The authenticity of TripAdvisor reviews is under the spotlight again after new research revealed thousands of suspect postings on the Chinese version of the website.
The study, carried out by Kwikchex, an "online reputation management" company that has been a regular critic of TripAdvisor, uncovered what it called "alarming patterns" on daodao, the site's Chinese domain.
Chris Emmins, Kwikchex co-founder, cited "amazingly prolific" reviewers on the site, including one member who had posted 2633 reviews since 2010.
He highlighted instances where these so-called "super-reviewers" seemed to follow similar patterns of travel, posting reviews about the same businesses in the same parts of the world.
Another reviewer, who had posted 1361 reviews since October 2013, claimed to have stayed in 51 Paris hotels in a single month in 2013 – while also posting reviews on 50 other hotels in several other countries.
TripAdvisor has since removed the suspect reviews.
James Kay, a TripAdvisor spokesperson, confirmed that they had been "removed from the site pending further investigation".
He said: "We fight fraud aggressively and have sophisticated systems and teams in place to detect fraudsters, whether they be users or business owners, and we have penalties in place to deter them.".
"Detection techniques and deterrents mean the amount of fraud attempted is extremely small," he added, saying that the scale of TripAdvisor meant "there was honesty in numbers."
He also pointed out that the TripAdvisor China business – a "highly dynamic emerging market" – operated on a separate platform from TripAdvisor due to "market and regulatory differences", and that "identifying new fraud patterns is an ongoing effort that we take very seriously".
All of the reviews on daodao, which was launched in 2009 and described by TripAdvisor as "the largest pure travel review site in China", go on to TripAdvisor.com too.
Chris Emmins, meanwhile, conceded that TripAdvisor had invested more in its efforts to fight fraudulent reviews, but said the latest research revealed "hotspots of extremely suspicious activity", including many in Asia.
In the past, KwikChex has exposed a fraudulent review of a non-existent restaurant in Devon, and forced a ban on TripAdvisor claiming all its reviews were real after complaining to the Advertising Standards Authority.
In another instance, it revealed a senior marketing executive from Accor, one of the world's biggest hotel groups, was posting positive TripAdvisor reviews about his company's hotels, and negative reviews on rivals.
The Telegraph, London