Whilst there has been repeated and comprehensive reporting on known terrorist groups targeting public and tourism locations by way of bombings, shootings, stabbings and the use of vehicles as a weapon, there is a growing group of non-state actors terrorizing local businesses that have gone largely unacknowledged or reported. This group is known as leisure and business travellers. They may not be using violence and causing physical harm to people but make no mistake, their actions and consequences are in many cases surpassing the impact of “terrorists”. Just like terrorists that like to cover their face from recognition, so to do many of these ‘travelling terrorists” by use of nameless, faceless and anonymous online profiles and actions.
Many may think it ludicrous to consider leisure and business travellers as terrorists but when you threaten, hold to ransom, blackmail, cause economic loss and destroy the livelihood of local providers….your actions are tantamount to that of a terrorist, terrorist group or act of terrorism. So, what is it that they are doing? They are attacking businesses with emotive, aggressive and unsubstantiated online reviews, comments, ratings, and demands to accommodate their ever growing list of unreasonable demands to cater to their personal needs. Some vendors are aware of these attacks but the proliferation of online content and travel sites means that the volume and often alternate languages used to attack the local business may go undetected, even though the result is clearly evident by way of reduced bookings, empty accommodation and closed restaurants.
Trendy and outspoken lifestyle or business travellers are making demands on local providers for gluten free, nut free, vegan, organic and other specialty meals. Far too many of these individuals are making these demands not because they have legitimate allergies or medical diagnosed risk of exposure but because it is the latest “fad”. These demands are often conflicting with claims of vegetarianism when they eat chicken. Gluten free bread demands but consumption of other food with gluten present. The most egregious of these are those that go to seafood restaurants and other specialty food outlets only to demand something that is not on the menu or clearly well outside the specialty on offer. If they can’t get what they want, they launch into rants, video themselves abusing serving staff, post offensive and abusive online reviews, threaten to destroy the businesses reputation, and numerous other actions to poison potential customers from keeping away from the local business. All too often the local business is not equipped to respond, doesn’t understand the online threat or can’t spare the resources required to manage this toxic, public aspect of doing business in today’s environment. Even worse is when a group of “travelling terrorists” target a local business community, or one disgruntled customer’s online spray triggers a wave of comments and negative submissions, crippling an entire business community.
Accommodation providers operate in a fiercely competitive landscape, with many of them slow to catch up with technology or too keen to “falsely project” their offering to potential guests. Blame the owners and management, not staff. Don’t shop around to save $5 and then bemoan the lack of higher standard or more expensive amenities. All travel and tourism based businesses benefited from their customers not having a collective and accessible voice, so they could “get away” with things that one or two might find unacceptable or negatively comment but now there is a mountain of online sites, content, review sites and other pre-travel resources that enable the individuals to now be collectively represented, so one or two bad reviews get seen but dozens or hundreds of complaints will demand action by the provider….if it is legitimate. You can’t demand a hotel move from a busy intersection but better soundproofing could be an investment for the business.
Negative, damaging and threatening online content is like an oil spill. Easy enough to release but costly, time consuming and ugly to remove.
Yes, there are bad businesses. Yes, there are outdated business practices. Yes, there are rude people and negative experiences when travelling but just how much of it warrants such vile and aggressive online submissions from an unqualified and inexperienced publisher?
Nameless, faceless and anonymous online environments bring out the worst in humans. They can be mean, callous, vindictive, aggressive or just outright stupid. Teenagers can testify to the bullying and cruel comments made by people of all ages online, which is now flowing onto business reviews and online comments.
I own and operate a marketing company, specializing in open source business intelligence. We have serviced a lot of hotels, restaurants and other local businesses vying for leisure and business traveller’s patronage. My team and I have a lot of experience in promoting businesses online, managing negative feedback and capturing new business for providers. This includes qualifying online content and verification of people, claims, and reviews. The results can often be shocking.
We had management from a competing hotel creating fake accounts and posting negative reviews of properties. You didn’t need a traveller to be nasty, the local competitors were playing the role of a terrorist in this instance. Some people will demand upgrades, free gifts, and other rewards, or they will “leave a bad review”. We had professional “bloggers” making false and implausible reviews of properties and restaurants, just to increase their followers or ranking on sites like Tripadvisor. One year, TripAdvisor released a list of their “top reviewers” so we analyzed the top 5 contributors. There is NO WAY these contributors were either legitimate, ethical or real. For example, we created a travel itinerary of one of the top contributors that claimed to have stayed in Germany, Hong Kong, Delhi and New York…..all in the same week! The individual had left reviews of over 500+ nights accommodation, in a single year….as if that wasn’t suspect enough. This blogger could not have possibly travelled on flights we mapped out, commuting to the hotels from the airport, checked -in and stayed at the locations they claimed to have left “genuine and honest reviews”. Now multiply that fake individual across thousands of profiles and hundreds of online review sites and now you have a sense of the scale and threat faced by local providers.
There are 3 primary categories of people online. Producers of content. Consumers of content and “prosumers of content, that is those that drift a little between both. Less than 10% are producers. About 15% percent might be prosumers, mostly consuming but they create/publish content from time to time, leaving the majority [75-80%] as consumers.
This means that a very small number of individuals are creating content for the majority to consume.
It is unregulated, unedited and often unsubstantiated. Where else in the universe would that not be a clear risk except in the world of online travel reviews, ratings and comments? No wonder it has been exploited and used for negative purposes.
Business travellers can be just as nasty and self-indulgent as leisure travellers. Even worse is when they have their own internal travel department representing them as a “bully for hire”. They beat down providers on prices, demand additional products/services at no extra cost, specify inclusions that no one else gets [raising costs for the provider], dictate payment terms and may even cancel a contract without warning. But that’s just “the industry” right? WRONG. Multinationals are not entitled to bully local providers, especially using economic reward or penalties if the provider fails to meet their standards. Buyers have a choice but they don’t have the right to contribute to this wave of travel and tourism terrorism that continues unchecked.
Local businesses are under attack by roving terrorists. In much the same way it takes an alert public, supportive community and law enforcement to tackle physical terrorism, so too it is required to protect local businesses. HELP THEM. Don’t tolerate fake and aggressive reviews. Have them forcibly removed by the hosting website. Don’t let travellers bully, scream and shout at local vendors. Name and shame them by making them accountable. Don’t fall for fake online reviews for the sake of convenience and speed, get the REAL information from the provider. Deal with them direct. Be active and alert to the signs of travel terrorism and help to contribute to an enjoyable and transparent travel experience. Don’t then be a bully defending the local providers as this makes you just as bad and defeats the purpose. Think, act, contribute and regulate these online travel communities and the result will be a better experience for all and the elimination of these minority hatred groups and self-serving terrorists.
By Tony Ridley