Here’s How to Stop The TripAdvisor Blackmail

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What do you do when someone threatens you with “TripAdvisor Blackmail” by posting a very negative review if you don’t give into their demands, even if they are unreasonable?  Even if “the customer is wrong”?

stop the tripadvisor blackmail

Let’s take a step back for a moment…

A recent survey – conducted by PhoCusWright – reveals that more than half of global respondents do not want to make a booking commitment until they read reviews and find out what other travelers thought about the property.



According to the study, respondents turn to TripAdvisor on a regular basis. Twenty nine percent visit the site several times a month, 12 percent say they check the site at least once a week and 26 percent regularly use the site more than once a week. Overall, this means that 67 percent of respondents check TripAdvisor a few times a month or more.

More than 80 percent say the site’s reviews help them feel more confident in their travel decisions, and help them to have a better trip. Of those polled, 93 percent of respondents feel that a hotel stay is very important to the overall trip experience.

So, what do these figures mean?  They mean that many people trust the opinions of others before they make their decision on what and where to spend their travel money.

This also means that customers may believe their complaints, assuming they are valid, will carry weight with the business they believe has “wronged” them.

If a bad post or complaint on Facebook gets your situation escalated to upper management and gives you as discount or preferential treatment for a future visit, so too may a complaint or negative review on TripAdvisor.  But it gets worse…

There are those who like to be preemptive in their complaints and will state;

I’m going to write a bad review on TripAdvisor if you don’t (insert assorted complaint)!

Ever run into one of these?  It’s not fun.

It has become customary, and “necessary” to respond to each and every negative review on TripAdvisor in a way that “saves face” for the business.  “The customer is always right” is the time-tested mantra of many in business and we shouldn’t go against conventional wisdom, right?  But what if the customer is wrong?

It does happen…

People trash hotel rooms, throw chairs into the pool, break vending machines, take towels and accuse the housekeeper of stealing their camera – these are the obvious instances when the customer is wrong.  But there are the not so obvious ones…

Six people plan on going to the restaurant for dinner but only four show up on time.  The restaurant happily seats them at their table and patiently waits for the rest of the party to arrive.  Drinks are offered and served, family-style appetizers are ordered and consumed but still the last two guests have not arrived.  It’s already 50 minutes into the seating when the last two arrive at the table.

Now, after small talk and additional drinks are ordered for the late-comers, the dinner choices are finally picked and the waiter enters them into the computer system and it’s time for the kitchen to start cooking.



Oh, I forgot, they ordered 3 courses of food that ultimately stretches their total dinner experience to almost 3 hours.  They loved their food – the waiter kept checking in on them.  Drinks kept flowing – the waiter was very attentive and thorough.  They sat for a long time and all left with a smile.  Then it happens…

My dinner took more than 3 hours last night, that was ridiculous, I’ve never has such slow service in a restaurant in my entire life.  Is this what I have to look forward to for the next 3 days of my vacation here? 

This is the complaint from the customer to the Front Desk manager the following day.  Then comes the threat…

If you don’t do something about this, I’m going on TripAdvisor and writing a scathing review about this place, you better fix this.

What’s a Front Desk agent to do?  Do they say this is not possible, something else must have happened or take the side of the customer?  Do they assume the customer is correct or just trying to get a freebie of some sort?  Or do they apologize and offer a discount on their hotel bill.  We know the answer.

As my colleague Dale Blosser states, and who provided me with the idea for this post:

“A good way to prevent TripAdvisor blackmail is to give guests a “satisfaction speech” at registration. Verbalize your commitment to guest satisfaction and ask the guests to contact any staff member or manager if there is ANYTHING that is wrong or if there is ANY way to improve their stay. Then, call the guest’s room a half hour after check-in and verify their complete satisfaction with the room, etc. Continue to ask guests periodically about their satisfaction (including on phone calls). That ensures that a guest cannot “justifiably” complain (at checkout) that there was a problem or issue with their room.”

