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Online reviews can make a big impact on the behavior of consumers. Many business owners, however, find the task of handling these reviews rather confusing or overwhelming.
So a few opt for the easy way out: faking or manipulating reviews. This, they think, can enhance their online reputation and drive sales. At the same time, it adds to the growing problem of review authenticity.
The hotel and hospitality industry, in particular, is evolving towards increased reliance on reviews. In fact, according to a study by Millward Brown Digital, consumers and travelers visit travel review aggregators and hotel ratings sites at least 38 times (on average) leading up to a booking.
It’s not surprising, therefore, that some hotel and hospitality executives might turn to online review fraud simply in order to attract more guests.
But which hotels are most likely to fake or manipulate their online reviews?
A group of researchers recently sought to find out the answers to this question. The findings of their study – entitled “Promotional Reviews: an Empirical Investigation of Online Review Manipulation,” and authored by business professors Dina Mayzlin (USC), Yaniv Dover (Dartmouth), and Judith Chevalier (Yale) – was published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.
According to their research, hotels that are most likely (or with the most incentive) to perform review fraud or manipulation are:
- Hotels that have a neighbor
- Owned by non-chain or small, single-unit owners
- Independent hotels
- Or hotels that are being managed by a smaller company
This conclusion was reached after the researchers analyzed hotel reviews on both Expedia and TripAdvisor. “The effects we find in our study are actually not that small,” wrote Professor Mayzlin in an E-mail to Forbes. “For example, the mean hotel in our sample has thirty negative reviews. We find that a hotel that is located next to an independent hotel owned by a small owner will have six more fake negative Tripadvisor reviews compared to an isolated hotel.”
She added: “We argue that the net gains from promotional (fake) reviewing are likely to be highest for independent hotels that are owned by single-unit owners and lowest for branded chain hotels that are owned by multi-unit owners.”
The research study echoes the findings of Harvard Business School’s Michael Luca, who, sometime last year, concluded that independent, “underdog” local businesses with intense local competition and few existing reviews on Yelp are more likely to engage in review fraud.
If you’re a hotel or hospitality executive, we counsel patience. Faking and manipulating your reviews is not worth the risk. Once caught, you’ll severely damage your reputation. TripAdvisor already has implemented new anti-fraud techniques to catch business owners trying to game the system. Regulators are also cracking down on review fakers.
In the meantime, here are a few suggestions on what you can do to effectively manage online reviews:
- Closely monitor the sites where your business or property gets reviews and ratings
- Respond to guests who post reviews of your business
- Focus on improving customer service and satisfaction levels, so that you can generate more positive reviews and higher ratings. It’s not called the “hospitality” business for nothing!
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