Hotels embroiled in allegations of sexual assault are continuing to be promoted on TripAdvisor.
This comes despite complainants around the world contacting the travel company to warn of attacks by hotel staff members still listed on TripAdvisor’s database.
With more than 450 million people visiting TripAdvisor every month to search for accommodation and other attractions ranked according to user reviews, the site is the largest travel database in the world.
And yet despite the company’s size, reach and importance for travellers as a safe and affordable resource, the company relies on word-of-mouth and a bad-press flag for protecting its users from hotels with sexual assault and serious discrimination claims lain against them.
In response to the allegations made against TripAdvisor, a spokesperson gave the following statement to Travel Weekly:
“It’s a horrible tragedy when someone experiences a safety issue like a sexual or physical assault. The health and safety of travellers is a top priority at TripAdvisor and we are constantly trying to balance protecting victim’s rights with the realities of being an information portal driven by first-hand reviews.
“Today, travellers globally check TripAdvisor when making travel decisions and are able to view thousands of reviews on health and safety issues on our platform. We thank victims who have wanted to use our platform to make others aware with their experiences, as we believe this can serve as a powerful warning to the global travel community.
We believe we play an important role in making sure we provide consumers with useful information. As such, we continue to iterate on new and better ways to make health and safety information more visible and available to better serve our global community.”
While the company does promote its listings, a spokesperson for TripAdvisor told Travel Weekly that the company did not endorse them.
“[At TripAdvisor] there is a separation between commerce and content, so just because a business listing is on our site it is not an endorsement of that business. Listings are on the site so that consumers can write reviews about their experiences.
“We have a moderation process that follows very strict publishing guidelines. These guidelines have been in place for more than a decade, which is why [TripAdvisor] have thousands of reviews documenting these matters.”
Travel Weekly understands that the company currently has a specific flag and notification system in place to alert travellers about recent media stories concerning safety issues on business listings.
“Our traveller safety committee look at each instance on a case-by-case basis to determine when a notifications should be applied to a business listing when media reports exist, and we don’t have reviews readily available on the listing reflective of the safety issue,” the spokesperson said.
In order to do that, TripAdvisor monitor the news for any mention of sexual assault allegations made on behalf of complainants against businesses listed on the site.
“We have a team in place that uses a news monitoring database to effectively track for reported health and safety incidents and this is done on a weekly basis,” the spokesperson said. “The database tracks news across multiple markets and includes the monitoring of broadcast media as well.
“Our committee reviews incidents discovered within our media tracking on an on-going, weekly basis. There are a number of factors we keep in mind when looking out for such coverage including recency of the news stories and whether it appears to be a pervasive, on-going issue.”
While travellers also have the ability to search through TripAdvisor reviews to find allegations made against hotels or attractions, this information is not exclusive, and is placed alongside other reviews.
Another major problem with combing through a business listing for sexual assault or violent crime allegations, is that TripAdvisor displays its reviews chronologically. This means that, given enough traffic on a destination’s page, the claims of sexual assault could be buried beneath other reviews.
On top of that, TripAdvisor does not have a specific flag for sexual assault for informing travellers of specific complaints of sexual assault made against hotels and attractions on the site, outside of their media-specific notification that covers claims of anti-discrimination, along with health and safety concerns.
TripAdvisor instead relies on its rating system, from 1-5 accordingly, and review system, which means that serious sexual assault allegations by complainants will fall into the same category as regular reviews.
There are no businesses in Australia flagged as a risk to health and safety.
After extensive coverage of the issue, last week, The Guardian reported that a woman known as ‘K’ approached TripAdvisor after she was raped by a tour-guide whose business was being promoted on the website. After reporting the incident to the police, K wanted to warn the public by speaking out on what had happened by sharing it on TripAdvisor.
TripAdvisor responded by suggesting that the rape victim post a first-person review of her sexual assault on the website.
“I was in disbelief. Am I seriously being asked to recall the humiliating details of my own sexual assault? Was this global company pushing me to relive my trauma on their forum for everyone to see and comment, or worse of all for the perpetrator who is still out there, to respond to me, troll me?” K said to The Guardian.
“It left me feeling shattered, hopeless and alone.”
TripAdvisor told K it did not remove a business from its site if a staff member was accused of sexual assault or rape, even temporarily to conduct an internal review. The company then shared five links with K of reviews detailing sexual assault and rape, allegedly committed by staff at different hotels, as examples of how she might write her own review.
The Guardian found a further 40 reviews describing sexual assault and rape committed by staff-members of four- to five-star hotels and travel businesses.
TripAdvisor has previously attempted to tackle complaints of sexual assault. In November 2017, the company said it would add warning tags to hotels where “health, discrimination and safety” issues have been reported – but would not explicitly say what the business has been flagged for.
The decision came after the company deleted a review detailing a rape case in a hotel in Mexico because the language used breached its guidelines.
The amount of time a flag remains on a business listing is determined on a case-by-case basis, but the company uses a period of three months as a guideline for reevaluation.
TripAdvisor told The Guardian there are currently four flags up on business listing pages. None of the flagged hotels or travel businesses The Guardian found had any warning on the business page of prior allegations made about staff.
The company has admitted that more can be done on its part to better inform travellers.
“The health and safety of travellers is a top priority at TripAdvisor, and we are constantly looking at new ways to improve our business and policy to better serve our global community,” a spokesperson for TripAdvisor said. “We will continue to review and enhance our notification system to ensure it provides consumers with useful information as they make their travel decisions.
“Our notification system is in its first iteration and we continue to look for ways to improve it. We are committed to constantly reviewing and enhancing our notification system to ensure it provides consumers with useful information as they make their travel decision.
“As we’ve done since our founding over 19 years ago, we continue to work to improve and evolve our moderation and publishing guidelines as we strive to provide the most accurate information in the travel industry available online.”