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User reviews have gained large popularity within the recent years. In the hotel and accommodation sector it was in particular industry leader TripAdvisor popularised the concept of consumer reviews. In particular in the US market another review website has recently experienced considerable growth, namely Yelp. In contrast to TripAdvisor, Yelp not only provides reviews of tourism businesses, but includes high street service businesses as well.

One of these service providers form the US, service is Hadeed Carpet Cleaning in Alexandria, Virginia, was recently involved in a court case that could have major implications for the tourism and hospitality industry, as Tnooz reported.

The case

The business owner, after becoming suspicious that some of the negative reviews were not from actual customers (by allegedly checking their own customer database), asked Yelp to turn over the identifying information of the reviewers.

The owner’s lawyers subpoenaed the consumer review website for the identities of the seven reviewers in question in order to pursue individual defamation suits. According to Yelp’s Terms of Service, reviewers must have been actual customers of the business to leave a review.

However, Yelp failed to provide any information and ignored the request. As the lack of response from Yelp’s side let to a court case, the business owner won the case.

Implications for Tourism reviews in the US market

The judge in the case actually made a wider ruling, pointing out that the true problem is not fake reviews, but without being able to identify the reviewer, it impossible for businesses to pursue defamation for false reviews.

The case has wide ranging implications for user reviews across all websites, especially those that do not have a direct mechanism for verifying patronage at a business – such as a credit card integration that affirms a purchase.

What will the industry’s response be?

It will be interesting to observe the industry’s response. Especially the major portals such as TripAdvisor or Holidaycheck face constant allegations by tourism businesses regarding wrong or false reviews. A full identification and/or proof of purchase would certainly enhance the quality of reviews as well as consumers’ trust in these feedback channels. On the other hand, it will be associated with major investments from review businesses that they just might not be willing to take unless they are forced by law.

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