High-end hotels produce fake reviews when high-end vacation rentals come to town

Skift grip

The enemy of my enemy is my friend. Perhaps that’s why high-end hotels tend to stop posting fake negative reviews about each other online once nicer short-term rentals start competing locally.

Sean O’Neill

Many hotels have been posting fake negative reviews online for years to undermine their hotel rivals. But high-end hotels tend to change tactics whenever high-end short-term rentals start to compete in their market, according to a new study. Instead, high-end hotels are starting to post fake reviews that tout how wonderful their hotels are.

“Greater pressure from Airbnb is causing high-end hotels to increase their ratings with more false positive reviews,” the study’s co-author said. Cheng Nieassistant professor at Iowa State Universityin an interview.

The shift to inflating hotel ratings was illustrated by a study of 2,188 hotels in Texas over eight years. The academic journal Quarterly MIS recently published (paywall) the peer-reviewed study.

Review Reviews

It was an open secret for more than a decade that many hoteliers have published fake reviews, often by engage third parties. The goal is either to make competitors’ properties worse or to improve their own online ratings.

A 2015 academic study estimated that somewhere between 5% and 30% of online hotel reviews had been invented. All online platforms have been struggling with the issue.

University researchers wanted to know what had happened to hotel behavior since 2008, when Airbnb began its ascent.

Handling high-end travelers

To assess review manipulation, the researchers looked at hotel ratings on Tripadvisor and Expedia.

The study found that over time, whenever high-end Airbnb listings appeared within a mile, local high-end hotels and resorts tended to increase their false positive reviews. Between 2011 and 2015, the study estimated a 5.6% inflation in self-promotional reviews.

The posting of fake bad reviews of competing hotels also tended to decline. The average five-star ratings of high-end hotels tended to increase on Tripadvisor once Airbnb entered their markets.

“They don’t badmouth each other like they used to because they have this common enemy of Airbnb, which reduces their demotion behaviors,” Lie said. The newspaper found that bashing was decreasing by around 1.85% each quarter.

The extent of the problem of fake reviews is debated, however. Tripadvisor, for example, said it had has led the industry’s work in combating fake reviews. It rejected 1.3 million suspicious reviews in 2020 before they could be published on the site, the company said in a recent transparency report.

Lower-end hotels did not show significant signs of behavioral change in the study. The researchers hypothesized that consumers are not as influenced by reviews in the budget category.

“A lot of people who stay at lower-end hotels are less likely to pay attention to reviews than people trying to decide if a $500 resort is worth their money,” Nie said.

The article was written by Nie and co-authors Zhiqiang (Eric) Zheng and Sumit Sarkar from University of Texas at Dallas.

The researchers used data from a market research company AirDNA to group short-term rental listings into budget and high-end. They bet that, say, a whole-home vacation rental with nice amenities and a pool would be more likely to compete with a nearby upscale hotel or resort than basic rentals. They made similar groupings of hotels using numbers from STR, (formerly known as Smith Travel Research and provider of hotel performance data). They matched the hotels they found online with hotel tax returns to confirm their identity. While other brands, such as Booking.com and Vrbo also offer short-term listings, researchers focused on listings on Airbnb for simplicity.

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