Sales & Marketing

Meet the businesses that were sunk by TripAdvisor reviews

7 min read

28 March 2016

Former deputy editor

The online reviews market is a lucrative area as today’s savvy consumers are eager to hear feedback from peers before committing to sales. As such, ahead of summer holiday season, we’ve tracked down some of the business disasters that arose from TripAdvisor.

Trustpilot is an online review service that works with the likes of Nando’s and Boohoo.com, allowing users to deliver feedback on their experiences, which will either persuade or deter prospective customers.

The idea is that consumers will be given a transparent experience when making purchases, while businesses can learn from, and improve on, where they are going wrong.

There are services across multiple sectors with Yelp, Glassdoor and Zomato covering reviews for local businesses, workplaces and eateries for savvy shoppers.

And last year, Trustpilot proved honesty is the best policy as it raised $73.5m in a Series D round.

With summer approaching – we hope – we’ve looked at travel review service TripAdvisor to find the disaster stories that companies in the hospitality space have been caught in the midst of.

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(1) Broadway Hotel, Blackpool

As if it wasn’t bad enough that the Broadway Hotel in Blackpool was reviewed as a “rotten, stinking hovel” on TripAdvisor by one couple, the venue made things even worse afterwards.

Husband and wife Tony and Ian Jenkinson stayed at the location in 2014 and were clearly less than impressed by their accommodation. They paid £36 for the one-night stay, but found they were fined £100 by the hotel for the scathing feedback.

“For every bad review left on any website, the group organiser will be charged a maximum £100 per review,” the hotel’s policy said.

After Trading Standards became involved, the hotel agreed to refund the money.

A hotel spokesperson said: “We agree there is room for improvement at our establishment and we desperately want to turn things around.”

Though the incident took place in 2014, 2016 reviews aren’t much better, with “absolutely disgusting” and “should be closed down” among them.

If your preferred travel experience is rotten, stinking hovel – you know where to go.

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The travel business born out of a recession and now backed by Google

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(2) Accor Hotels, Australia

It’s one thing to love your brand, but it’s another to take a remarkably unethical, seemingly desperate, approach to marketing.

That was the case for Peter Hook, communications manager for Accor Hotels, who worked with the company for almost two decades.

Responsible for promoting hotels in the APAC region, Hook used TripAdvisor to post a string of glowing reviews about the business through the company’s Facebook app.

Furthermore, he took the opportunity to stick the knife into rivals by bashing services offered in attempt to snatch up customers. An online reputation firm cottoned on to Hook’s dirty tactics, with the PR chief issuing over 100 brilliant reviews for Accor.

A month later and Hook had departed the company. He said of his actions: “It was a hobby, nothing more, but in hindsight – and don’t we love hindsight! – I shouldn’t have included hotel reviews.”

According to LinkedIn, he now has a number of high-profile travel clients with his firm Hook Communications. Wonder if he’ll clinch Accor…

Continue reading on the next page for the businesses that have reviewed customers and incorporated bribery.


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(3) Bennett’s Cafe & Bistro, York

As the saying goes, if you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen.

Apparently the manager at York-based Bennett’s Cafe & Bistro likes it hot and encouraged searing temperatures by unleashing fury on an unhappy customer.

After visiting with friends in December 2015, TripAdvisor user Hannah C slammed her afternoon tea experience at the bistro as “absolutely awful” and considered the place to be rather expensive.

She summarised the bashing by saying: “Dreadful place. The rude waiter that served me should be sacked”.

Refusing to take that lying down, however, the manager of Bennett’s took the feedback on board and returned some in kind.

Firstly the boss noted the duties of a waiter and then reeled off all of the associated costs of running a business, from supplies, wages, rent and VAT.

The manager said the costs involved for Hannah is just “the cruel reality of life” and added “the rudeness perceived was triggered by the disrespect that I perceived in you by your presumption that you could use our facilities and be waited on for free.”

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Thanda Island: Heaven on Earth exists and it will cost visitors $10,000 a night

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(4) The Cove, Cornwall

We previously mentioned how lucrative the reviews market has become. Indeed, the desperation to be seen as a great brand by consumers cost Peter Hook his job.

Meanwhile, using a tactic similar, yet more subtle, to Hook’s, The Cove in Cornwall sought glowing reviews from customers – and offered a bribe as a reward for delivering the goods.

Billed as a scheme called “Friends of the Cove”, those who had stayed with the hotel were approached via email and encouraged to leave a “honest, but positive review” on TripAdvisor.

Complying with the demands would have resulted in ten per cent discount of a future stay, while further ten per cent discounts could be made for each friend convinced to stay.

Additionally, a Cove loyalty card would grant discount on food and drink at the venue, as well as an apartment upgrade.

The Office of Fair Trading was involved and TripAdvisor threatened to penalise the hotel for its actions, which would be investigated.

So what if you left a bad review? A £100 fine, presumably.

While The Cove’s intentions were questioned, the business and many others can learn how to generate loyalty from the most effective reward programmes in the world.