Fake Online Reviews:
Are they Real?

...And what can you do about them?

It’s happened to every hotel team since the moment reviews gained a presence online: a seething guest throws up a 1-star review and rants about a terrible experience they had onsite. He highlights every moment from check-in to check-out that wasn’t up to par, exposing flaws in his room, revealing in-room dining disasters, and detailing disagreeable conversations with staff members. The weird part? You nor your team have any memory of the events described by the guest. In fact, no one has any recollection of the guest at all.

The vast majority of online reviews are real and valid. Most people do not take time out of their day to bash a random hotel. However, fake online reviews are real and do happen. But the story may not be as simple as it first appears…

More often than not, fake reviews are actually positive. Hotels, restaurants, and attractions essentially pay people to post beaming (and totally made up) reviews to help boost their rankings. The most famous of these is the story of the blogger who made it to the top of the London restaurant market all through fake reviews.

Sites like Tripadvisor and other online review databases quickly caught on to scams like this. Through extensive investigation, TripAdvisor took vast efforts to label hotels and other profiles that were suspected of fraudulent reviews and take punitive action against those businesses. Moral of that story: paying for positive reviews is a bad idea.

But what about those fake reviews that are negative? There are a small number of times when a business may experience falsified negative reviews. Whether they are posted by a disgruntled guest who hasn’t been there in years, a rival property, or simply a guest posting on the wrong business’s profile, negative reviews will hurt your online reputation, and there is very little you can do to get it removed.

Regardless of who you think is the source of the review (it may be impossible to ever figure out), there are a few good tips to handle the situation:

1. Act and Respond Like it is Real

Trying to confront a negative review online by saying “this never happened” simply turns into a he-said-she said situation that is unlikely to end in your favor. Unless you can point out objective holes in the story (ie. the guest complains about the size of a non-existent pool), readers are not going to believe it’s all made up.

2. Respond As Soon As Possible

The best way to counter any bad review is to be prompt and respectful with your response. Kill ‘em with kindness! Honesty, grace, and poise can never be misconstrued and will garner favor with those reading your response. To ensure your responses are prompt, designate one member of the team to be tuned into the happenings on your online profiles. Most review sites offer the power to subscribe to alerts or emails whenever a new review is posted. Worth the extra mail to your inbox!

3. Be Honest and Transparent

Letting the world know that you and your team are people who are doing their best to offer a great stay gives you the best chance of overcoming a negative review—real or not. Especially if the review is short, grammatically incorrect, and vague (all signs the review might be fake), writing a careful and thoughtful response helps overcome the issues that may be presented in the review. Consider offering your email and asking the person to reach out with more information so that you can help correct the mistake.

If you get one negative review that you think is less than reputable, respond to it and then brush it off. It could be an honest mistake by a guest reviewing the wrong property. If, however, you are suddenly inundated by a large number of less-than-favorable reviews, there is recourse.

To report fake reviews on TripAdvisor, here’s what you can do:

  1. Log into your TripAdvisor Account and click on the “Your Business” tab in the top right corner.
  2. Click on “Manage Reviews."
  3. Below the “Concerned About a Review?” headline, click on “See our guidelines and submit your comments.”

From there you will be able to describe the situation, and TripAdvisor will take a look to see if your profile is under attack from a review bot (yes, it’s a thing, unfortunately).

In the end, fake reviews are rare and fake negative reviews are even more rare. It’s best to err on the side of caution and treat it as though it’s a real review. If nothing else, it gives you a chance to profess your commitment to service and guest satisfaction. Chances are one negative review amongst many positives won’t hold much sway with readers!

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