The United Nations World Tourism Organization has set its sights on travel and ratings review sites – specifically the ethics of the myriad sites that are increasingly influencing the choices of travel consumers.
At a recent congress in Krakow, the UNWTO released Recommendations on the Responsible Use of Ratings and Reviews on digital platforms, a set of guidelines developed by the World Committee on Tourism Ethics (WCTE) with the collaboration of TripAdvisor, Minube and Yelp.
Whether the non-binding recommendations, which aim to “guide” key-players in tourism development -- governments, the travel industry, communities -- and tourists alike, have any influence remains to be seen, but the exercise clearly indicates that those in the highest corridors of power in the travel industry are taking notice of the influence of the review industry.
“Online ratings and reviews are now playing a major role in tourism. The purpose of these new recommendations by the World Committee on Tourism Ethics is to ensure that all actors are playing fair and transparent,” said Pascal Lamy, Chair of the World Committee on Tourism Ethics.
“We know that ratings and reviews are today critical for consumers," added UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai. TripAdvisor alone hosts 500 million traveller reviews, with the UNWTO report stating, “Throughout this last decade, user feedback has developed into an indispensable tool not only for consumers, but also for tourism service providers and operators who can align their products and services to better meet consumer expectations. In the sphere of travel and tourism, user-generated ratings and reviews on digital platforms have become a central part in the information, selection and decision processes of visitors when choosing places to visit, to stay or to eat.”
With such influence, however, comes a host of problems, largely based on the authenticity of reviews, whether good or bad. Some of the concerns include:
· Occasionally, tourism service providers claim to have been subject to unfounded negative ratings or to cases of blackmailing by consumers, who threaten to write a negative review unless a demand for refund or freebees is met.
· Conversely, consumers have also reported cases of unfounded positive ratings of services.
· Business listings [have been] caught trying to buy off better reviews.
“Whatever the type and form of user-generated information, the content of the reviews and ratings published on digital platforms has to be honest and trustworthy so as to ensure that consumers can rely on them when researching and planning their travels,” says the UNWTO.
And that, the organization says, means digital platforms must ensure “accuracy, reliability and credibility of the information offered… and undertaking all reasonable measures to ensure that any review posted reflects real user opinions, findings and experiences.”