Colleges & Campus News

Watch out for Fake Online Reviews During the Busy Holiday Travel Season

Studies have found that about one third of all reviews are fake. Rosen College of Hospitality Management researchers offer suggestions for travelers and businesses alike to weed them out.

By Susan Vernon-Devlin and Zenaida Kotala |
November 14, 2018

Instead of only taking the advice of online reviewers, researchers suggest those looking for travel advice turn to trusted friends who may have recommendations.

Travelers looking to book hotels or try out a new restaurant while vacationing this holiday season should be wary of fake reviews.

According to new research from the University of Central Florida’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management, social media has created a rich resource for travelers, but it has also created a field of fakers posting negative reviews. Reviewers expect they might get compensated if they post a negative review, so they do it and after they are compensated they take the post down and businesses avoid the negative buzz a bad review can create.

The authors of the study recently published their findings in The International Journal of Hospitality Management.

When travelers search sites such as Yelp and TripAdvisor they are looking for helpful advice on booking their business trip or vacation. Instead, they may be subjected to a deceptive review that was posted to harass the hotel, restaurant or attraction into compensating the reviewer, says Saba Salehi-Esfahani, a doctoral student who co-wrote the study with associate professor Ahmet Bulent Ozturk.

“The power of negative ‘word of mouth’ is evident as individuals will disclose their negative experience to an average of 8 to 10 more persons than they would share praise for a product or service.” — Ahmet Bulent Ozturk, UCF associate professor

“Fake negative reviews are harmful to the hospitality industry,” Salehi-Esfahani says. “With the advancement of technology and social media, individuals have gained power and are not alienated from companies anymore. They now perceive themselves as powerful enough to take monetary advantages of companies by indirectly threatening the company with negative reviews that the world can read and take as fact. The worst part, however, is that this behavior is contagious.”

A man and a woman look at a computer screen in an office

Saba Salehi-Esfahani, a doctoral student, co-wrote the study with associate professor Ahmet Bulent Ozturk.

Other studies found that about one third of all reviews are fake. A fake negative review can spread throughout the network of the deviant reviewer’s friends and family, which leads to even more deceptive reviews, Salehi-Esfahani says.

“Negative information has a detrimental impact on businesses, because people are naturally risk-averse and therefore, they perceive negative information to be more important than positive information,” Ozturk says. “This matter is specifically important in the hospitality and tourism industry that has an intangible nature and thus people rely heavily on reviews. The power of negative ‘word of mouth’ is evident as individuals will disclose their negative experience to an average of 8 to 10 more persons than they would share praise for a product or service.”

Worse yet, according to the study, if a consumer can get a company to compensate for a bad review, the study says it makes that consumer more likely to repeat the behavior, which results in more negative fake reviews.

The researchers suggest those looking for travel advice turn to trusted friends who may have recommendations. The team also suggests businesses be proactive. Among the recommendations:

  • Reduce the amount of anonymity and require people to register officially before they can leave a review
  • Add messages to sites to encourage good behavior, such as “please be honest in your reviews”
  • Deeply investigate the negative online reviews before compensating