City Cruises

Published on Friday, September 9, 2011

Five-star rave reviews: on sale at just $5 each

The travel industry in common with many others has never been without its innovators who sometimes stretch to find profitable niches. But the latest hot new travel trend may be something of a surprise: the hotel and review business itself.

“An entire industry has also sprung up of individuals who are prepared to fake hotel reviews in exchange for a small fee,” according to the Daily Mail online.

“As online retailers increasingly depend on reviews as a sales tool, an industry of fibbers and promoters has sprung up to buy and sell raves for a pittance,” writes The New York Times.

Interested? Try the site, which advertises itself as “The place for people to share things they’re willing to do for $5.”

Joining up at this site is simple but you do have to pass a math quiz (0+1=?).

Offers include “I will write anything on my feet in high heels for $5,” but also the submittal of two “great reviews” for the same price.

But that’s not the only place to make money on reviews.

Bloggers on Digital Point and Cragislist also offer “positive feedback” notes.

“The boundless demand for positive reviews has made the review system an arms race of sorts,” notes the Times.

Not all reviews can be bought so cheaply, however.

Freelance writer Sandra Parker told the newspaper she was hired to pump out Amazon reviews for $10. She said she was not asked to provide five-star reviews but to use superlatives.

Hotel reviews are obviously good business. And it was no real surprise that The Cove, an English hotel in Cornwall, was recently accused in the British media of soliciting guests to post an “honest but positive” review. The pay-off: a future discount room of 10 percent.

Does that mean many reviews are false? And just how often does it happen?

No one really know, but while it’s common for people to claim they can spot fakes, research shows they are wrong. A team at Cornell University found that people are very poor at telling true from false reviews. They’re no better than tossing a coin.

But the Cornell researchers have developed a computer program that is much better than humans at differentiating true from false reviews, it was reported recently.

The team employed a group of people to deliberately write 400 false positive reviews of 20 Chicago hotels. These were compared with an equal number of genuine positive reviews for the same hotels.

Human judges – volunteer Cornell undergraduates – scored no better than chance in identifying fake reviews. They did not even agree on which reviews they thought were false, reinforcing that they were doing no better than chance.

“The whole system falls apart if made-up reviews are given the same weight as honest ones,” said one of the researchers, Myle Ott.

Google was among other major companies seeking the researchers out to determine applications to their own businesses.

Internet shopping has created a place where customer reviews are essential to the sales pitch, says Linchi Kwok, an assistant professor at Syracuse University who is researching social media in the hotel business.

 “Everyone’s trying to do something to make themselves look better,” he told the Times. “Some of them, if they cannot generate authentic reviews, may hire somebody to do it.”

Major sites seem to be aware of the practice though all say they have strategies to detect and prevent it.

“We are continuing to invest in our ability to detect these problems,” said Russell Dicker, Amazon’s director of community.

The pioneer in this field, TripAdvisor, was founded just over a decade ago when they started asking for reviews. They were rightfully worried it would be a gripe session.

“Who the heck would bother to write a review except to complain?” asked chief executive Stephen Kaufer. But, surprise, the average reviews turns out to be 3.7 stars out of five.

Perhaps he should not have been surprised.

The fact is that positive reviews far outnumber the negative ones, according to a new survey.

TripAdvisor’s Brian Payea shared findings of his research in a guest article on the travel industry web site Tnooz. Forrester Research conducted the research with 2,100 travelers.

"The number one reason travelers cite for writing a hotel review is to 'share a good experience with other travelers,'" Payea writes. "This is consistent with TripAdvisor’s own findings: the average rating on TripAdvisor is positive.”

Even bad reviews, however, can create new businesses.

Hotels and other businesses that get a failing grade or two can turn to dot-coms like Main Street Hub. They manage the reputations of small businesses for a fixed fee.

By David Wilkening

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  • It's a numbers game

    All hotels occasionally give a bad experience to a client and will get a bad review and conversely where a hotel might feel it hasn't done as well as it could for a client they find the client thinks they have had excellent service and so the only reliable feedback from general review sites is to look at the total number of reviews and see where the average falls. Even at $5 a review very few hotels will have paid for more than a few reviews and so the more reviews a hotel has the more likely it is that the consensus will give a fair picture. Personally I always check They only allow reviews from people who have stayed in a hotel that has been booked through them - the link to write the review is sent to you after you have checked out and so their reviews are much more reliable than any other travel website I have found.

    By Martin Drew, Wednesday, November 2, 2016

  • Fake reviews

    As a company that receives legitimate reviews, this is a big worry.

    By Donna Hamilton, Thursday, September 15, 2011

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