TripAdvisor Blackmailers

According to the Daily Telegraph, hotels and restaurants are being targeted by “blackmailers” who demand free meals and stays in exchange for not writing bad reviews on the TripAdvisor website, hospitality chiefs have warned.

I am a Top Contributor to TripAdvisor, with 151 reviews under-my-belt and 97 'helpful votes', and I would never think of using my reviews as a means of securing ‘freebies’. I review the hotel, restaurant or attraction as I find it. If my review is bad, then my hope is that the establishment will do something to improve the situation. If my review is good, then I hope others will try it and have a pleasing experience. I find it disgusting that ‘mercenary’ reviewers will try to use their ‘web-power’ to illicit favours.I was recently offered meal vouchers by one restaurant manager after writing a review of a poor meal, but I see this as an genuine enticement for me to try the place again and an attempt by the manager to offer me a better experience from a future visit. However, I will not be accepting the meal vouchers for fear of it appearing as some kind of 'bribe' to write a good review next time.

The Telegraph reports that guests are warning staff that they will post bad comments on the TripAdvisor website if they are not given better service, meals or upgrades. Restaurant, hotel and Bed &Breakfast owners in Britain have reported a huge rise in the number of customers using the site as a threat. They say the guests often make a complaint and say they will post a bad review unless given a free bottle of wine, dessert or a bill reduction. Other “gastronomic blackmailers” even claim that they work for TripAdvisor and will post a series of negative comments unless they get free upgrades.
Martin Couchman, the deputy chief executive of the British Hospitality Association (below), said that he was in talks with TripAdvisor to improve the service.  “People threatening restaurants and hotels with bad TripAdvisor reviews to extort free things is a problem which has been growing,” he said.  “While it’s very difficult to put an exact figure on how widespread the problem is, it is clear that a small minority of online reviewers are directly blackmailing – or sometimes subtly blackmailing – restaurants for their own gain. “People will either attempt to blackmail during the meal, or sometimes, more worryingly, people who have not even been to the restaurant will post a bad review to try to get a free meal, or a free stay in a hotel’s case. While it can be difficult to prove that somebody has blackmailed you, we would advise that business owners do not respond – or make free offers – to reviewers they suspect are malicious. “He urged restaurateurs or hotel owners to contact TripAdvisor or the British Hospitality Association if they were having problems.

Craig Savage, 49, who runs the Double Barrel Steakhouse and Grill in Rotherham, South Yorkshire (below), claims that about 30 of the 1,000 meals he serves each week will be to malicious customers who threaten bad reviews unless they get a freebie. “What usually happens is that a customer will come to the bar, or say to the waiting staff, 'I am a senior TripAdvisor reviewer’ and then you know that something will definitely go wrong. “What we are finding is that these so-called reviewers will complain about the meal or the service and when you ask how to put it right, you can guarantee it will be some sort of freebie. “And it’s not just our restaurant that’s being affected, every restaurant owner I speak to is concerned about this ­phenomenon.” Sarah Bird, Mr Savage’s partner and business partner (below), said: “TripAdvisor needs to have a policy where reviewers should not be able to tell restaurant staff that they are a reviewer.”

A TripAdvisor spokesman said: “Allegations of blackmail or threatening behaviour by guests against property owners are taken very seriously. “If an owner experiences this, we urge them to contact us immediately. We have a way for owners to proactively report threats before a corresponding review is submitted.”

It is a sad situation that TripAdvisor has become such a powerful influence upon the hotel and hospitality business that some of their reviewers, who are simply 'Joe Public' like you and I, think that they wield enough authority to demand whatever they wish from an hotelier or restaurateur. I urge owners to report such unacceptable behaviour to TripAdvisor and for TripAdvisor to remove them from their list of reviewers for ever. Could it be that TripAdvisor have brought this upon themselves, by failing to offer any incentives to their reviewers, such that some individuals have found a way of 'benefiting' from their TripAdvisor membership?    


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