Let’s face it: business and leisure travelers rely more heavily than ever on online reviews. In fact, according to the results of a recent survey by travel reviews site TripAdvisor, 89 percent of all global travelers consider reviews as influential when choosing where to book. They even go so far as to say reviews weigh more heavily than personal recommendations.
This is why we here at ReviewTrackers find it particularly worrying that an increasing number of individuals are using the power of reviews for malicious purposes – and, in doing so, threatening owners of hotels and restaurants.
According to a new report by the Telegraph, more and more hotel and hospitality execs in the UK are being targeted by guests who demand free meals, service upgrades, and other special privileges in exchange for not writing negative TripAdvisor reviews. In short, these guests are blackmailing business owners and holding them hostage.
At a time when hospitality serves as the UK’s 4th largest industry, the British Hospitality Association has expressed its concern for this growing problem. “People threatening restaurants and hotels with bad TripAdvisor reviews to extort free things is a problem which has been growing…. It is clear that a small minority of online reviewers are directly blackmailing – or sometimes subtly blackmailing – (hospitality businesses) for their own gain,” said deputy chief executive Martin Couchman.
“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 or try to get a free meal, or a free stay in a hotel’s case,” Couchman said.
The Telegraph report cites the case of the Double Barrel Steakhouse and Grill in South Yorkshire. Owner Craig Savage claims that out of the 1,000 meals he serves each week, 30 will be to customers who threaten to post negative reviews on TripAdvisor – unless they are given a freebie.
“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,” Savage said.
It’s not just UK’s problem, either. A Gartner study estimates that 10 to 15 percent of all online reviews and social media ratings this year will be fake. Certainly, a fair share of these fake or malicious reviews will likely be from consumers hoping to take advantage of the fact that reviews can shape a business’ online reputation – for better or for worse.
As described by CNET’s Chris Matyszczyk: “Hotels and restaurants are often in fear of the one negative review that will be shared and reshared until it somehow becomes definitive.”
What do you do?
So what do you do if you’re a hotel manager, restaurateur, or hospitality executive who happens to have attracted the attention of a blackmailing guest? Here’s some useful advice:
Ignore the blackmailer. It can be stressful to be put in a situation wherein your business is being threatened with a bad review. But don’t let it get to you. Don’t give in to their demands – and don’t respond to the request for freebies and special privileges.
Submit a report to TripAdvisor. Instead of making free offers to the guest, contact TripAdvisor and report the situation. The travel site actually has a business tool for fighting blackmail and negative review threats. Just log into TripAdvisor Owners’ Center, request for Business Representative Support, and submit a form for potential blackmail review reports.
Proactively monitor online reviews. Whether it’s TripAdvisor or some other review site, it’s best to always keep an eye on what customers are saying online. That way, you can respond promptly, resolve pressing issues or concerns, and manage your business’ online reputation.
ReviewTrackers is a software platform to help you do just that. Powered by proprietary data collection technology, our industry-leading software tracks, centralizes, and analyzes all your reviews from all major review sites. Sign up for a free demo today and discover why our clients in the hotel and hospitality industry love us!