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updated 2/23/2011 3:17:02 PM ET 2011-02-23T20:17:02

Below are statements to NBC News from representatives of TripAdvisor, the Federal Trade Commission, American Hotel & Lodging Association, Hyatt Regency Washington, and Sofitel Los Angeles in response to a report that aired Thursday on TODAY:

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Statement from TripAdvisor spokesperson Brook Ferencsik:
“We take the authenticity of our reviews very seriously and have numerous methods to ensure the legitimacy of the content on TripAdvisor. Only a small percentage of the content we receive is determined fraudulent. The measures that ensure the legitimacy of reviews on TripAdvisor include sophisticated automated tools on the site that we’ve refined for more than 10 years and continually improve; our large, passionate community of more than 40 million monthly visitors that helps flag suspicious content on the site; and our team of quality assurance specialists also screens suspicious reviews and brings a wide range of professional experience, including expertise in credit card fraud, loss prevention, and identity theft.  TripAdvisor has a zero tolerance policy on fraudulent reviews. In addition to being a violation of our terms of service and an unethical practice, it’s also a violation of the law in many jurisdictions. We’re very clear with hoteliers about our policies to penalize those that attempt to manipulate the system, and the vast majority of property owners understand the significant risk to their reputation and their business if they attempt to post fraudulent information on review sites like TripAdvisor. We take serious steps to penalize businesses who are caught attempting to manipulate the system. Penalties include affecting their popularity rating on the site and posting public warning notices on hotels that have made attempts to manipulate their rating and we evaluate these situations on a case-by-case basis. TripAdvisor has recently celebrated our 10-year anniversary, and we’re proud to have helped millions of travelers plan the perfect trip. It’s because of the trusted traveler reviews and opinions on TripAdvisor.”

Statement from Federal Trade Commission spokesperson Mary Engle:
“As with any advertising, there is some latitude for what is called ‘puffery.’ That hamburger you see on a billboard may never be as juicy as it looks. But if there is a material misrepresentation — let’s say the hotel website shows ocean views when there aren’t any — then that’s a matter of concern. As described in the FTC’s Endorsement Guides, a person or company that endorses a service or product should be upfront about any financial connection they may have with the marketer. For example, if an employee of a hotel writes a review of the hotel, they must say they are an employee. Posing as an independent reviewer would violate the law. The FTC advises consumers who consider customer reviews when making purchasing decisions to read a wide range of reviews at different sites. Also, identify what matters most to you – for example, the size of the swimming pool or the friendliness of the staff — and make a special point of looking for information about it. Finally, travel blogs that you know and trust can be a good source of information.”

Statement from American Hotel& Lodging Association spokesperson Netanya Stutz:
“Fabricating a property’s appearance through the use of Photoshop or trick photography, or posting false online reviews to create a more appealing facade is not recommended or condoned by the American Hotel & Lodging Association. Misleading potential guests is not only ethically objectionable, it also minimizes the chance for repeat business, word-of-mouth referrals, and positive online reviews. Additionally, planted reviews are typically transparent and the intended result has the opposite effect. For hoteliers, AH&LA recommends addressing and responding to negative online comments and accurately representing the hotel in online and offline material to ensure guest satisfaction and long-term success. For consumers, AH&LA recommends reviewing a mix of high, low, and medium online reviews to identify consistent characteristics of the hotel. Additionally, it’s advised to use multiple sources to obtain the most accurate depiction, including visiting the hotel’s Website, online and offline review sources, and Facebook.”

Statement from Hyatt Regency Washington/Capitol Hill spokespersonTammy Hagin:
“The photograph on Hyatt Regency Washington’s web page is a beauty shot of the hotel exterior taken with a long lens that accurately portrays the hotel's physical proximity to the Capitol building, which is indeed two blocks away. As you know, photography and videography quality can vary greatly depending on the technology/equipment used to capture the still or moving image. We would like to point out that on the hotel website, we make it clear and easy for our guests to see where the hotel is located by including the physical street address and a link to a Bing map where travelers can view the hotel's location related to the U.S. Capitol and other prominent Washington, DC attractions. We are proud of the hotel's proximity to the Capitol.”

Statement from Sofitel Los Angeles spokesperson Stacy Royal:
“All photos of Sofitel Los Angeles are reflective of the actual product. The rooftop pool area can be photographed from many angles. The shot chosen for the website offers guests an authentic preview of the full length of the pool, as well as the surrounding landscape and lounge area. It is an accurate image of the setting that our guests enjoy. It has not been retouched or altered in any way.”

© 2013 MSNBC Interactive.  Reprints

Video: Do resorts promise more than they deliver?

  1. Closed captioning of: Do resorts promise more than they deliver?

    >>> morning on "today investigates," a travel alert for anyone planning a vacation. we took nbc's jeff rossen around the world. he's here to tell us what he found. hi, jeff. good morning.

