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Travel Message Board Scandal: how widespread is this practice?

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Sep 2nd, 2009, 07:54 PM
  #1
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Travel Message Board Scandal: how widespread is this practice?

This may be old news for many, but in early Spring a scandal rocked a very popular cruise travel forum which involved some ethical and legal issues. It appears RCCL contacted cruisecritic.com (which is owned by Expedia) and asked them to to put them in touch with posters who had posted favorable reviews for their cruises and who appeared to be experienced travelers. CC agreed to it and these forum members were then asked by Royal Caribbean to join a club operated by the cruise line known as RCCL's Royal Champions. Once you became a member of Royal Champions, you were invited as a guest on Royal Caribbean sailings and given other perks. The alleged quid pro quo for all this was that you were expected to continue posting on cruise destinations, reviews and travel blogs/online guides on various user-generated sites.

Do you think this practice is unethical? Is it really ilegal? Just in case, I do not know one person this happened to, but apparently this caused quite a scandal when it was first uncovered.
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Sep 2nd, 2009, 08:17 PM
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Authors do this with books all the time. You get a free advanced reader copy and then post a good review of the book on various book-selling website, your blog, or other places on the internet. I joined an author forum and was shocked at the authors who were really angry at people who posted poor reviews. They were also debating if you get an advanced copy of the book should you post a negative review of the book at all, many don't if they don't like the book, or the author's ask them not to post if they don't like it.

So, now I only read the bad reviews, because I've read too many bad books that got 5 star reviews.

I'm said to hear that the travel biz is into this too! I do know that on hostelworld.com some people were complaining about hotels in Istanbul where the owners were badgering the guests into leaving good reviews before they checked out. I didn't stay there.
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Sep 2nd, 2009, 08:18 PM
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I do not think it was illegal unless Expedia released the names of the posters without their permission.

I have long suspected that Menupages and Chowhound were filled with people with either a grudge or a profit to make. Then there there was the 50% who had no idea of which they speak.

Many times an author's blurb on the back of a back of the book is a friend or someone who has the same publisher or agent. The same is true for book reviews, sometimes you wonder if the reviewer is a long time friend or enemy.

The only time I see disclaimers is when someone mentions that they are working for a sister company of what's being reviewed.

It is not illegal, quid pro guo is one way that makes the world revolve and since they are not feeding at the public through, it is not illegal but unethical without a disclosure.
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Sep 5th, 2009, 04:26 AM
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As I understand both cruisecritic and RCCL were forced to stop the practice when this was uncovered. The problem I have with this practice, whether illegal or not, is when those compensated posters do not disclose they are in fact employed by the venue (be a cruise line, hotel line, travel magazine, etc...). The fact is their opinions are NOT unbiased and that is deceitful.
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Sep 5th, 2009, 04:34 AM
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More reason to be skeptical whenever someone says, "But I read it online ..."
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Sep 5th, 2009, 04:47 AM
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I agree j999_9-- it saddens me because it sort of spoils it for other travel forums (such as this one!). You hope to get an unbiased opinion from a fellow traveler when in fact you may be getting an opinion from a traveler that is been compensated for going to that particular hotel/restaurant/cruiseline.
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Sep 5th, 2009, 05:20 AM
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Travel is down so much, many in the travel industry are using questionable means to promote their products. I even find some properties with tripadvisor ratings clearly manipulated by phoney 5 star reviews.

Let the buyer beware
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Sep 5th, 2009, 05:50 AM
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Like bookwurm70, I find this practice in the book world utterly despicable and find it in the travel world even more so, because travel experiences are usually more expensive than the cost of a book.

BC
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Sep 5th, 2009, 06:03 AM
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Is it just the cruise lines?

