Oliver Smith, The Daily Telegraph, May 24, 2013
A senior executive at one of the world’s largest hotel groups has admitted breaching TripAdvisor’s rules by posting dozens of glowing reviews about the firm’s properties.
Peter Hook, who describes himself on Twitter as “director of propaganda” for Accor hotels in Asia and the Pacific, also published a number of critical reviews about the company’s rivals.
The communications manager was caught out by the online reputation management firm Kwikchex following the introduction of TripAdvisor’s new Facebook app. Unlike the TripAdvisor website, where reviewers are identified only by their username, the app displays a name, photograph and location, taken from each user's Facebook account.
Tavare, a user who has anonymously contributed 106 reviews in 43 cities during the last few years, is identified by the app as Peter Hook from Sydney, with an accompanying photo.
The picture of the Accor executive, which sits alongside the review, is identical to the one found on his LinkedIn profile.
Tavare/Mr Hook has published five-star reviews for several Accor properties, including Sea Temple Surfers Paradise (“I took advantage of a good price and really loved it from start to finish”); the Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra (“I didn't know much about the hotel scene so booked a brand I knew well. It turned out to be a good choice”); the Novotel Manchester Centre (“Having just arrived from Australia I retired at a civilized hour to the Novotel, where the staff were fantastic and friendly”); and the Sofitel Fiji Resort & Spa Denarau Island Viti Levu (“It was noticeable that families from the adjacent Hilton and Sheraton hotels were sneaking in to use the Sofitel pool”).
Less positive reviews can be found about rival hotels, such as the Park Hyatt Sydney (“the very ordinary bar food, high prices and ordinary service didn't match the music or the light show”), and the InterContinental Adelaide (“stuck in a time warp and rather expensive”).
Mr Hook admitted the reviews were written by him, but said each represented an honest appraisal following a genuine visit.
“Every review I have written has resulted from personally experiencing the product,” he told Telegraph Travel. “There have been 5-star reviews of competitors – most recently Four Seasons’ excellent Sydney restaurant The Woods – as well as less-than-favourable comments about our own properties.”
“Because I cover such a wide range of travel experiences, it would not be appropriate to review them as a company representative, hence the pseudonym. However, it is a fair to say that my professional position should have been mentioned in any reviews of hotels.
He said he would no longer review any hotel-related product using the name “Tavare”, but would continue to review destinations, attractions, restaurants and other non-hotel products. “I am a great believer in TripAdvisor and its value to the travelling public,” he addd. “I think it is usually fairly clear from each review as to whether it is ‘reasonable’ and I believe that in all my reviews I’ve been ‘reasonable’.”
TripAdvisor’s rules state that reviews “written by ownership or management; including past employees or anyone associated with/related to employees of the property in question” will not be permitted. It adds that “individuals affiliated with a property may not review other properties of the same type (accommodation, restaurant, or attraction) within the same city or town, or within 10 miles of that property.”
A spokesman for TripAdvisor said: "It would clearly be inappropriate for a senior executive of a hotel company to review hotels within their own company. All hotel reviews posted by this member are being removed pending investigation.
"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 amiss, as in this case."
Accor – based in France – owns 4,200 hotels around the world. Its brands include Novotel, Sofitel, Ibis and Mercure. It has frequently given its backing to TripAdvisor. In an article published today by Hospitality Magazine, Simon McGrath , chief operating officer of Accor Pacific, said: "Accor places great emphasis on its responsiveness to guest feedback and we were one of the first hotel groups to include TripAdvisor reviews on its reservations site. We believe that this level of transparency has helped hotels not only meet the needs of their guests, but in many cases enhance the facilities and services they offer. It is an excellent and very beneficial means of dialogue between hotel operators and their customers.”
A spokesman for the firm said: “Accor shares on its intranet with all its employees a social media charter that clearly stipulates that employees 'must ensure complete transparency with regards to their own identity and their relation to the Accor group' when stating their views on social media. We do regret this individual initiative from one of our employees did not comply with the Accor charter."
A spokesman for KwikChex said TripAdvisor’s Facebook app was “a welcome step… anything that helps review authentication has to be welcomed.”