Consumer Protection for Flights and Holidays
Travel Directory | Consumer Protection
The website TripAdvisor has been told that it cannot claim to offer trustworthy reviews from genuine travellers.
Industry experts said it contained large numbers of paid-for reviews written by agencies or competitors which TripAdvisor's screening systems failed to detect. In an adjudication published today, the ASA ruled that the website could not 'claim or imply that all the reviews that appeared were from real travellers, or were honest, real or trusted' because it failed to verify them.
TripAdvisor, which claims to provide 'honest travel reviews and opinions from real travellers around the world', receives 45 million unique visitors every month and a good rating can be worth tens of thousands of pounds in bookings.
In June, an investigation by The Times revealed that hotels were paying agencies to boost their rankings on the website and discredit their rivals. Hotel owners were found to be paying up to £10,000 to companies who employ teams of writers to post hundreds of fake reviews.
Chris Emmins of the online reputation management company Kwikchex has been studying TripAdvisor for eight months and said that he believed as many as 10 million reviews on the site were fake and 'real people and their livelihoods are unquestionably being hurt very badly'.
Fake reviews have forced restaurants and hoteliers out of business and caused 'great distress' to bed and breakfast owners . Mr Emmins said that he was aware of numerous agencies offering glowing reviews for a price.
A couple of intelligent commemts from Times' readers:
- As a regular user of the site, I feel the ASA's comments are probably justified. However, one is aware that the comments on site are highly subjective and some may be malicious. By selecting properties with a significant number of reviews, and reading between the lines, I have never been disappointed by my choice. I will continue to use the site, carefully.
- I use Tripadvisor, and when I am looking at reviews I tend to discount any that are too good or too bad, as they could well have been paid for advertising or could be from disgruntled guests who try & blackmail the hotels (Something which i witnessed first hand recently when checking out of a hotel in Auckland). If you read a selection of reviews you can get a good idea of the general opinion. If you trust just one review then you only have yourself to blame when it turns out to be misleading.
- Reviews are of course deeply subjective, but once a sample size increases beyond a handful, a series of anecdotes can be transformed into something that allows the true character of a hotel to emerge. This is TripAdvisor's purpose - not to single out reviews one-by-one.
Spotting a fake review:
Readers may also find reviews more credible that contain both positive and negative elements in addition to the above.
Protecting your travel investment
Once you've paid your tour operator or travel agent, you may have no financial protection if they go bust before you travel. You may also find your dream holiday turning into a nightmare, with no recourse. So what can you do to protect your investment?
To protect yourself as much as possible, here are three simple tips:
Credit card: buy a flight/trip/package by credit card. This doesn't always help but depending on what you buy, from which tour operator and with which card, it may. If, for example, you buy an airline ticket directly with a UK credit card and the company does a belly flop, the card provider will repay the flight cost over £100.
Travel insurance: get full travel insurance from a reputable company. Cheapest is not necessarily best, and read the fine print. Some policies will cover you fully if your travel service provider goes under. You pays your money, you takes your choice...
Traveller protection associations and bonds: check that your tour operator or travel agent is a member of one of these associations, or that they have paid for a bond for your protection. Check with the association if you have any concerns, and tell the association if you have any complaints.
Generally, the way to resolve your holiday problem will be to ask the travel agent or tour operator for financial compensation. If you have not yet taken the holiday, you may be able to cancel the holiday and ask for a full refund.
If the holiday was a package deal, anyone who went on the holiday can make a complaint - it does not have to be the person who made the booking.
If your holiday was not a package, usually only the person who booked the holiday can complain. If you did not book the vacation yourself, you should ask the person who made the booking to make the complaint.
- the tour operator if the holiday was a package deal
- the provider of the hotel/resort/guest house or transport if it was not a package deal
- your travel agent if your complaint is about additional services which they arranged for you.
You should also send details of your complaint to the travel agent if you used one and if you paid by credit card you may be able to claim against the credit card company, so send details to them too.
How to complain
Inform the appropriate people as soon as possible. If the problem occurred while you were on holiday it will help if you can show you complained at that time. Always write to the holiday trader you are complaining to even if you previously telephoned. The letter should include these details:
• invoice number, confirmation number, ticket number and other reference numbers
USA Flights: Consumer Information and Protection
UK: ATOL (Air Travel Organiser's
(Association of Independent Tour Operators)
IPP (International Passenger Protection)
Australia: Consumer Travel Protection
New Zealand: TAANZ (Travel Agents Association of New Zealand)
It stands for Air Travel Organisers Licensing and is a British government-backed scheme that protects consumers when travel organisers - airlines, hotels, tour operators - go bust or when holidaymakers are stranded abroad. It comes to the aid of consumers by funding flights for repatriation or offering alternative holidays.
How do I know if I'm covered?
Avoid arriving at your honeymoon hotel and finding that it's full by taking a few precautions:
- If you use a hotel booking website, check the terms and conditions so you know what to expect if there is an issue with your reservation.
If you do find yourself arriving at a hotel with a reservation but no rooms:
Overbooking occurs when hotels estimate that a certain number of guests won't turn up. However, if all the guests do show up, those who didn't book directly with the hotel lose out.
If your hotel is not available because of overbooking, you must be offered a reasonable alternative or a full refund. You will also be able to claim compensation to cover the extra costs you have had to pay and to cover loss of enjoyment and inconvenience.
More on travel protection in case of Flight problems - delays, cancellations etc.