We consider a variety of factors while planning our travel. No matter what our budget or travel goals may be, there’s little doubt that safety and security tops the list. Even the thought of any physical injury or harm during travel is scary and often affects how we plan our travel.

TripAdvisor’s Role

In the travel space, one can safely say that TripAdvisor banks on building its brand reputation on trust. Millions of travelers around the world plan their travel based on the information they find on TripAdvisor is evidence of that very fact. Having said that, the most recent and repeated scandal involving covering up reported sexual assault crimes could have some serious ramifications.

The Incident

The Guardian recently conducted an investigation and published this report:

“In emails seen by the Guardian, a woman called “K” approached TripAdvisor to say she had been raped by a tour guide whose business was being promoted on the website. After contacting the hotel where he worked and reporting him to the police, K wanted to warn other tourists.

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? 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?,” said K. “It left me feeling shattered, hopeless and alone.”

TripAdvisor could’ve handled this much better. It starts with showing sensitivity and empathy. The worst thing that they could’ve asked the victim to do is to reveal her identity publicly, and they did exactly that.

Repeated Incident

This happened in 2017 as well. (Image Credit: The New York Times)

I’m even more alarmed about the fact that this is a repeat occurrence. A similar incident had happened back in 2017, which The Guardian had also written about.

“TripAdvisor has previously attempted to grapple with complaints of sexual assault. In November 2017, it said it would add a warning tags to hotels where “health, discrimination and safety” issues have been reported – but would not explicitly say what the business has been flagged for. The decision came after the company deleted a review detailing a rape case in a hotel in Mexico because the language used breached its guidelines.

My initial hunch is that TripAdvisor attempted to put a temporary band aid fix to a scandal that they thought could become a major PR crisis. Instead of making sweeping changes to the way reviews are reported or trust and safety guidelines are enforced, they added a tag, which again was too generic in nature.

Corporate Culture

Time to take stock and respond. (Image Credit: Unsplash)

The recurrence of this scandal proves that it’s not just a one-time issue. TripAdvisor needs to make sweeping changes to the way these reviews are reported and the way sensitive information is managed and reported. As I said earlier, TripAdvisor’s success hinges on the trust its readers put in the information displayed. This repeated incident casts serious doubts on TripAdvisor’s trustworthiness as a brand.

TripAdvisor’s Immediate Response

As per a recent report in Fortune Magazine, this is how TripAdvisor initially responded to the story:

TripAdvisor told the publication: “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 travelers about potential issues at a location.”

The Correct Response

This may end up becoming a very good case for business ethics. How will TripAdvisor respond in the long run? Will they resort to patchwork and quick fixes to repair the damage to their reputation. Far too often we see major corporations being shortsighted and trying to bury the scandal instead of fixing what caused it. Far too often we see corporate leaders put public image, short term financial gains and brand reputation over the safety well-being of its customers and employees.

I’m not alleging any perfidy or malice on TripAdvisor’s part here, but only pointing out that the way they’ve responded so far isn’t the correct way to respond.

The Pundit’s Mantra

I’m hoping that TripAdvisor responds to this by restructuring the way things are handled. Firstly, ensure that confidentiality and privacy is maintained in reporting such incidents. Sexual assault and physical security is a serious issue, and it’s too serious to be buried amid the milieu of a thousand reviews where people may be complaining about a broken air conditioner in the room.

Secondly, train employee teams to handle such complaints with sensitivity and empathy. Victims need to be given the confidence that their complaints will be taken seriously and that their anonymity will be respected.

Thirdly, take stringing actions against businesses that have credible accusations against them. It will push businesses (hotels) to give top priority to the safety and security of its guests. If readers don’t feel that the information on TripAdvisor is credible any more, it won’t be long until they flee in droves.

It will be interesting to see how this unfolds. We live in an age where we rely so much on the veracity of the information we find online from fellow travelers.

What’s your take on this issue? Do you think that TripAdvisor’s response until now has been adequate? I’d be interested in hearing your perspective about this.