Paris-based hotelier Accor confirmed that it put one of its Australia-based public-relations executives on a leave of absence after the executive was discovered to have posted more than 100 reviews of both Accor and competing hotels on TripAdvisor, which has removed the reviews from its site.
Accor said it knew about the reviews last week and noted the employee violated company social media policy that requires all Accor employees to fully disclose their identity and affiliation in social media posts.
"The employee has taken a leave of absence whilst we investigate this situation further," Accor said in a statement, adding that it took "immediate" action. "We value the feedback online travel reviews and forums provide and will take whatever steps we can to ensure their credibility and transparency."
The employee in question is Peter Hook, director of communications for Accor's Asia-Pacific region, Sydney's Daily Telegraph reported. Hook posted 105 reviews since becoming a TripAdvisor reviewer under the pseudonym "Tavare" in 2006. U.K.-based online-reputation company KwikChex, whose business is largely based on hoteliers that say they've been unfairly slammed by TripAdvisor reviews written by competitors, made the connection after TripAdvisor's recently launched Facebook app posted a picture of Hook, according to the publication.
Hook said the reviews weren't sanctioned by Accor, the Daily Telegraph reported. In one review, Hook noted that an InterContinental hotel in Adelaide that is a direct competitor of an Accor hotel was outdated and overpriced.
TripAdvisor removed Hook’s reviews, calling any reviews from a hotel executive of company-operated hotels “inappropriate,” according to TripAdvisor spokeswoman Alison Croyle.
Travel-review veracity has gained relevance in recent years as more customers depend on sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp as a reference for potential hotel and restaurant bookings. TripAdvisor, the world's largest travel-review site, has more than 200 million unique monthly visitors, about quadruple the site's volume two years ago.
Croyle said user-review veracity wasn't an issue, and said TripAdvisor has systems in place that keep false reviews to a minimum.
“As well as all reviews being screened by our world-class tools for fraud, we also benefit from a large and passionate community of more than 200 million monthly visitors who let us know if something is potentially inappropriate, as in this case,” Croyle said. “We are confident that our systems and processes work.”
Cornell University students in 2011 went as far as building a software program that could sniff out bogus reviews on user-review websites. The students said at the time that the software could spot fake reviews with 90% accuracy, compared to the 50% accuracy rate in which people were successful at spotting false reviews. Words like "hotel," "my," "experience" and "vacation" tended to show up in fake reviews, while legitimate content contained words such as "floor," "bathroom" and "small" as well as the "$" sign, the students said at the time.
Meanwhile, Cornell's School of Hotel Administration late last year attempted to correlate user reviews with room rates. Specifically, a one-point swing on Travelocity's five-point rating scale on average swayed room rates by 11%. And factoring in multiple review sites, a 1% increase in a hotel's so-called "online reputation score" boosts revenue per available room by more than 1%, the Cornell study said.
Follow Danny King on Twitter @dktravelweekly.