We had a very polite and considered email today. It read:
"I feel that the current witch hunt towards trip advisor is very unfair. All organisations have rogues, but in my experience as a regular user and contributor they do all they can to detect and avoid fraudulent posts.
Owners do not like negative reviews, but in all the years we have used the reviews they have been a great source of help. This is a vital resource for travellers against much of the poor quality and rip offs in the hotel industry."
We responded as follows:
Please allow me to clarify our position regarding TripAdvisor.
We have always stated that the business was set up with the best of intentions. I have gone on record to say too, that I have found it extremely useful in the past myself - and acknowledge publicly that there are many honest reviewers using it.
We have never once cited a 'negative review' in any of the actions we are taking - we have been solely concerned with provable falsehoods and malice - and of course highlighting the rogue businesses that deceive consumers through the placement of fake positive reviews, which have now turned into a remarkably sophisticated industry in their own right, with techniques that are extremely difficult to detect if you don't start by determining that they are genuine customers.
I regret that TripAdvisor really are lacking in diligence across the whole spectrum. Our 8 month study showed that they are often incapable of detecting even obvious fraud, let alone the new, expert variety. Even when fraud has been brought to their attention and evidence offered, they have often failed to act.
As their influence has risen, the levels of falsehoods have too and without at least a check on whether a user was a genuine customer, this will continue. Unfortunately, as this situation has evolved, so too has TripAdvisor's insistence on the degree of trustworthiness on its site. This is unfair to consumers and businesses.
Our complaints regarding what we contend are exaggerated claims of truthfulness and diligence were referred to the appropriate authorities with the sole intention of having them impartially and appropriately examined.
Finally, I would also like to go back to the aspect in which KwikChex is so often involved - that of malicious defamation. I would ask you try and appreciate that for small businesses in particular, the effect of such actions is devastating - with fewer reviews generally on their listing, it takes only 10 minutes to decimate such a business - and to cause untold distress to the owners. Some of the examples we have seen have been truly shocking.
In far too many cases, TripAdvisor has refused to take appropriate action. In some they have actually even made it worse. For example, recently, after one small business had derogatory comments posted that are suspected of coming from an ex-employee (we are going through the processes of proving that at the moment), they then found themselves 'red flagged' by TripAdvisor, accused of posting fake good reviews. We know what the cause of this was and we are certain they are innocent - and are currently mounting actions to prove it. The consequences of this combination of lack of diligence and misinformed and unethical behaviour are that the business has dropped from 74% occupancy to zero. TripAdvisor refuses to act.
There are many improvements TripAdvisor could make, but instead they have opted to keep on talking about their figures, denying the problems and attempting to hide behind out of date laws. We think that is unethical and deceitful. We feel that businesses trading in this manner are steadily turning the precious values of freedom of speech into freedom of deceit. That lets down everyone except the rogues.
I hope you will forgive my lengthy missive, but I do believe that it is important to explain what we are doing and why.
He was kind enough to reply:
"Thank you for your detailed and clear reply, and your speed to my response. I agree with you in total that fake reviews are not acceptable. I also hope that Trip Advisor will be more co-operative. I see no reason for this attitude by them. You have clarified the situation very well, Thank you.
I only hope that you will consider all the contributors to that site who are genuine, and do try to be objective either if that is negative or positive. I have nothing to hide in my reviews. It would be a shame to see this important service to consumers shut down by the actions both of a stubborn trip advisor management and the actions of exasperated hotel owners. I hope the genuine contributors will be considered in all of this."
To which we responded:
Thank you again. We will certainly continue to acknowledge the contribution that honest and fair reviewers such as yourself provide. It is honestly my fervent hope that TA will introduce systems that help validate such contributions - there are several ways that are not difficult - and it can be an opt-in process, so that degrees of trust can be better evaluated by using the website.
KwikChex members and honest, genuine reviewers are on the same side - we all want reliably sourced, accurate information on standards - and neither want to see fraudsters succeed. That is the essence of everything that is happening.