Are those five stars real?

Some hotels are more likely to collect fake reviews.

Gregory Nemec

Gregory Nemec

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We all wonder if reviews we read online are genuine. Could some of those raves have been posted by company staff? Were any of the pans by competitors?

Yale economics and finance professor Judith Chevalier ’89 has coauthored a study that gives would-be hotel customers some guidance on when to be wary. The researchers hypothesized that people who work in owner-operated hotels are more likely to write fake reviews than people who work in big hotel companies: they have more to gain, because their businesses are more susceptible to financial ups and downs, and less to lose, because owner-operated hotels are less likely than large hotel companies to impose sanctions for bogus reviews.

The researchers then examined reviews on two popular travel websites, Expedia and TripAdvisor. Their previous work suggested that fake reviews are easier to post on TripAdvisor (which lets anyone post) than on Expedia (which only allows reviews from people who’ve booked a room through the site). They found that owner-operated hotels have more positive reviews on TripAdvisor, relative to Expedia, than company-owned hotels—and the competitors of owner-operated hotels have more negative reviews. Says Chevalier, “If I’m an inn sitting next to an owner-operator Days Inn, I’m more likely to have suspicious negative reviews than if I’m an inn next to a company-owned Days Inn.” Some of those reviews are probably fake.

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