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.”
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