A complaint was made to the ASA last November by online reputation management company KwikChex and two hotels, who challenged statements made on the website that claimed reviews were ‘trusted’.
They claimed that statements such as "Reviews you can trust”; "TripAdvisor offers trusted advice from real travellers" and "More than 50 million honest travel reviews and opinions from real travellers around the world" were misleading and could not be substantiated because TripAdvisor did not verify the reviews on their website.
The ASA said the claims did imply that website users would think all reviews were from genuine travellers and, although reviewers were asked to declare that their postings were their genuine opinion, they had not been offered an incentive to write and were not a competitor, simply agreeing to a declaration would not stop false reviews being published.
“We noted that TripAdvisor allowed hoteliers a ‘right of reply’ to critical or negative reviews posted on the site and that they believed that users of the site had a healthy scepticism as a result of their experience of review sites more generally,” it said.
“However, we did not consider that consumers would necessarily be able to detect and separate non-genuine reviews from genuine content, particularly where a hotel or other establishment had not received many reviews, and nor did we consider that a hotelier’s response in itself would go far enough to alert consumers to, and moderate, non-genuine content.”
TripAdvisor said the ruling was 'out of touch' with the millions of people who use consumer review sites and that no site could be certain that all reviews were written by real travellers.
"It is telling that the original complaint to the ASA did not stem from travellers using our site or average members of the public," it added. "It was driven by an online reputation management group with an obvious commercial interest in undermining people’s confidence in user content-generated review platforms."
Despite the ruling TripAdvisor said it was 'business as usual' for the website. It said: "The average traveller reads dozens of reviews before making an informed decision, not just one or two. The ruling has no bearing on our commitment to providing a trusted resource for travellers with valued advice and insights from the TripAdvisor community, based on the wisdom of the crowds.
"We know that our users approach TripAdvisor with common sense, and make an educated decision based on the opinions of many. If people did not feel the insight they gained from our site was an accurate reflection of their experience they wouldn’t keep coming back.
"TripAdvisor was founded on a core set of principles - to give travellers a voice to share their experiences, promote consumer choice and encourage a level playing field for everyone in the industry– all within a free forum for sharing open and honest opinions. This remains our mission."
Opinion among members of the industry has been divided over the effectiveness of TripAdvisor. While some believe it can be a valid tool to help promote their business, others who suspect fraudulent and sometimes defamatory reviews of their hotel or restaurant say they feel powerless when it comes to getting them removed from the site.