Travel review sites have come to exert phenomenal authority over where we stay and where we eat, with the likes of TripAdvisor and Booking.com now holding millions of reviews from travelers.
Those reviews, of course, are only useful as long as they can be trusted, and in recent years it's been increasingly asserted by hoteliers and restaurateurs that they can't -- but what's a traveler to do about it?
Enter Kwikchex, the reputation management firm which has built its name on attacking TripAdvisor (and others) for accepting 'unverified' reviews -- from people who may never have stayed at the hotel or used the business -- and which recently jumped the divide into assisting consumers, with a rating system for review sites.
The premise of the ratings system is simple -- there are steps that review sites can take to improve the reliability of online reviews, as the systems vary widely from site to site.
A site Kwikchex says is 'Grade 1' for example, will have a 'respond' area for businesses, a way to contact reviewers, a dispute system and a way of verifying that the reviewer has actually been to the place.
A 'Grade 5' site, meanwhile, offers low levels of authentication and fraud detection, Kwikchex says.
TripAdvisor, in case you're wondering, has already been awarded a relatively low Grade 4 (as has Yelp) and Google scores a poor Grade 5, while Booking.com is at the top of the scale at Grade 1.
Faced with plenty of legal threats, review sites are rapidly tightening up on their procedures when it comes to authenticity, but the majority are still "failing consumers," a Kwikchex spokesperson claimed.
"At the same time as online reviews have been shown to be increasingly and at times vitally important to consumers and businesses alike, evidence of the scale and severity of fraud, abuse, distortion and unreliability is rocketing," the firm's Chris Emmins told Relaxnews.
"Genuine consumer feedback is a great resource that helps raise standards. We believe it should not be undermined by systems that too easily permit and enable deceit and fraud."
Further information on the firm's services for consumers will be released shortly, Emmins said.
When contacted, TripAdvisor said that the integrity of its content was the site's number one priority, adding that it completely stood by its "independently endorsed review integrity processes."
"The reality is, while no system is perfect, if consumers didn’t feel that the information they see on the site is an accurate reflection of their actual experience, they wouldn’t keep coming back," a spokesperson told Relaxnews.
"We expend significant efforts with respect to manual and electronic fraud detection in order to maintain the quality and authenticity of user reviews. No online review site, verified or not, can provide a 100 percent guarantee that every single user-submitted review is authentic."