Hospitality businesses are increasingly worried about malicious and fake online reviews and many say that the reviews have been used to blackmail them. These figures are from a new survey by the British Hospitality Association (BHA), which includes the Restaurant Association, finding that 85% of hospitality businesses have been victim to fake online reviews intended to harm – up from 65% in the last survey two years ago.
Online review sites are a powerful tool for hotels and restaurants with a majority of those surveyed by the BHA (71%) saying that these platforms were useful for their business, with one respondent even going so far as to say, “it’s the only advertising worth having”. But this number had declined from 2015, by 9%, which may be related to the issues hospitality businesses are facing from fake negative and malicious reviews.
Other findings included that:
• Online platforms were not perceived as helpful by businesses dealing with fake negative reviews, with more than 60% of respondents saying they were ‘not helpful’ or ‘not very helpful’.
• Half of businesses said that the threat of a bad online review had been used to blackmail them into giving a refund to the customer. When asked if review sites were helpful in dealing with these blackmail attempts, more than 60% respondents said that each of the most popular platforms used by customers were not helpful
• More than 65% of respondents to the survey said that transparency was a problem with website rankings based not on reviews but on complicated algorithms that the consumer is unaware of.
Digital Comparison Tools (DCTs) such as review sites have been the subject of a recent study by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). The CMA found that DCTs depend on consumer trust to provide a ‘relevant and accurate’ service. The CMA gives guidance on how to treat consumers fairly called CARE, which means DCTs should be ‘clear’, ‘accurate’, ‘responsible’ and ‘easy to use’. The CMA has previously said it will continue to ensure that consumer law can be readily understood and applied by those providing DCTs and that it will take enforcement action when necessary.
Ufi Ibrahim, Chief Executive of the British Hospitality Association, said:
“Online reviews sites are hugely important for the reputations of hospitality businesses and allow consumers to make informed decisions. However, the relentless and largely unregulated growth of the digital intermediaries means that hospitality businesses in the real world – who often pay large commissions to these sites on bookings - are at the mercy of these firms. More must be done to tackle fake and malicious reviews and provide greater transparency provided in the ratings systems.”