By now, you’ve probably read all about our plum awful destination wedding week at Bahama Beach Club in Treasure Cay. If this is your first time landing here and you have no idea what I’m on about, check out this article for some background. Get popcorn and a drink before you settle down though – it’s movie-quality drama!
My job as a communications consultant and writer requires that I travel often, so I use TripAdvisor on a near daily basis as I plan my globetrotting adventures. I’ve always trusted the site as my last look before I confirm a hotel or excursion. It’s easy enough to take a holistic glance at all the reviews while mentally filtering out any outliers – overly exuberant reviews or obviously fake negative ones – to come up with a credible concept of what to expect at a property.
But how credible is that picture? After my experience in the past month, I’m not so sure.
Back when Rick and I were researching wedding venues, we read through Bahama Beach Club’s reviews on TripAdvisor and found that they were almost all glowingly positive. Between those reviews, our in-person visit and the promises received from management, we were convinced we’d found a gem in the Abacos, ready to accommodate our world-traveling guests for a relaxing week of luxurious fun. I even wrote a review about the property back in March. Glowing.
When it all went wrong upon arrival, we patiently awaited resolution from management. An apology, an explanation that wasn’t a boldfaced lie about a hurricane that didn’t hit, a refund for paying guests who came from so far to experience a luxury vacation… something that any luxury resort worth the designation would know to do automatically. If you’ve read the original blog post, you know we’re still waiting.
Back from the honeymoon, it became clear we’d never see a dime (aside from the $1,700 for the rehearsal dinner next to an empty pool) for our troubles, so I did what every hardworking American does when faced with travel fraud – I turned to TripAdvisor, trusted friend and consumer advocate, to tell our story.
I spent days carefully writing out the details of the debacle in a fair, but obviously, 90% negative 2,100 word review of the hotel’s service, amenities, wedding offerings and our overall experience. I attached a plethora of photos to give weight to my words.
Six other guests followed suit, highlighting their individual concerns as paying hotel guests. My mom’s review posted on TripAdvisor first, followed by mine, with others trickling in over the ensuing weeks.
My mom’s post quickly received a rude, condescending response from the owner, filled with nonsense about Hurricane Joaquin, the storm that wreaked havoc 300 miles away, 16 days prior to our arrival and was a non-issue in Abaco.
One submitted review, from my travel writing colleague Kristin Luna, was rejected over and over again. Kristin tweeted and emailed TripAdvisor to find out why in the world her honest review was randomly rejected, and she never heard a peep back. This is not her first time submitting a review – as you can see, she’s a TripAdvisor veteran. After diligently editing and resubmitting multiple times, TripAdvisor finally published her thoughtful review of the property.
Two other reviews from guests were never published on the site at all, despite multiple edits and resubmissions.
Weeks after the 5 approved reviews went live, Craig responded to each one with a copy of his laughable note from weeks before, only this time he highlighted all sorts of free stuff we supposedly received. Golf carts and free rooms and food and fun! Hilarious since we most certainly didn’t receive what he claims.
If a hotelier bought you some free drinks and loaned you one golf cart in place of your expensive, classy wedding and family vacation, would you call it even? Of course not.
And yet he gets away with lying on TripAdvisor about what really happened. Since TA doesn’t allow for back and forth, his response, no matter how false, stands in perpetuity.
Now this is where the real mystery begins.
Just a few hours after the owner responded to our handful of negative reviews, ours and several more disappeared from TripAdvisor.
Poof! A novel’s worth of cautionary words from paying customers, gone. Not unlike all the money we spent on our supposedly luxurious vacation at Bahama Beach Club.
Miraculously with the negative reviews gone, Bahama Beach Club’s rating went from last to No. 1 on the island. Peculiar, no?
From 154 reviews to 146 in a matter of minutes…
What possible explanation could there be for the sudden removal? Something made TripAdvisor take them down; they didn’t just disappear on their own.
Could Bahama Beach Club be paying TripAdvisor to remove all those reviews? No, it couldn’t be. TripAdvisor has always been a trusted resource in the travel community and it would be a game-changer to find out that hoteliers can click a button, or worse, open their wallets, to have unwanted reviews taken down.
It could not be. I couldn’t accept it.
Then again… we did provide photographic proof with our reviews of all the construction and my review had hundreds of “helpful” votes – TripAdvisor’s own internal rating system. Wouldn’t TA side with the consumer in that case, particularly with all the evidence at hand?
TripAdvisor doesn’t just randomly remove whole batches of reviews without a cause, so let’s presume Craig the Owner reported our reviews as inappropriate in the hopes of having them scrubbed. I’m certain most hoteliers would like to report negative reviews on TripAdvisor and have them rapidly evaporated, but wouldn’t that defeat the whole purpose of the site?
