TripAdvisor has been attacked for being misleading, after complaints have highlighted that travel reviews on the website were not necessarily posted by "real travellers."
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) watchdog said slogans on the TripAdvisor website which claimed: "reviews you can trust", "reviews from real travellers" and "more than 50 million honest travel reviews and opinions from real travellers around the world" were misleading.
Because TripAdvisor does not verify the reviews, the ASA concluded that it was possible that non-genuine reviews could go undetected.
The contradictory reviews of many destinations has been both the source of both amusement and frustration for many of the site's visitors. Dragons Den's Duncan Bannatyne complained against the reviews on the site, and said he was considering legal action after it compared one of his establishments to "Fawlty Towers."
Comedian Michael Mcintyre highlighted the wildly inconsistant reviews on the site, in a standup show for the BBC One Show Live At The Apollo
"Every single hotel in the world has received at least one terrible review, and its only those reviews that you believe, which does make it very difficult for you to decide on anywhere to go on holiday. First of all, who in the world is writing these reviews?
“The towels were very coarse on my skin, not what I expected from a four star establishment which is why I'm giving it three stars”
Whereas, he caricatures other reviews that are unbelievably good: "We were picked up from the airport by a unicorn" he mis-quotes and: 'We left two of our children, it's a better life for them."
TripAdvisor said it used "advanced and highly effective" fraud detection systems and dedicated substantial resources to identifying and minimising any non-genuine content.
But it said it was "not practical" for them to screen each review manually before it was posted and there was no practical way for them to verify identities due to their independence from operators. However TripAdvisor said reviewers were asked to sign a declaration that their review was genuine and honest but the ASA concluded that this did not necessarily prevent false reviews from being posted.
The company also said that hotel owners were allowed to respond publicly to reviews and added that the website's users had experience of other review sites and therefore had a "healthy scepticism".
But the ASA found this did not mean that consumers would necessarily be able to detect non-genuine reviews, especially when an establishment had not received many postings.
The watchdog said: "Because we considered that the claims implied that consumers could be assured that all review content on the TripAdvisor site was genuine, when we understood that might not be the case, we concluded that the claims were misleading."
It continued: "We told TripAdvisor not to claim or imply that all the reviews that appeared on the website were from real travellers, or were honest, real or trusted."