I think you might be surprised at the percs and benefits for those who support specific hotels, resorts, destinations, even restaurants who appear to be "everyday" travelers and post on travel boards. Altho maybe not organized into a Club of "premium travelers" there are certainly those who are rewarded and rewarded well for their "loyality."
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Sep 5th, 2009, 06:22 AM
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beachplum-- I had heard about compensated posters lurking travel forums to "refute" whenever a bad review of a cruise line was posted, but I admit to shock to read this extends well beyond that to travel magazines/restaurants/lodgings books, etc...I guess I was naive. I always took those posters as wackos.....it explains a lot.
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Sep 5th, 2009, 06:38 AM
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I don't know about cruise forums but I do know that on Travel Message board forums such as this and TripAdvisor, hotel people constantly post as guests giving good reviews to their own businesses and they ask their guests to please post a good review on a Travel Board.
It is annoying and dishonest and just makes everyone ignore message board reviews.
I think if I see more than a couple of those reviews on one particular place, I would definitely Avoid that place.. honest word of mouth is so much more trustworthy.
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Sep 5th, 2009, 07:20 AM
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this is really old news and already discussed to the max, sorry
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Sep 5th, 2009, 07:25 AM
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I had some reason to think about this on my recent trip. I stayed at a small hotel where I had stayed two years ago. I had forwarded my trip report to the owners because we had been talking about this message board during my first stay.

While I was staying this summer, the manager called a restaurant to reserve a table for us, and she told them to "treat me well" because I "write on the internet". We went to the restaurant and the woman whom I assume was the owner kept coming around to check on us. It felt a bit odd.

Now I know that the hotel manager tells the restaurants she calls to treat her clients well all the time for various reasons. She thinks it gives that extra push toward good service. And there was certainly no promise to write well about either the hotel or the restaurant.

But it made me wonder whether I should leave out mentioning places that knew I had written trip reports when writing up this trip. I decided to leave everything in, but it did give me pause.

I read lots of recommendations here for various establishments by people who are long time customers of the establishment. And this is perfectly natural; of course we recommend the places we like and we keep giving them our business as well.

I just know, however, that having a relationship with the owners and managers of an establishment, I might think twice about writing negatively about them. And I might have thought about leaving out the establishment altogether rather than saying something that might come back to hurt people whom I have come to know and like.

I am not sure whether there are hard and fast limits of where to draw this particular line.
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Sep 5th, 2009, 07:38 AM
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LLindaC,

This may be old news but don't forget there are always new readers to this forum and to travel in general who don't know about this, so can't hurt to post these things.

Karen
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Sep 5th, 2009, 07:51 AM
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No, I agree. However, I would suggest the OP do quick research as this was discussed on several travel forums. IMO, you're not going to get much original thought anymore!
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Sep 5th, 2009, 07:52 AM
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yea, this is news to me..... I was so naive, I had posted a favorable review on TA once and had someone who wrote to me with questions. When I wrote back, he said something about just wanting to make sure I was a real person and real reviewer; checking authenticity.
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Sep 5th, 2009, 08:11 AM
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ncounty, I've had the same happen to me at TA. I still find TA to be a valuable resource, but it helps to read a lot of reviews there and thus develop the ability to read between the lines.

I've wondered sometimes if there are posters who are paid by restaurants in particular to promote their businesses on various travel forums. Sometimes you'll see an OP ask a sort of open ended question (I'm going to Capitol City, should I stay at Hotel X or Hotel Y and what sights are not to be missed?) then a poster will give a rave review of a particular restaurant in Capitol City and not answer any of the OP's questions. Could be perfectly innocent, but I do wonder sometimes.
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Sep 5th, 2009, 08:17 AM
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I wish I had the link to the discussion about this, viajero2, because I couldn't agree more. I'm in a rush to get out of town or I would link you to that. Please also read the thread on here called "how to spot fake reviews"

I have found out about many schemes and I generally write to the manager for an explanation. Really funny responses!!!
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Sep 5th, 2009, 09:09 AM
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If you watch Travel Channel they talk openly about hotel reviews - they stay there for free, and must write a review - and for them it's not necessary positive, any honest review.

Do you think travel guides mention hotels and restaurants for free? Somehow I doubt it.

Fodor's give us a book of our choice if our quotes are used in their guides. RCCL is giving something to people who already posted their reviews. Travel agencies give cabin credits if you book cruises with them. I don't see a big difference.

Now, if this is ethical or not, who knows! But it's good to know to make the next decision. I am thinking of RCCL cruise next summer, who do I contact to extort a bribe
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Sep 5th, 2009, 01:44 PM
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While I am really glad that many have willingly posted on THIS forum to discuss an issue that is ALWAYS relevant, the OP is not about "how to spot fake reviews" (sorry....thanks to those who suggested research, but they obviously need to read the OP again...).

The main issue I wanted to discuss involve the ethics of a company that would reward already happy customer to encourage their continuous support. Is is really ethical/unethical? When those this practice crosses the line?
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