A survey of British Hospitality Association (BHA) and Restaurant Association members found the number of businesses hit with negative reviews ‘intended to harm’ had risen 20% over the past two years.
Half of respondents said customers had used the threat of a bad online review to blackmail them in to giving them a refund, while 60% said the sites were not helpful in dealing with such attempts.
The BHA collected comments on the survey, with many saying they had fallen victim to fake reviews from competitors or former members of staff.
One respondent in Henley said: “Increasingly we are being held to ransom by guests who think that they can make unreasonable demands or they’ll post a bad review.”
Another in London added: “A person made several claims and gave a room number and description…it was not even our hotel though they clearly stated it was. The review site said they could not take it down but we could respond.”
Tackling the issue
The issue has long been a bugbear of the industry. In 2015 a Twitter campaign #noreceiptnoreview called on TripAdvisor to only allow users to post reviews if they could provide a photo or scan of the receipt.
But TripAdvisor rejected the idea as ‘unfair to genuine customers’ who didn’t have a receipt.
More than 65% of respondents to the BHA’s survey agreed that transparency was an issue with review sites, which based rankings not on reviews but ‘complicated algorithms’ consumers were unaware of.
“Online reviews sites are hugely important for the reputations of hospitality businesses and allow consumers to make informed decisions,” says Ufi Ibrahim, chief executive of the BHA.
“However, the relentless and largely unregulated growth of the digital intermediaries means that hospitality businesses in the real world – who often pay large commissions to these sites on bookings - are at the mercy of these firms. More must be done to tackle fake and malicious reviews and provide greater transparency provided in the ratings systems.”