That makes a lot of sense.  A similar tact can be used for restaurant meals, as described above, or most any other interaction.

If the guest threatens to write a bad review if you don’t comply with his demands, Dale goes on to say:

“Let me get this right, at arrival we informed you how committed we are to your satisfaction. We called and asked about your satisfaction when you got settled into your room. We asked you several times the last few days if you were satisfied with your stay, and you were. And now, you are telling us that you are dissatisfied with something. Is that what you are saying, Mr. X?”

Every hotel stay and restaurant meal should be perfect and memorable.  That’s what is expected from a traveler and the business too.  But is this possible?  Of course not.  We must be fluid in our approach to a situation and adapt to the ever changing needs of the customer.

So too must the customer/traveler be fluid in their expectations.  Never settle for second class, don’t willingly be subservient to the whims of a poorly run business.  Take your money elsewhere if this is the case.

If and when a business fails to meet your expectations, please give them an opportunity to make it right.  Don’t make unreasonable demands with the threat of “TripAdvisor Blackmail” if you sense an opportunity for a discount or freebie. And on the flip side, don’t remain quiet then wait until you’re home to write a damaging review on TripAdvisor while sitting at your kitchen table wearing your pajamas and fuzzy slippers.  The business can’t help you then.

Ultimately it comes down to the business performing at their best, at all times.  Staff properly, train consistently, purchase quality products and monitor your performance.  A business should not be surprised when a customer comes to complain, it should already have been noticed and steps taken proactively to address and rectify the issue. Don’t let the guest leave unhappy!



100% guest satisfaction is becoming the mantra in the hospitality industry.  Maybe this is not possible but we must have this as our goal.

I don’t mind losing a customer that puts a burden on my business or creates an environment that is detrimental to my employees or other customers.  Your threats of a bad review will not give you the satisfaction you desire.

But at the same time, if we are wrong we MUST “own up to it” and do all we can to make it right.  With or without the blackmail…

8 COMMENTS

  1. This is great advice and a great tactic for those guests who threaten a bad review.

    I would also recommend making it a habit to respond to every single review on TripAdvisor (and similar sites) – yes, both the good and the bad (and the in-between).

    Responding to every review has three great benefits:

    1) Even before a single review is read, just seeing on the page that you respond to each review communicates a commitment to exceptional customer service.

    2) Responding consistently also encourages readers to view experiences from your perspective, making them more likely to believe your version of events for that inevitable unfair review.

    3) Every review, even the bad ones, offers an opportunity for you to describe the ideal experience you hope your guests to have, and provide additional details that may prove valuable to those readers looking for a great place to stay.

    It is just good customer service to say ‘thank you’ to those guests who provide compliments, and to address any criticisms as well. Best of all, it gives you the ability to say, “Go right ahead!!” whenever a guest threatens you with a bad review.

  2. Hi Steve: it is truly unfortunate that some customers stoop to threatening “TripAdvisor Blackmail.” Your suggestion to not let customers leave unhappy is the best advice of all. I also agree with Martin that negative reviews provide a vendor an opportunity to publicly demonstrate that its employees care, and that the company is committed to preserving customer satisfaction.

    As a user of TripAdvisor, I am not looking for consistently stellar reviews. People can get aggravated over problems that I find trivial or inconsequential. “The wallpaper clashed with the bedspread!”

    What matters most to me in evaluating any vendor is when a customer encounters the inevitable service problem, what action did the company take? For me, the emblem of a great company is not in never making a mistake, but in how its employees deal with customer problems when they occur.

    One note though – calling guests in the room and asking them if everything is OK may thwart some TripAdvisor complaining, but don’t assume that every guest feels like being candid during these check-in calls. If there were another person in the room at the time the front desk call is received, would the guest be comfortable saying, “well, I couldn’t find a spare roll of toilet paper in the bathroom . . .”

