Fake Online Restaurant Reviews Spreading in Croatia

Total Croatia News

Guests should stick to well-known guides and word of mouth, says a restaurant critic.

An Italian court in Lecce has made an important verdict for the world of gastronomy. According to the media, on Wednesday it sent to jail the owner of the Promo Salento company because he sold packages of fake reviews to hotels and restaurants, reports Jutarnji List on September 17, 2018.

He will spend nine months in prison and pay 8,000 euro as compensation to TripAdvisor for the costs of lawyers which the website had to engage to suppress false reviews.

TripAdvisor is a popular online service through which you can rate restaurants and hotels. But critics claim that it has been turned into a chaotic and unreliable guide, all because of the flood of false reviews. It has over 500 million reviews of seven million restaurants, accommodation facilities and tourist attractions. If the company doubts the authenticity or motives for writing a review, it starts investigating user profiles and ratings. If manipulation is found, the suspect reviews are published with red circles as a warning to users. If false reviews do not stop, profiles are blocked and, in the most extreme cases, the local police are involved.

The same problem was experienced a year ago by Danijell Nikolla, the owner of the Corto Maltese restaurant in Split, who said that the business of writing fake reviews is very much alive in Croatia. His restaurant suffered a kind of cyber attack. On Facebook, they had a rating of 4.9 out of 5. Last September, in just seven minutes, they received a total of 90 negative comments from alleged visitors from Brazil, which caused an instant drop in ratings to 3.5. They responded quickly and sent private messages to each Brazilian guest, but when they saw that no messages had been read, they realised that these were false profiles, created especially for writing fake reviews, and reported them to Facebook and the police.

“Then we contacted a lawyer who filed criminal charges against an unknown perpetrator, but we have no idea what happened with the investigation,” said Nikolla. They organise a response on their own and asked their real guests to rate the restaurant again with the best possible marks. They managed to recover their initial stellar ratings. Otherwise, the consequences could have been terrible, said Nikolla.

“We have some twenty workers; a fall in ratings would destroy our image and bring about financial losses that would lead to the firing of at least ten employees. We are lucky that this has not happened. I do not know who decided to attack us in this way. I do not want to believe that some of my fellow restaurant-owners would pay for false reviews to destroy me, I do not want to believe they would do that to me,” said Nikolla.

After Michelin stars, online review services are the second most important source of information for guests, especially the foreign ones. The most popular source is TripAdvisor, followed by reviews on Facebook and Google. That is why the businesses of writing false reviews is growing in Croatia, and the law still does not recognize it as a criminal offense.

Restaurant owners usually receive an offer via e-mail. They can order a hundred great reviews for themselves or terrible reviews for their competition. The price is around 500 euro. It is easy to identify them because the real users of such services typically have an average of thirty reviews, while fake profiles usually have between one and three reviews.

“There are some restaurants that I know for sure are not very good, but they have excellent ratings and reviews on TripAdvisor. This is a sign that something is going on. There are rumours about a company from Poreč which improves restaurant ratings for money. However, I have not been able to find out which company it is,” said restaurant critic Radovan Marčić, who does not believe that fake reviews writing should be a criminal offense.

“Our restaurant business is not honourable. But if bribed critics are not punished, I do not think that false review writers should be penalized,” said Marčić, who recommends that people stick to the word of mouth and expert trusted guides like Michelin or Pelegrini, while online services should be a source of just basic information, like addresses.

Translated from Jutarnji List (reported by Petra Plivelić).


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