A TripAdvisor ranking can be make or break for a hospitality business. Some operators are buying positive reviews to boost their business, but the website is cracking down.

Over the years I have had my ‘run ins’ with TripAdvisor over reviews at a few of my operations. Sometimes claiming that the reviews were posted by a member of staff (untrue!) or by friends and family. This is a strange rule, as on their review management pages they specifically encourage operators to get their friends to write reviews. Anyway, to a lot of restaurateurs their good clients become friends and thankfully friends go to their restaurants: So how they police that I do not know. If you are black listed for a review they penalise you and freeze your rating for a period of time. But there is an illegal method that I have known people use to boost their ratings: They buy reviews!

Earlier this year, a man was jailed for nine months in Italy after being convicted of selling fake TripAdvisor reviews to hundreds of hospitality companies.

The landmark ruling marked the first time a court had jailed someone for review fraud, and while TripAdvisor hopes other jurisdictions will be inspired to join Italy in dishing out harsh penalties, its team is focused on its own fight against those attempting to manipulate its ranking system.

Over the past three years, TripAdvisor has shut down more than 60 different websites that were offering fake reviews, including at least two originating in the UK – the inventively named positive­review.co.uk and buytripadvisorreviews.com.

The challenge for TripAdvisor is to ensure that paid-for reviews posted by such set-ups never appear on its website. It’s a big task – the site hosts more than 600 million reviews – but director of corporate communications James Kay says less than 2% of reviews that do make it to the site are ever flagged (for any reason) as suspicious.

There are loads of websites who will claim they’re selling reviews but actually when it comes down to it, they’re not even attempting to write them.

Kay continues, “If you think about it, they have no incentive to: it’s illegal, and it’s illegal to buy a review in the UK, so if you’re an owner and you pay money to a website for a package of reviews and they don’t deliver, you have absolutely no recourse. They’re not going to give you a refund, and it’s not like they’re relying on repeat custom. They have absolutely no incentive to deliver on the promise.”

Those that do follow up sales with action will have to get around TripAdvisor’s software to see their posts go live: The software analyses factors such as location, time, device and IP address for warning signs. Before making it on to the site, every review flagged is looked at by

Trip­Advisor’s fraud busters, who are based around the world, providing 24-hour cover.

Sadly TripAdvisor is a club where not everyone wants to be a member. But it is viewed by millions and is there for a necessity for any restaurant or hotel, no matter how famous. You will probably find more negative reviews at the top end as people are jealous of their success. Occasionally you hear stories of some restaurateurs who dish the dirt on their rivals by placing a bad review which does nothing for the credibility of the site.

Here is a list of TripAdvisor’s review definitions

Fake review

A review submitted by someone who is either biased or did not have a personal experience with the business that they are reviewing

Contested review

A review submitted by someone who did have a personal experience with the business, but whose account of that experience is disputed by the business

Paid review

A review that a business has attempted to purchase

Incentivised review

A review given on the promise of a reward or preferential treatment, such as discount


An attempt to threaten a business with a bad review in exchange for a discount/refund or preferential treatment

Employee or family review

A reviews posted by anyone who is affiliated with the business

Competitor review

A review posted by someone associated with a business in the surrounding area

(some content courtesy of the Caterer and Hotelkeeper)