Tobe Nwaogu - European Consumer Summit 2014

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Study on online hotel reviews

EU Consumer Summit 2014

Tobe Nwaogu

Principal Consultant

1 April 2014

Fake reviews: A problem?

 The aim of this study is to look in-depth on the issue of online consumer reviews in hotels

 Study Timeline: January to mid-May

Website checking: Over 400 websites were checked and the majority of websites were mixed travel/booking and reviews websites

Stakeholder survey: 58 responses to a stakeholder survey: 11 Member

State authorities, 18 ECC, 17 consumer organisations, 5 industry associations, 7 web operators

 The extent of the problem is uncertain and varies by region and country.

Awareness of the extent of the problem also varies, but most stakeholders agree it is a growing problem.

Problem

Awareness

Major problem:

2 industry associations

3 consumer orgs

Growing problem:

8 MS authorities -ECC

8 consumer orgs

Minor problem or one involving isolated cases:

13 MS authorities-ECC

3 consumer orgs

E-reputation firms

Presentation of Reviews

Default setting is by date on 80% of website. Just 50% of websites allow user to sort reviews

70% show quantitative and qualitative criteria. Majority have 4-7 criteria.

60% of websites don't explain scoring system

Time-limited

Reviews

3 of every 4 websites showed how many online reviews they have…

Only 1 in 10 limited reviews to a given time range

Verification of

Identity

20% state that “only verified reviews will be published”

- 1 in 4 websites allow a consumer to post reviews directly!

- 1 in 3 websites allowed social media accounts

- 1 in 2 websites required an account to be created

Evidence of

Stay

Less than 1 in 4 websites required an email link/ booking reference to post a review

Only 1 in 5 websites allowed consumer to submit photos …

Less than 1 in 5 websites had the “ dates of stay ” of the consumer indicated

Reviews Policy

Over 60% had “terms and conditions”… but only 40% state how reviews will be treated..

70% state “ right to delete reviews ”…

40% have “ right to change reviews ”

16% state “ reviews will not be changed or modified ”

On nearly 80%, no clear indication how hotel can complain

Compulsory action needed to increase trust?

Verification of the reviewer's identity and actual stay are key!

What options are there for increasing trust ?

Majority of stakeholders were broadly in support of: National/EU-wide awareness

campaigns. Also : guidance and best-practice, more active monitoring and enforcement. Accreditation schemes more strongly supported by consumer orgs.

* Limited responses web-operators: favour mostly company specific initiatives

Key challenges in addressing fake reviews

Ability of the industry to self-regulate – can businesses be trusted to selfregulate, taking account of their own interests (or business models)

Privacy issues - provision (and protection) of personal data versus ensuring absolute online anonymity

Legal considerations/burden of proof issues – who is legally responsible for fake reviews: the review website operator, the business owner or the consumer

Resource issues for review website operators and authorities – only big players can afford some technical solutions (software) and/or teams of editorial staff. Some national authorities experience resource constraints

Lack of consumer awareness regarding pitfalls, responsibilities and options for complaints

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