A Cornwall hotelier has had to reconsider the way it encourages guests to post positive reviews on TripAdvisor after being accused by the tabloid press of 'bribery'.
The Sunday Mirror and the Daily Mail have run stories highlighting the loyalty scheme introduced by the Cove Cornwall at Lamorna Cove. In literature handed to guests checking out, the hotel said it was looking for customers who could champion the good reputation of the business "by posting an honest, but positive view of the Cove on the TripAdvisor website".
In return, the Cove - which has 16 apartments and a self-contained cottage - offered to reward returning guests with a 10% reduction for their next stay, an additional 10% off for every friend introduced to the hotel, 10% off all food and beverage and a free upgrade if available.
Lee Magner, the Cove's owner, said he is now seeking legal advice as the articles had impugned the hotel's good reputation.
"We strongly deny any such accusations [of bribery], which has distorted the truth about a loyalty scheme we introduced last month here at our hotel.
"We emphasise no monetary compensation has been given for posting a review," he said. "This is a loyalty scheme, which rewards guests who return, not for just putting an 'honest and positive review'."
However, the Cove has admitted the wording on the original letter could be misleading and has produced a revised invitation to become a "Friend of the Cove Cornwall". The new literature outlines the benefits of becoming a friend, before going on to encourage guests to write an "honest" review on TripAdvisor, as well as recommend the hotel to the Good Food Guide and Michelin.
Emma O'Boyle of TripAdvisor said hotel owners are welcome to encourage guests to submit user reviews to the website, but are not allowed to offer any bribes for doing so. "It is strictly against our guidelines for businesses to offer incentives, discounts, upgrades or special treatment on current or future stays in exchange for reviews," she said.
"Should travellers come across such a situation, we encourage them to contact TripAdvisor as soon as possible to report it."
O'Boyle went on to say that TripAdvisor, which currently carries more than 45 million reviews from 500,000 destinations worldwide, will penalise businesses that are caught attempting to manipulate the system.
DO HOTELS BRIBE GUESTS TO WRITE GLOWING REVIEWS?
According to Adam Raphael, editor of The Good Hotel Guide, the practice of bribing guests to write a good review on TripAdvisor and other online sites is "very widespread", with friends, relatives and guests being encouraged to do so with an offer of incentives.
The Good Hotel Guide is compiled from reader reviews, backed up by anonymous inspections. Raphael says that he receives many collusive reviews and when it gets too much will write to the hotel, warning them that the practice is counter-productive.
"It is not difficult to spot collusive reviews," said Raphael. "They are almost invariably from new readers who write to us about one hotel, the review is not balanced, and is often a poorly written over-the-top gush."
Hoteliers Steve and Trish Townsley, who run the Bloomsbury guest house in York, discovered the practice of other hotels offering bribes in exchange for a good review when guests stayed with them in December 2010.
"The guests were travelling back from Edinburgh and on checking out asked us if we would like them to write a review on TripAdvisor," said Steve.
"When we said we would be very happy for them to do so, they asked what we would be offering in return. Upon looking puzzled, they told us that the hotel they had stayed in Edinburgh was offering free weekends for the three best reviews posted on TripAdvisor.
"Our answer was that we were honest and didn't go in for that sort of thing.
"Since then we've heard of numerous instances of guests being hassled by hoteliers to write good reviews."
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