressure on this issue by implementing a system to warn users about businesses with “health, safety, and discrimination issues.” But the system is proving ineffective and insufficient.”]

TripAdvisor spokesman Brian Hoyt argued that deleting such listings “only helps owners and operators of an open business operate in the shadows.”

“We know many poorly reviewed businesses would want to see their listing off TripAdvisor, but we believe that is a disservice to travelers who might encounter that business in their travels,” Hoyt said.

Rossalyn Warren, who wrote the Guardian story criticizing TripAdvisor for allegedly promoting hotels where sexual assaults have taken place, characterized the new TripAdvisor safety features as “a significant and promising change.”

Skift reached out to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) for comment, but the group hadn’t responded by publication time.

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Tags: #metoo, hotels, tripadvisor, ugc, user reviews

Photo credit: Pictured is TripAdvisor's Traveler safety notification (left) above a hotel's reviews, and a review with an assault allegation. TripAdvisor

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