Waikato tourism slams scam as unethical

LIBBY WILSON
Last updated 11:52 14/02/2014

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Waikato tourism providers are shocked by the idea of buyable TripAdvisor reviews, slamming it as foolish and unethical.

Destination Coromandel yesterday issued a warning about an email offering paid false reviews, which was received by a number of tourism businesses across New Zealand this week.

The email offered as many as 20 false reviews for $297.

Tourism Industry Association New Zealand chief executive Martin Snedden has strongly advised operators against such purchases and said TripAdvisor was investigating the email.

The travel site says it provides ''trusted advice from real travelers'', and has more than 100 million reviews, opinions, and photos of hotels, restaurants, attractions, and more.

It was popular among Waikato businesses in the tourist industry, some of whom check it every day, but they weren't pleased with the idea of buying reviews.

The idea didn't warrant much attention from Coromandel Town's Pepper Tree Restaurant and Bar owner Richard Savage.

He received the warning email and thought ''who would be fool enough to actually pay someone for that?''

But he said some might ''fall into the trap''.

His restaurant had received excellence awards from TripAdvisor and he frequently checked reviews for any areas that needed improvement.

A Hamilton East motel owner was aghast at the idea of paying for reviews. ''Paying someone to do that, that's shocking. That's not ethical,'' Albert Court Motor Lodge Motel owner Kathryn Gillingham said.

Guests to the motel valued TripAdvisor although she said many used a combination of sites before deciding on their accommodation, like booking.com and Wotif.

The motel contacted anyone who left a negative review to help improve their experience.

And Hobbiton Movie Set Tours human resources manager Kirsten Madill was dismayed to hear there had been offers of paid reviews.

''It's a shame. People should be focussing on improving their service to get genuine reviews, not finding ways to cheat the system,'' she said.

Hobbiton Movie Set Tours checked reviews daily for feedback but didn't currently respond, she said.

Rally Drive NZ Ltd owner Dale Perry thought most people would be able to spot reviews which weren't geniuine. He preferred to encourage people to share their rally experience and pictures on their facebook pages, but did have a handful of TripAdvisor reviews from overseas customers.

In general, TripAdvisor was seen as one of the most credible and impartial review sites but it wasn't ''bullet-proof'', Destination Coromandel manager Hadley Dryden said.

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He said a better profile could increase bookings for a business, so he could see why the paid review offer could appeal. But a couple of bad reviews among a positive majority could add credibility, he said.

''In fact, sometimes it is good to get a not-so-flash review and have the ability to respond to it - which you can on TripAdvisor - because it shows that all the other reviews are most likely to be genuine.''

- Waikato

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