TripAdvisor, the Needham-based travel company, is accused of removing hotel reviews from its site that include reports of rapes and assaults, according to an investigation by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
According to the Journal Sentinel report, the company has deleted dozens of postings that report instances of sexual assault, rape, and other impropriety at hotels. More than a dozen people said their online reviews were deleted after they reported information about hotels that were “determined to be inappropriate by the TripAdvisor community.” Other negative posts were removed for being “off-topic” or for delving into subject matter that was not seen as “family friendly.” The exact number of postings the company has deleted is unknown.
Shortly after Kristie Love was raped by a hotel security guard at a Mexican resort in 2010, she turned to TripAdvisor to issue a warning to fellow travelers, writing a damning review of the hotel online, the Journal Sentinel reported. But the posting was quickly deleted by TripAdvisor, which deemed its content in violation of its family friendly guidelines. Two other women who visited the same hotel where Love was assaulted also posted warnings to TripAdvisor in the years that followed, outlining instances of rape and assault. Those postings were also deemed inappropriate by the site’s standards.
Among the other users who saw their posts deleted was Wendy Avery-Swanson of Phoenix, who wrote warning visitors that she had blacked out at a Mexican resort after drinking at a hotel’s swim-up bar. Shelley Khan of New York saw her post disappear after writing that her Mexican hotel staff failed to honor her reservation, overcharged her to rebook a room, and then followed her throughout the premises during her stay. And Josh Resmini told the Journal Sentinel that his spa treatment at a Mexican resort resulted in a sexual assault after his massage therapist drugged him. Resmini’s account of that attack had been deleted by TripAdvisor.
The issue raises questions about the role of a hotel review site as a public forum, and the role that TripAdvisor should play as a mediator. The company hosts more than 535 million user reviews online, and is worth more than $1.5 billion
It derives much of its revenue from referrals to hotel sites, and also has an “instant booking” feature, allowing users to book directly through the site. Its relationships with hotel properties are integral to the company’s bottom line, according to an August filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission obtained by the Journal Sentinel. In it, TripAdvisor financial officers stressed the importance that the company convert visitors into “users and bookers.”
“Advertisers will not continue to do business with us if their investment in such advertising does not generate sales leads, customers, bookings, or revenue and profit,” they wrote.
Honest reviews are the backbone of TripAdvisor’s business, and according the company’s content integrity policy, TripAdvisor uses dozens of filters to identify fake reviews. TripAdvisor employs a team of over “300 people all over the world working to manage content and to identify, block, and remove fraud.” They ultimately reserve the right to remove any postings they deem inappropriate.
“It’s important that anyone who suspects foul play or illegal activity contact the local authorities rather than use a review platform as their primary way to share their experience,” a spokeswoman told the Journal Sentinel.
Last week, the company said that it would institute a badge system that would alert travelers to serious problems at hotels, highlighting major media stories as well as any other health and safety concerns, at the properties. The company expects that it will be launched before the end of the year.
On Oct. 19, exactly seven years after she was attacked, TripAdvisor reinstated the original comment made by Love describing her assault.
“We apologize to the sexual assault victim, reported on in the article, who had her forum post removed seven years ago on TripAdvisor,” spokesperson Kevin Carter wrote to the Globe in an e-mail. He said that since 2010, our “policies and processes have evolved to better provide information like this to other travelers. . . . In fact, a simple Internet search will show numerous reviews from travelers over the last several years who wrote about their firsthand experiences that include matters of robbery or theft, assault, and rape.”
“We are horrified that this victim experienced this assault on her vacation in Mexico, and other travelers should be aware of this incident,” he wrote.
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