Attack of the sockpuppets: hotels fall victim to fake critics


Nearly two in three hotel owners believe they have been the victims of fake online reviews that damage their business, according to a new survey.

Despite the majority of hotel owners admitting that they find such comments helpful, 62% of those surveyed believe their business has been targeted by so-called “sockpuppets” — people who post fake reviews. One example was a review that criticised a hotel’s bedrooms despite them not being open to customers yet.

The survey of 86 hotels, carried out by the AA ahead of the publication of their Restaurant and Hotel Guide 2017, found that 97% of hoteliers wanted stricter rules to verify the identity of people posting reviews, in a bid to help holidaymakers and the hotels themselves identify both positive and negative fake comments. Online reviews are read and trusted by 64% of people, according to the survey.

Tony Jackson, 64, is the owner of the three-star Palace Hotel in Peterhead, Aberdeenshire. Originally a restaurant, he expanded the business into a hotel eight years ago. During the conversion, Jackson noticed that the hotel had appeared on TripAdvisor, a website that encourages its users to post travel-related reviews.

“We opened the restaurant and lounge first, about three months before the bedrooms were ready,” he said. “Our first review on TripAdvisor was damning, saying it was still a building site, the bedrooms were only half finished and there was no hot water in them, and that the toiletries were of a poor quality. It went on to comment about the food being from a freezer, which is against everything we are about. Given that we didn’t even have any bedrooms open, it was a bit annoying.”

Jackson believes potential guests were put off from staying or dining at his business. “Websites such as TripAdvisor don’t verify whether reviewers have actually stayed, so anybody could put anything up. It could be a member of staff, if you’ve fallen out with them. It could be a competitor.”

Another owner, who runs a five-star bed and breakfast in Cornwall, received a poor review from an account that she could not match to any guest who had stayed. The owner, who wished to remain anonymous, said she was now hesitant to ask people to abide by her house rules.

“You’ve only got to ask someone not to smoke in their room and they’ll go away and write a nasty review,” she said.

However, it’s believed that some hoteliers aren’t afraid to play the sockpuppet game themselves, with reports of owners getting their staff to pen positive reviews to detract from genuine negative comments.