  3. Martin, the 3 benefits you laid-out in your comment are so good that I find it difficult to add much to it…other than to say thank you so much and well done!

  4. Hi Andrew,

    You are correct that how a business handles a perceived poor service situation can increase the loyalty one has to the business because they can see how much effort the business took to make things right.

    We can’t please everyone and shouldn’t expect to do so. Just take each customer interaction as they come and do our best at all times. That will take care of most of the potential bad reviews, well at least hopefully.

    Thanks for your comment Andrew.

  5. I’m both a heavy user of TripAdvisor and a senior reviewer with many helpful votes.

    As a user, I focus on substantive complaints. “Doors that don’t lock” and “mold on the walls” are much more important than an “unfriendly staff member.” I also pay attention to complaints that appear to focus on the brand identity or corporate policy. I gave a scathing review to a restaurant where apparently waiters were judged on the average size of the check. My waiter implied that I was low class, poor, and not worthy to eat in this restaurant. I happen to have a Yale PhD and a six figure income but am not a big eater and prefer beer to wine.

    I travel a lot and love to find bargains that do the basics well without the frills that I don’t care about. I don’t like to be fawned over and prefer a hotel that gives me the key and then leaves me alone. (Talking about these services as valuable is something that I don’t like about some of the columns here.) My review on TripAdvisor with the greatest number of helpful votes is for a budget hotel in Aruba. For about 1/3 the price of the luxury hotels on the beach, I had an excellent stay with friendly staff, a quiet basic room, a fast Internet connection, a great breakfast, and interesting guests beyond other Americans. This hotel was also closer to many of the highly recommended restaurants than the luxury hotels. I wrote this review after being annoyed at another one that dinged the hotel for not having “soft towels.”

    My final comment and a bit of a question is what to do if a restaurant is having a bad night? Last month, I ate at one of the most highly recommended restaurants in Montgomery, Alabama. For whatever reason, they were obviously short-staff with a long wait even with many empty tables, slow service once seated, and an entree so ill-prepared that my wife sent it back. I know about the short staffing only because I finally asked if this were the reason for such poor service.

    My final comment is that I trust travelers who give evidence of sharing my tastes and distrusting those that don’t. I’m childless and downgrade positive reviews that tell how much the writer’s children liked the attraction.

  6. Hello Bob,

    Your comments really hit home for me, especially those having to do with the food service.

    Being in the hospitality industry for 20+ years we sometimes become jaded on how and why a guest/traveler could post a negative review because “we did everything we could have for them” or “what were we supposed to do, my staff called-out sick that day”?

    That is part of the business and things we must adjust for, at least in the best way possible.

    It’s true that travelers at times are hyper critical at what they perceive to be shortcomings of a business without having a certain understanding “eye for tolerance”.

    I don’t expect anything to go perfectly. But I do expect the basics, or promoted/advertised, items to be readily available and in full supply.

    Regarding the waiter that deemed you unworthy, that is also something I have seen and usually becomes an issue when a European traveler comes into the restaurant. Since tipping extra is not customary in many other countries, they waiter automatically assume there is no money to be made from that guest/table and their guard is already up.

    That’s one of the most difficult challenges to overcome.

    Thanks much for your comment and I’m happy you enjoyed the article.

  7. I find more often than not, in my limited travels that many hotels or restaurants do prejudge their guests. On on rare occasion, my wife and I encountered a very ethical manager at a hotel who told us the “ins and outs” of booking through discount websites like Hotwire, Priceline, and even Expedia after explaining to him that we were not happy with our room that his front desk staff gave us. The room was barely cleaned and there was garbage in the room from a previous guest. While he did not “own up to the mistake”, he did give us another room.

