An advertising watchdog has told the popular travel website TripAdvisor it could not claim that all of its reviews were written by real travellers.
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said claims that all reviews on the site were genuine were “misleading”.
The ruling came after complaints highlighted statements on the TripAdvisor website which claimed: “Reviews you can trust”, “read reviews from real travellers” and “More than 50 million honest travel reviews and opinions from real travellers around the world”.
The complainants said they understood that TripAdvisor did not verify the reviews and therefore could not prove that they were genuine or from real travellers.
The ASA upheld the complaint and said consumers would take the claims on the website to mean they could be certain that the reviews posted were from genuine travellers and accurately reflected those travellers’ experiences of the places they visited.
It said that, as reviews could be placed on the site without verification, it was possible that non-genuine reviews could go undetected.
TripAdvisor said it used “advanced and highly effective” fraud detection systems and dedicated substantial resources to identify and minimise any non-genuine content.
But the company said it was “not practical” to screen each review manually before it was posted and there was no practical way to verify identities due to its independence from operators.
TripAdvisor said reviewers were asked to sign a declaration that their review was genuine and honest but the ASA concluded that this did not necessarily prevent non-genuine reviews from being posted on the site.
The company also said hotel owners were allowed to respond publicly to reviews and added that the website’s users had experience of other review sites and therefore had a “healthy scepticism”.
But the ASA found this did not mean that consumers would necessarily be able to detect non-genuine reviews, especially when an establishment had not received many postings.