    >> timely as we all plan our vacations for spring break. we've heard the warnings before. watch out for scams when booking your vacation online. this time it's different. our investigation found it's the hotels , resorts and restaurants themselves that may be misleading you. you save up all year for that amazing dream vacation. and depend on hotel websites to figure out where to go, what does the room look like, how about the view, the pool, the beach? but don't always believe what you see. this caribbean resort shows a peaceful, serene beach on its website, but when you show up, here's what it really looks like. try getting a chair here. and this pool with a view in l.a., here's what the hotel website doesn't show. it's actually in the shadow of a huge department store .

    >> it was just unbelievable.

    >> reporter: patty is still seething. she booked her luxury hawaiian vacation online and paid hundreds for this gorgeous hotel room view, promised on the website.

    >> it was beautiful. overlooked the lagoon.

    >> reporter: picture-esque?

    >> in the picture is the beautiful.

    >> reporter: when patty arrived, she got a stunning view, all right.

    >> what was it?

    >> a sea of solar panels . literally a sea of solar panels .

    >> reporter: only when she complained did the hotel offer to switch her room. these photo fake-outs are getting so common.

    >> some hotels outright deceive you.

    >> reporter: the travel website oyster.com sends investigators to hotels around the world to expose it.

    >> our oyster investigator goes to the hotel, takes the same photo from the same location that you see in the brochure and then we show you the difference. we're seeing that because the economy is bad, hotels have to resort to more aggressive measures. part of that is unfortunately manipulation and exaggeration of what you're going to get.

    >> reporter: this photo from a hotel in d.c. makes it seem like you're just steps from the capitol. here's how it really looks without that special lenz. much farther away. and look at this room at a luxury resort in costa rica , promising sweeping views of the ocean. so we went to costa rica , one of the most popular vacation spots in the world, to check it out for ourselves. remember, here's the official resort photo. and this is an actual ocean-view room. what happened to that beautiful wall of windows? so much for that panoramic view they promised. we confronted the resort manager.

    >> you do not have my permission to film me, first of all.

    >> reporter: i just wanted to show you a picture. you say this a full ocean-view room, but there's no panoramic view .

    >> what part of you're not allowed to film me do you not get? turn the camera off.

    >> reporter: we were told to leave. here it is. it's so widespread, we found another example just up the street. this calls itself a romantic waterfront hideaway and shows what looks like a luxurious lagoon pool. so what does that beautiful pool really look like? here it is. see for yourself. a lot smaller. so we went to the manager. do you think it's misleading? because the pool is rather small.

    >> well, to me, it's not misleading because it's an actual photo.

    >> reporter: okay. and if you think that's ridiculous, this resort insider says it gets much worse. he's ready to expose an even more outrageous trick.

    >> you get them in any way you can.

    >> reporter: even if it's deceitful?

    >> right.

    >> reporter: billy is coming clean , admitting popular hotels and restaurants post bogus customer reviews on sites like tripadvisor, used by millions to decide where to go and where to spend billions of dollars.

    >> if it takes a fake review on tripadvisor to get more people in your door, i don't see why that's wrong.

    >> reporter: billy admits he's been doing it for years, setting up fake e-mail addresses and user names.

    >> the outstanding food they serve at dinner is now --

    >> reporter: then writing fake customer reviews like this one to boost his business.

    >> they always serve great, fresh seafood and the atmosphere and service were awesome.

    >> reporter: in one of these reviews you wrote "my wife and i ate at this restaurant".

    >> correct.

    >> reporter: do you have a wife?

    >> i'm not even married.

    >> reporter: billy also trashed his competition.

    >> the food was unedible and the whole place was filthy.

    >> reporter: did you ever eat at this restaurant?

    >> no.

    >> reporter: when you were writing these fake reviews and your rating is going up and up and up and your competitors are going down, what are you thinking?

    >> awesome. it's working.

    >> reporter: faking reviews is so mainstream, hotels can hire ad agencies to do the dirty work for them. travel writer edward hasbrook says he's seen it firsthand.

    >> i was at a travel conference not long ago where one of the largest advertising agencies pulled this audience. they had an entire division in a third-world country where labor is cheap who were already prepared and available to post favorable reviews and say good things about whatever their client paid them to do.

    >> reporter: posting fake reviews is illegal. the federal trade commission says it's doing the best it can to police the web, but to this day, hasn't busted anyone. billy was never caught. why are you coming forward now with this?

    >> i think it's gotten out of control. it's gone -- it's gone way bigger. i really think the consumer deserves to know what's truthful and what's not truthful. it's just gotten way out of hand.

    >> so we wondered what's the hotel industry doing about this? the hotels we showed say their photos are accurate. in statements, tripedadvisor told us they have a zero tolerance policy against fake photos and reviews . they even check for them and post red flags next to hotels they catch. only a small percentage of those reviews are fake, but as we found, many of them are very difficult to catch. you just never know.

    >> how do we protect ourselves?

    >> the key is take the amazing ones with the over the top language. this was the best time i ever had, the most fantastic meal i ever had and the worst, right? this is the worst time i ever had, it was skanky and filthy, as billy said. throw those out. take the ones in the middle. as far as the photos go, go to customer sites where customers take their own photos. there are plenty of them like oyster.com. they don't depend on the hotels themselves.

    >> good reporting. if you're smart, you'll make this part of a continuing series. brazil, paris.

    >> just so i can go around the world.

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