The Irish Times newspaper published an investigative article on Tuesday alleging that it had seen internal communication by Carlton Hotel Group, Dublin, instructing staff members to post positive TripAdvisor reviews about the hotels they worked at.
The Irish Times reported that Jean O’Connell, Carlton’s director of sales and marketing, sent an email to at least 29 Carlton employees in July 2010 saying the company wanted “a more pro-active management of the reviews on Trip Advisor” and that the company had agreed to instruct hotel managers to appoint five personnel to post fake positive reviews. The email was copied to Carlton’s senior management.
The email included specific instructions on posting, including directions to never use a Carlton-owned computer so that a company IP address would not be detected and to include “a minimum of 30 photographs that reflect the excellent product you have and key USPs you want to get across. Not professional photos but good quality from a digital camera is fine.”
O’Connell confirmed that she had sent the email to The Irish Times but said that the policy was only proposal that had never been implemented, claiming that it was drafted in response to “evidence of fake reviews” about the hotels on TripAdvisor. Attorneys representing Carlton reiterated this.
Emma Shaw, U.K. senior public relations & media relations manager at TripAdvisor told The Irish Times that her company was conducting a “full and detailed investigation” into the matter.
The news comes as controversy on the British Isles about fake reviews continues to embroil TripAdvisor. Currently there are two U.K. government investigations, one by the Office of Fair Trade and the other by the U.K. Advertising Standards Authority into allegedly fake reviews on TripAdvisor, and evidence that a paid market for freelance writers to post false reviews was brought to attention in another investigative article published by The Sunday Times.
TripAdvisor, a former subsidiary of Expedia Inc. that was spun off as a publicly traded company in December 2011, maintains that the vast majority of reviews on its website are legitimate and there is “zero tolerance” for hoteliers and reviewers breaking policy. Penalties include getting a red badge for phony reviews posted on the hotel’s review page.