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85% of British Hospitality businesses fall prey to fake or malicious online reviews

Review sites have changed the landscape of the industry

There’s no denying it, Trip Advisor has changed the hospitality landscape indefinitely; seldom do we go to a restaurant, a hotel or even order a takeaway today without having first checked the business’ online credentials (be it Trip Advisor, Google reviews or Yelp.)

These platforms allow customers, both existing and potential, to make seemingly informed decisions about where they choose to spend their hard-earned money (UK diners to spend £54.7bn on eating out by 2017 – source Big Hospitality.)

65% increase in number of fake or malicious online reviews

However, it’s no secret that a lot of those within the industry aren’t huge fans of these sites which they claim can unfairly and negatively impact business based on the experience of one disgruntled customer or someone who may taken issue with something that has nothing to do with the business’ food or customer service (décor, fellow diners being loud etc.)

A recent survey carried out by the British Hospitality Association gave credence to these concerns, with evidence showing that 85% of hospitality businesses have fallen victim to fake online reviews intended to harm – up 65% on from the BHA’s previous report in 2015.

Businesses less confident in review sites compared with two years ago

However, our dependence on technology and indeed and on review sites has meant that for businesses who are unwavering in their commitment to quality, there is the chance for free promotion via these sites, in the form of good reviews and photos. In light of this, the survey found that 71% of participants felt that review sites were useful for their business (though this was down 9% compared with two years ago.)

Ufi Ibrahim, CEO of the BHA, said: “Online review sites are hugely important for the reputations of hospitality businesses and allow consumer 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.”

Transparency vital to consumer confidence

Perhaps more unsettling is the fact that 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 questioned as to whether the review sites were helpful in dealing with blackmail attempts, more than 60% of respondents said that each of the most popular platforms used by customers were not helpful.

Another issue for business owners is transparency, with over 65% of those surveyed claiming that one of the biggest issues was not with the reviews themselves, but rather the complicated algorithms which dictate site rankings and which consumers are unaware of.

What’s clear is that there is huge potential for review sites to have a positive impact on the hospitality industry, as long as they work congruously with food businesses, ensuring transparency and thereby inspiring confidence in the industry as a whole.

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