It appears that the TripAdvisor staffer who removed our reviews had to have seen all those photos, many reviews corroborating the story and all those helpful votes, and ultimately decided to remove all of them at once anyhow. Why would they side with the hotelier in a clear-cut situation like this?
And what if other similar reviews from brides and unhappy vacationers have been removed at Bahama Beach Club’s insistence in the past? Those reviews surely would’ve prevented us from wasting our wedding week, the vacations of our loved ones and tens of thousands of dollars had we seen them.
TripAdvisor just couldn’t be letting me down… could they?
All this speculation had my mind racing down a very dark path, so I reached out to TripAdvisor’s VP of Global Communications, Desiree Fish, for some answers. I recounted our sad wedding tale and she directed us to customer service.
If your reviews are ever removed, and you’re ever diligent enough to follow up, be warned! You will have to jump through serious hoops to get seriously convoluted answers. For example, customer service asked my mom the number and title of her review. Now how would she know? It was deleted! (I managed to grab a screenshot from a cached page after the fact and eventually we found her review.)
Some of us were eventually told why our reviews were taken down after much back and forth. Are ready for this?
Mine was supposedly removed for implied profanity.
Have you ever read anything profane in the millions of words I write each year? I’m the girl who says “shucks” and “darn” and spells a$$ with dollar signs. Maybe the TripAdvisor staffer who deleted my review assumed that, given all we’d been through during wedding week, I was potentially cussing the hotel in my mind. Is that implied profanity? Is TripAdvisor in the business of knowing what specific words I’m implying now? They just might be profane!
Another guest had her review removed because of “hearsay.” In her original review, she spoke of the roaches her husband had encountered in the condo. But since she didn’t technically see them herself, the roach situation was hearsay. Seriously?
My mom’s review was removed because she quoted the Bahama Beach Club website in her review, namely, all the amenities that were advertised and yet not available to us during our vacation. So you can’t hold the hotel accountable for what they promise on their website?
Let’s get real – I’ve never known TripAdvisor to be so nitpicky in my years of using and reviewing hotels on the site. I’d never had any of my past reviews rejected, or later removed, nor has anyone else I’ve polled. Now suddenly all our reviews were taken down for the most ludicrous of reasons. I can only hold out hope for so long…
Desiree Fish, from TripAdvisor, sent the following in response to my questions about the rationale for taking down all our reviews, “TripAdvisor only removes content from the site that does not meet the content policy and hotels cannot remove content from their listings. Suspicious content can be reported by anyone in the community, including the owner. If content has been reported by the community, it is reviewed by a specialist to ensure that it meets our content guidelines. For privacy reasons we do not disclose the reporting of content or who reported it.”
It just doesn’t add up, y’all. Fudge.
I edited my 2,100 words and armed with a heap of new knowledge about what we’re dealing with down in Abaco, I resubmitted a 2,700 word review to TripAdvisor. Several days later, it went live. You can read it here. For now. My new review elicited a charming response from the owner.
I think I spot some hearsay, TripAdvisor! Among other lies so egregious I can’t help but laugh. TripAdvisor allows owners to respond to reviews but guests can’t reply, so now Craig is defaming me publicly and outright accusing me of extortion. Fortunately I have a platinum reputation, thick skin and a mountain of evidence. The only way I’m the unscrupulous one in this equation is if you do math the way Craig does.
I’ve worked very hard in my career to become a trusted voice in the travel industry and readers know they can come to me for the honest truth about every place I visit. While it’s clear the owner will never admit his behavior has been unacceptable, I have a responsibility to let other travelers, and especially those planning a destination wedding, know just what they’re getting into if they book at BBC.
But what about all the consumers who don’t have a voice?
What about all my loved ones who paid a fortune to make this trip happen and then Mr. Rich Hotel Owner gets his way and his money in the end and their opinion means nothing? As with many consumers who find themselves the victim of a bait-and-switch, TripAdvisor becomes the only way to warn others and prevent them from experiencing the same fate. When the bully is stomping his feet and threatening to fight, TA should be standing up for the little guy – or at least allowing the little guy to participate in the fight.
I’m not sure if that’s happening anymore.
We can never really know what goes on behind the scenes, but something sure seems fishy, and it just adds to the absurdity that has been this entire wedding process.
Do you use TripAdvisor? Have you ever posted a negative review and had it removed? I’d love to hear your stories. Maybe this has only ever happened to those of us represented here, but somehow I doubt it.
3/1/2016 UPDATE: Thank you to all of you who’ve shared this article and made it one of my most popular posts in history! And to all who shared the Medium article, What You Don’t Know About TripAdvisor. It sheds so much light on what’s going on at the company, and really explains how we’ve ended up in this situation. Take a look to be enlightened!
3/9/2016 UPDATE: Check out this comment from reader Tony about how the owner at Bahama Beach Club is working to get our reviews removed behind the scenes. Think that says it all, doesn’t it?