    And that you see is the problem. Nobody these days wants to acknowledge they or their staff have failed their guest or customer. Threatening to write a negative review online won’t carry much weight these days. You know why? Because what I have been told is these businesses typically hire paid reviewers to water down the negative reviews. They also try to intimidate the reviewer and the business’ comments get posted, thereby intimidating other reviewers from posting. This seems to be quite rampant with Trip Advisor. In fact, with TA, they heavily scrutinize negative reviews and they often remove them if the business owner or manager complains. The responses from these managers are also quite troublesome too, where they always have the last say.

    Yelp used to be notorious about removing negative reviews, but the practice does not seem to be as common now as it used to be with Yelp. And that could explain why there are so many positive reviews now posted on Trip Advisor compared to Yelp.

    From another personal experience, we stayed at a hotel near the Boeing Air field in Seattle. We got a horrible room where not only it was filthy, but the heat was blaring at 85 degrees in the room in early May when we arrived. Outside temperature was 56. We went to the front desk immediately and wanted another room and nicely explained why. I had to wait over 40 minutes for the clerk to get to me,

    We were denied another room, saying that the hotel was booked solid. We were tempted to go to another hotel, but the hotel was going to charge us for the night’s stay if we did so. The hotel also provided a complimentary breakfast but the dining room was packed solid and only two employees were working the kitchen: the waitress and cook. The cook had sweat beating down his forehead trying to keep up with the orders, His sweat was getting into the food too. Suffice to say, we skipped breakfast.

    Once we returned home, I contacted the large chain corporate headoffice, They passed the buck and said deal with the hotel manager. The hotel manager provided no apology at all. The hotel has regular traffic from pilots picking up aircraft at Boeing so they did not care about anyone leaving a bad review. They will always have business because of their location.

    On another occasion, I checked TA for this hotel. The reviews were all stellar. We stayed at a Best Western Hotel. Unfortunately, where we were lied by most of the staff in terms of the noisy room we got. After talking to one of the employees at the front desk, we politely reminded her that we requested a quiet room and the room we have is very noisy. She acknowledged that we were not in the quietest room. The other staff denied this. Shortly after this, the front desk manager came by and wanted to know what was going on. I explained to her that we got a noisy room. The manager was quite defensive and said they never had any complaints about that room. I looked at the other girl who said otherwise and she just rolled her eyes. We could not do anything until the next morning.

    The next morning I was hoping to run into another front desk manager, but unfortunately I did not. I met the same manager. I politely asked if we could move to another room. She said they did not have any. At that moment, coincidently, a senior head from Corporate Best Western happened to come out of the back office. He did what he was supposed to do, greeted me and thanked me for my stay. He asked if there was anything they could do for me. I then told him everything. He was in shock. He apologized and he got my wife and I another room which was quiet. I could tell the front desk manager was ticked off.

    Any how, all these stats how people trust TripAdvisor are all skewed. Threatening to leave a bad review doesn’t phase most hotel staff who are already overconfident and have other personality disorders. According to PhoCusWright, they conducted a survey and said that 98 % of TA readers say the reviews there reflect their own personal experience. I analysed their data and I did not come to the same conclusion as they did. Again, so much bogus information out there, it’s really disturbing.

    So what I do now is always read the negative reviews first and then determine if they are petty or not. Most people are easily influenced by getting their food or stay comped for whatever reason, have high tolerances to poor conditions, or because of their euphoric mental state. Some have low standards too while others are paid professionals writing reviews now. There is no such thing as a perfect place and as far as I am concerned, anyone that rates a place as perfect is writing a bogus review.

  8. Hi Michael,

    You perfectly sum up the inaccuracies of TripAdvisor or Yelp, etc. review-type sites.
    Business always find a way to “game” the system by paying for positive reviews or the site holder removing negative reviews for payment or influence.

    What’s a business to do? Better yet, what’s a potential customer to do?

    Therein lies the issue.

    Your experiences were definitely subpar and management needs an overhaul. As employees find little accountability some will revert to the least possible service methods. Keeping high standards is difficult work that many do not wish to do.

    Hopefully your future experience life up to your expectations.

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