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TripAdvisor unveils new safety features after controversy over sexual assault reports

TripAdvisor unveils new safety features after controversy over sexual assault reports
[Photo: Wanaporn Yangsiri/Unsplash]

TripAdvisor has been at the center of a storm over how it handles reports of sexual assault and other crimes that take place in the hotels it features. Today, it announced a new strategy that hopefully puts travelers’ safety first.

The issue first came up in 2017 when it was alleged that TripAdvisor, the largest travel site in the world with 456 million monthly visitors, was whitewashing over assaults that took place at hotels by deleting warnings written by its own users, for violating the company’s guidelines. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel published an exposé revealing that hotel horror stories of sexual assaults, blackouts, and robberies that were posted on TripAdvisor were removed for allegedly violating the company’s guidelines. TripAdvisor eventually republished the horrific reviews and, according to an email from TripAdvisor, “educated their moderators on the importance of allowing accounts of sexual assault to be posted in the forums so that others could share and discuss.”

In light of the complaints, the company put a warning system into place, with digital badges affixed to the pages of hotels where crimes had allegedly taken place, but only if there were “recent media stories concerning safety issues at a business,” per TripAdvisor. As Fast Company reported at the time, it wasn’t much of a system. The company claimed that “the best check-and-balance on the tourism industry is our community of hundreds of millions of global travelers.” However, things didn’t improve on the site, and a 2019 story in The Guardian put TripAdvisor’s treatment of allegations of sexual assault at hotels back in the spotlight. Now, TripAdvisor has decided to do a little more to protect the travelers who rely on their site to pick a hotel.

Starting today, there are two new safety features on TripAdvisor:

  1. A traveler safety review filter that lets customers quickly see which hotels had reports of safety issues, including sexual assault, death, drugging, sex trafficking, armed robbery, and physical assault, as well as more recent reviews concerning sexual assaults and sexual misconduct by employees of a business, with reviews about other safety categories added on a rolling basis.
  2. A notice on all reviews that have safety warnings to make it easier for travelers to distinguish these from other reviews.

The additions are a smart business move, because it makes TripAdvisor seem more trustworthy for travelers. And according to a recent study, 67% of travelers say a destination’s “safety and security” is what matters most.

Update: TripAdvisor the new safety features were not introduced as a result of The Guardian story. “This has been something we’ve been working on over the past two years,” a spokesperson wrote in an email. “Two years ago, we changed our content and forum moderation practices to ensure more travel safety content is posted to the platform. In the last several months (long before we heard from The Guardian), we continued to iterate on next steps related to our media notification, which alerts consumers about safety issues reported on in the press but do not exist in TripAdvisor reviews.”

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