The TripAdvisor Extortion Phenomenon

B E D B U G S: The 7 most terrifying letters in the English language to a hotel owner or manager (granted, that’s only 6 unique letters – but its 7 in total, right?) In this day and age saying “the hotel has bed bugs” is like screaming fire in a movie theater… mass panic ensues and very shortly there’s an empty building.

One of the great things about review websites is that you can inform others on how great or poor your experience is at a given property. The raw, unpolished, unfiltered reviews that make it on these sites are seen as the antithesis of the glossy images and marketing copy of a hotel’s website or commercial. “Yep, the website had a picture of a giant pool, but in reality it was tiny… and shockingly there were no models just hanging out poolside either.”

The problem with the unfiltered, anonymous nature of these reviews is that it allows for complaints that, even when disputed, permanently damage the reputation of a property.

As Kramer once said, “the cat is… meeeeooww… out of the bag!” 

But what if this is just an imaginary “cat”?

To be sure, there are issues out there. Poor service, dirty rooms, and “broken elevators” do exist. For the most part, you fix the things you can and apologize for the others and just do better in the future. However, there are times where reviews are so erroneous or faked that responding and disputing is not worth the time and effort, removal is the only course of action.  Therein lies the issue.

TripAdvisor cares only about volume of reviews, whether blatantly faked or accidentally posted to the wrong hotel; TripAdvisor is highly unlikely to ever remove a post.

And this is where the scammers have their field day.

Recently, we had a guest who was clearly out to make a quick buck at the hotel’s expense. He claimed that there were bedbugs in his room. He demanded that he be compensated for this and that if he was not he would “make sure every channel available would be aware of this incident”.

The problem with his complaint is that the Health Department and the pest control company (which has to be compensated by the hotel) that came to the hotel to perform inspections; BOTH reported finding NO evidence of bedbugs.

Even still, this guest posted on TripAdvisor about how he was attacked by bedbugs, that the manager of the hotel was incompetent, and that the hotel refused to compensate him for his luggage, clothes, blood loss and his night of sleeping on the floor (apparently, he forgot to mention “pain and suffering”). The guest went so far as to quote “Yelp reviewers” who made the same bedbug-related complaints. However, the ONLY Yelp review for this hotel was from this same guest; posted on the same day, using the same username and with some of the exact same verbiage.

So with written documentation proving there were no bedbugs, evidence from another website that shows a complete fabrication in his TripAdvisor review and the fact that anyone with half a brain can see that he was out for money, all on our side you would think TripAdvisor will remove the review.

And you would be wrong.

At this point, after TripAdvisor’s extensive non-existent review of this incident, they have told us to go pound sand. The review shall stand! The hotel will just have to suffer the consequences of allowing an extortionist to book a room.

As long as sites like TripAdvisor allow for guests to post unfettered commentary without any form of proof, there will be those who use this to take advantage of the hotels and other businesses. Quite simply, “pay me to keep quiet, or I’ll tell the world” is the new “slip and fall” grocery store scam. Assuming that TripAdvisor will never allow the hotels to fight back on their site by removing this garbage, our only recourse is to wait for to criminals to try and then provide as much information to the contrary and allow the court of public opinion to weigh in.

Sadly, that’s the way it has to be… just not the way it should be.