Tri­pAd­vi­sor introduces warn­ing-badge fea­ture

Travel web­site cre­ates icon to iden­tify prop­er­ties where health, safety and dis­crim­i­na­tion is­sues ex­ist

Toronto Star - - BUSINESS - KAREN SCHWARTZ THE NEW YORK TIMES

Re­spond­ing to what one travel ex­pert cat­e­go­rized as “a wake-up call,” Tri­pAd­vi­sor has be­gun plac­ing symbols next to ho­tels and re­sorts that have been iden­ti­fied as lo­ca­tions of sex­ual as­sault and other ma­jor con­cerns.

Based on news re­ports as well as com­ments from the Tri­pAd­vi­sor com­mu­nity, the warn­ings are de­signed to iden­tify health, safety and dis­crim­i­na­tion is­sues in all of the web­site’s travel cat­e­gories, said a com­pany spokesman, Kevin Carter.

“These badges will re­main on Tri­pAd­vi­sor for up to three months. How­ever, if the is­sues per­sist we may ex­tend the du­ra­tion of the badge,” he said. “These badges are in­tended to be in­for­ma­tive, not puni­tive.”

De­ci­sions to add or re­move a badge will be made by an em­ployee com­mit­tee, he said. List­ings will not be re­moved from the Tri­pAd­vi­sor web­site re­gard­less of the num­ber of com­plaints. “We want con­sumers to see good and bad re­views of busi­nesses,” Carter said.

Three re­sorts in the Playa del Car­men re­gion of Mex­ico were those flagged by Tri­pAd­vi­sor, in­clud­ing the ho­tel ranked at No. 2 by users, the Grand Ve­las Riviera Maya; the ho­tel ranked at No. 4, the Iberostar Paraiso Maya; and the fifth-ranked ho­tel, the Iberostar Paraiso Lindo. Each had re­ceived thou­sands of re­views.

Tri­pAd­vi­sor is­sued a pub­lic apol­ogy a week ago to Kristie Love, 35, of Dal­las, Texas, after the Mil­wau­kee Jour­nal Sen­tinel re­ported that Tri­pAd­vi­sor had re­peat­edly deleted her 2010 fo­rum post about the Paraiso Maya re­sort, where she said she had been raped by a se­cu­rity guard.

Tri­pAd­vi­sor said it had run afoul of a former pol­icy that al­lowed only “fam­ily-friendly” lan­guage.

Asub­se­quent guest at the same re­sort told the Jour­nal Sen­tinel that she tried to write about a sex­ual as­sault that oc­curred there in 2015, but even­tu­ally gave up be­cause Tri­pAd­vi­sor said parts of her re­view re­lied on in­for­ma­tion that wasn’t first-hand.

“In that re­view there’s a line about a doc­tor mak­ing a med­i­cal di­ag­no­sis. Be­cause it was a third-party med­i­cal di­ag­no­sis, it con­sti­tuted hearsay,” a Tri­pAd­vi­sor spokesman, Brian Hoyt, told the New York Times last week.

As part of its new pol­icy, Tri­pAd­vi­sor will try to be more clear about why re­views are re­jected. “Our new email com­mu­ni­ca­tions will clearly ar­tic­u­late the phrase or sen­tences that are in vi­o­la­tion of our pol­icy, invit­ing the re­viewer to make ed­its and re­sub­mit their re­view,” Carter said.

“I think it’s a good thing that Tri­pAd­vi­sor is warn­ing peo­ple of dif­fi­cul­ties at these ho­tels,” Si­mona Jel­lenik, se­nior part­ner at Jel­lenik Law, told the Star. “It should make ho­tels more proac­tive in their se­cu­rity, not only in terms of hir­ing peo­ple but in their on­go­ing se­cu­rity for guests in the ho­tel.”

The badge that will ap­pear on Tri­pAd­vi­sor does not ex­plic­itly ref­er­ence sex­ual as­sault, but says that the com­pany has been made aware of “me­dia re­ports or events con­cern­ing” the ho­tel or re­sort, and ad­vises read­ers to per­form ad­di­tional re­search be­fore mak­ing travel plans

Gil Zvu­lony, a li­bel lawyer at Zvu­lony & Com­pany, told the Star that the vague­ness of the badge helps to pro­tect Tri­pAd­vi­sor from be­ing sued for defama­tion.

Re­views that al­lege sex­ual as­sault also pose le­gal chal­lenges to Tri­pAd­vi­sor, said Zvu­lony. Un­der Cana­dian law, the plat­form where a com­ment is pub­lished can be held re­spon­si­ble if the com­ment is defam­a­tory. This law does not ex­ist in Amer­ica.

Com­plaints of sex­ual as­sault on trav­ellers are not new, and there are many posts on Tri­pAd­vi­sor writ­ten by trav­ellers who say they were raped in var­i­ous coun­tries.

The U.S. gov­ern­ment also iden­ti­fies lo­ca­tions where sex­ual as­saults oc­cur. For in­stance, un­der “Coun­try In­for­ma­tion” for Mex­ico, the State De­part­ment cau­tions that, “Rape and sex­ual as­sault are se­ri­ous prob­lems in re­sort and other ar­eas.

Many of these in­ci­dents oc­cur at night or dur­ing the early morn­ing hours, in ho­tel rooms, or on de­serted beaches, or through drug­ging of drinks.”

The Jour­nal Sen­tinel re­port­ing about Tri­pAd­vi­sor came at a time of a na­tional con­ver­sa­tion around sex­ual as­sault that was brought about by the Har­vey We­in­stein scan­dal and the #MeToo so­cial me­dia cam­paign.

The con­flu­ence of those events “served as a wake-up call to Tri­pAd­vi­sor,” said travel an­a­lyst Henry H. Harteveldt, the pres­i­dent of SanFran­cisco-based At­mos­phere Re­search Group.

“It’s 100 per cent true that in 2017, and cer­tainly go­ing for­ward, no travel web­site can ar­bi­trar­ily cen­sor or re­move posts just be­cause they may ad­dress an un­com­fort­able topic or be awk­ward,” he said, not­ing that the travel sites have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to busi­nesses to en­sure that the al­le­ga­tions are ac­cu­rate and ver­i­fi­able.

The health, safety and dis­crim­i­na­tion badge is the third that Tri­pAd­vi­sor is us­ing to mark busi­nesses with po­ten­tial con­cerns.

A badge is used to iden­tify a list­ing that may be vi­o­lat­ing post­ing guide­lines; for in­stance, by putting up fake re­views.

An­other badge is used to note when Tri­pAd­vi­sor freezes re­views dur­ing ma­jor news events where posts may not re­flect the opin­ions of ac­tual guests.

That was used next to the Man­dalay Bay list­ing in Las Ve­gas last month after a gun­man killed 59 peo­ple and in­jured more than 500. With files from Star staff

Tri­pAd­vi­sor apol­o­gized to Kristie Love after delet­ing her posts about be­ing raped at a Mex­i­can re­sort.

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