In Italy there is an ongoing and ever more widespread outcry on the part of traders and business people against TripAdvisor, from Federalberghi (the hoteliers’ association), which speaks of a “genuine emergency” caused by malpractice that through blackmail and the threat of fear severely disrupts the activity of Tour Operators, to the Sos albergatori association which uses the Pirtadvisor app in an attempt to flush out misleading reviews.
There are also those who have come out in open revolt against the American portal and display a decidedly blunt sign at the entrance to their premises plainly stating “TripAdvisor users not welcome”.
The problem is the subject of long-standing debate and is first and foremost legal: Decree Law 70/2003 (from the European directive 2000/31/Ce) orders that the owners of websites are not responsible for any information sent by users, unless said owners are aware that such activity or information is illegal or that although aware of such facts and following the request of the Judge they fail to act immediately to remove or to prevent access to such information.
It is for this precise reason why TripAdvisor and other similar sites are under no obligation to verify the identity of the writer or the information received. Consequently the only possible protection to be obtained is when the violation has already taken place; namely to demand removal of the review, either directly or through a lawyer and to ask for payment of damages or to sue in the case of defamation or the violation of the right to personal identity.
Federalberghi, the Italian Federation of Hoteliers, has launched a formal protest against sites that collect anonymous user reviews.
In a recent letter addressed to the Ministry of Tourism and the Ministry of Industry, The Federation President Bernabò Bocca called for the introduction of rules on blogs and sites, including the right of rectification, and the obligation of signing reviews with users’ full names, or alternatively direct responsibility of the site for its reviews.
The main target of the Federation’s protest is TripAdvisor, the travel portal where users can exchange opinions on hotels, restaurants and tourist attractions worldwide.
Regarded as one of the “pioneer” services of Web 2.0, since 2000 TripAdvisor has collected user reviews, many of which anonymous, without either control or censorship. The portal, which currently has more than 40 million monthly visitors, is owned by Expedia Inc., the U.S. travel company and online booking giant, which runs popular sites such as Expedia.com, Hotels.com, Hotwire.com.
It was precisely this combination of anonymity and Expedia’s management of the site which aroused the suspicions of President Bocca, according to whom the obligation for users to log into the portal with their full name and preferably the addition of the dates of their stay, would guarantee the authenticity of the reviews and dispel the suspicion that the reviews had in fact been created ad hoc.
The press release in which Federalberghi expresses its request for a ruling against anonymous reviews also carries the news of a decision by the Court of Paris, which a few days ago condemned Expedia, TripAdvisor and Hotels.com to pay a fine of € 430,000 for unfair and deceptive trade practices.
The Court accepted the requests of Synhorcat (the French Association of Hoteliers) which accused Expedia of providing the public with inaccurate information regarding the availability of rooms at some hotels thus benefitting others which are business partners of the site itself. Synhorcat also contested the fact that the partnership between Expedia and Tripadvisor was in no way made clear to users.
The sentence, even if only partially relevant to the current protest by Federalberghi, was heralded as a major success in the campaign that HOTREC (the European organization of hotels, restaurants and bars), together with Federalberghi and the other national associations, is promoting in all European countries against unfair trade practices.
It does appear, however, that not all Italian national associations are united in the battle against TripAdvisor’s anonymous reviews. Confindustria alberghi (The Confederation of Hotels) and AICA (The Italian Association of Hotel Companies) recently launched an ongoing collaboration with “TripAdvisor for Business” aimed at overcoming problems and identifying key areas for improving the features of TripAdvisor dedicated to companies in the hospitality industry.