By Clare Riley, Content & Editorial Manager, SiteMinder
Research from the UK government’s Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) estimates that more than half of UK adults use online reviews to inform their decisions before purchase. To the hotel and travel sector, this statistic won’t come as any great surprise.
But findings from the same CMA report, titled ‘Online Reviews and Endorsements’, has led the authority to become concerned about the practices used by some hospitality businesses to gain positive online reviews. The CMA assessed six broad sectors, including travel and hotels, and found evidence of:
- Businesses writing or commissioning fake positive reviews about themselves to boost their ratings on review sites relative to rivals
- Businesses or individuals writing or commissioning fake negative reviews trying to undermine their rivals or by individuals acting maliciously or for personal gain
- Review sites ‘cherry-picking’ positive reviews, or suppressing negative reviews that they collect or display, without making it clear to readers that they are presenting a selection of reviews only
- Review sites’ moderation processes potentially causing some genuine negative reviews not to be published. Some sites may not be publishing genuine negative reviews and instead encourage businesses to take action to resolve the customer’s complaint.
Nisha Arora, a CMA senior director, said the authority has started to look further at these businesses acting unlawfully: “Millions of people look at online reviews and endorsements before making decisions such as where to stay on holiday, or which plumber to use. We are committed to ensuring that consumers’ trust in these important information tools is maintained, and will take enforcement action where necessary to tackle unlawful practices. We have opened an investigation into businesses that may be paying for endorsements in blogs and other online articles where the payment may not have been made clear to readers.”
What are the rules for online reviews?
Managing online reviews can be complex and it can be hard to know how to play by the rules. Here are nine simple recommendations from the CMA to ensure your hotel stays on the right side of best practice:
- Be clear about where reviews come from, and how they are checked before publishing
- Publish all reviews, even negative ones, provided they are genuine and lawful
- Explain to guests the circumstances in which reviews might not be published or might be edited (for example if they include swearing, abusive language or defamatory remarks)
- Make sure there is no unreasonable delay before reviews are published, so guests get the current picture
- Disclose commercial relationships with businesses that appear on your site, and explain how this may affect the review ratings
- Have appropriate procedures in place to detect and remove fake reviews, and act promptly in response to reports of suspected fake reviews
- Don’t offer inducements – money or gifts – to customers to write positive reviews about your hotel
- Don’t pretend to be a guest and write reviews about your hotel or other hotels – or pay others to do so
- If someone who publishes content accepts payment to endorse something, they need to make sure the content is clearly identifiable as being paid-for. For example, they could label posts or videos as “advertisement feature” or “advertisement promotion”
Overwhelmingly, the CMA did find the handling of online reviews to be in keeping with the law and found good examples of businesses taking steps to improve outcomes for consumers. Some sites have developed systems to: detect and verify fake reviews; identify and give greater prominence to reviews that are likely to be more helpful; and enable users to flag suspicious-looking reviews themselves.
Guests that use online reviews appear to trust them, and they continue to be an important source of information for their buying decisions, particularly in the hotel and travel sector. Just recently, research from Deloitte found that 42% of travellers in the UK rely on the opinions of others online, proving that in today’s Internet economy, it is absolutely crucial for hotels to become fully engaged with a guest at every touch point of their buying journey.
For more helpful information about how to handle online guest reviews, click here.
To learn more about how you can engage the empowered holidaymaker, click here.