Mike Avery, licensee at Cromwell’s in Shrewsbury, told the PMA he was hit with three ‘fake’ reviews in 2012 soon after receiving emails threatening to leave damaging comments on TripAdvisor if he didn’t pay £100.
He failed to get the reviews removed via TripAdvisor’s online reporting system as he was informed they didn’t breach guidelines. He only succeeded after turning to the police.
The US Trade Commission directs actions against unfair trade practices, and Avery has been invited to discuss his struggles as TripAdvisor’s head office is in Massachusetts.
The licensee didn’t sleep for 48 hours and one member of staff resigned following the online criticisms.
“Reviews said the food wasn’t fit for a dog, and we’ve got terrible staff,” Avery explained.
“I felt so exposed, I thought about selling. The reviews could have been from someone trying to buy us, to drive us out,” he speculated.
Avery’s main gripe with the review site is its claim to be unbiased.
“TripAdvisor gives the impression all reviews are genuine. It should say ‘if you use this site please be aware that we can’t guarantee the reviews are genuine’,” he said.
Avery also suggests customer ratings should only count if they have posted 20 reviews in a six month period.
“That would give the ratings more credibility. You should also have a right to be withdrawn, the industry has a right to defend itself,” he added.
Last week Which? magazine posted 54 fake reviews on TripAdvisor to test the site, 18 of which made it online.
TripAdvisor claims it removed 90% of fake Which? reviews, and a spokesman said the percentage would be higher in the normal situations, as the magazine was attempting to beat the system.
The online system is “very effective at maintaining the integrity of the reviews on TripAdvisor”, the spokesman added.