Considering that TripAdvisor is the largest travel review site in the world, one would hope that, by now, the company would have a strong policy for responding to allegations of sexual assault and rape at businesses reviewed on its website. Instead, according to a report in the Guardian, this is how they responded to a woman identified as K, who said she’d been raped by a tour guide whose business was promoted on the site: “TripAdvisor responded by suggesting K could leave a first person review detailing her sexual assault on the website.”
“I was in disbelief. Am I seriously being asked to recall the humiliating details of my own sexual assault?” said K. “Was this global company pushing me to relive my trauma on their forum for everyone to see and comment, or worse of all for the perpetrator who is still out there, to respond to me, troll me?”
In its email response, TripAdvisor even referred K to other reviews where customers reported sexual assault by hotel staff members, “as examples of how she might write her own review,” per the Guardian, and “told K they did not remove a business from their site if a staff member was accused of sexual assault or rape, even temporarily to conduct an internal review.” When K told the company that she didn’t want to write the review under her own name, “TripAdvisor suggested she created a burner account under an anonymous name to leave the review.” Her current review, which was not written in the first person, remains unpublished. Even if K’s review had been published, as TripAdvisor told her to do, it could easily have been buried because reviews are posted in chronological order.
While the company says that it has a flagging system that indicates a business has “health, discrimination and safety” issues, TripAdvisor doesn’t tell customers what the specific reported issues are. There are only four flagged businesses on the website right now, per the company, but the Guardian found 40 other rape allegations in reviews of businesses with high ratings, only 14 of which included responses from the businesses. Only one business indicated “whether disciplinary action had been taken against the staff member in question.”
This is not the first time the company has been criticized for its handling of rape allegations at businesses it promotes. In 2017, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that TripAdvisor had been quietly deleting reviews that mentioned rape for years. According to the company, at the time, the language violated its “family friendly” content policy. In another incident in October 2017, TripAdvisor initially declined to publish two accounts alleging that a massage therapist allegedly drugged and sexually assaulted a man at the Grand Velas Riviera Maya in Mexico because “it contained hearsay.” The company told Gizmodo that it later posted the alleged victim’s rewritten account of the assault.
By asking victims to report rape allegations in reviews, TripAdvisor absolves itself of responsibility for taking any sort of action against a business, or warning customers that a business might not be safe—businesses that customers rely on TripAdvisor to vouch for. TripAdvisor’s response to the Guardian was not much different from what they told K. “It is terrible that some travellers endure serious issues such as assault or rape, and we hope our platform can be used by them to help warn and protect others,” the company said in a statement. “It is important that reviewers follow our publishing guidelines to ensure the accuracy of our reviews, and when these reviews are not readily available and news reports exist that detail recent and pervasive health and safety matters, TripAdvisor’s notification process helps alert travellers about potential issues at a location.” It’s a maddening, circular logic: Visit TripAdvisor to plan a safe, fun vacation, but it’s not TripAdvisor’s job to warn you if your hotel isn’t actually safe at all.