The travel website TripAdvisor has introduced a new review feature to provide travellers with access to safety information about the businesses it promotes, the company has announced.
TripAdvisor, which has 456 million visitors a month, allows users to search for accommodation and other hospitality sites, which are ranked by user reviews.
The first feature the company is introducing is a new “traveller safety review” filter. The feature will allow people to search reviews that contain reports of safety-related incidents at hotels and businesses, and will be available in all 28 languages in which TripAdvisor is available.
For reviews posted in the last year, the filter will list reviews concerning sexual assault or misconduct by employees of a business. TripAdvisor said it found 1,100 reviews concerning sexual assault from the last year alone. The company said it would introduce a filter for other safety categories later.
From now on, the feature will filter all new reviews concerning multiple safety issues, including sexual assault, death, drugging, sex trafficking, armed robbery, and physical assault.
In a second safety feature, the company will insert a notice at the top of each review mentioning safety information, intended to make it easier for travellers to distinguish these from other reviews.
TripAdvisor said it would use a mix of employees and technology to identify reviews concerning safety. Over time, the company expects its machine learning algorithms to improve the capture rate of this information. All reviews on the site go through keyword filters to identify serious safety issues, such as sexual assault, and then are evaluated by human moderators to ensure they are appropriately categorised.
The new safety features on TripAdvisor follow a report by the Guardian in March, which uncovered multiple concerns with TripAdvisor’s platform. The concerns were raised by women who alleged they were sexually assaulted by staff employees of hotels and businesses promoted on the site.
One of the safety concerns raised was how reviews detailing attacks allegedly committed by staff members – written by victims with the intention to warn other travellers – were routinely “buried” by other reviews, making it difficult for users to find them.
TripAdvisor’s president of core experience, Lindsay Nelson, said safety-related information about specific neighbourhoods or businesses was “often hard to find or nonexistent online”. In a blogpost announcing the new features, she said: “The need for better access to safety information while travelling has never been greater.
“Often, something tragic must happen in order to engage in a dialogue about traveller safety, which by then is far too late. For many women, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and persons with accessibility needs, obtaining information on travel safety can be a matter of life and death.”
Despite the introduction of the new safety features, complainants say there are still problems that need to be addressed.
As it stands, the review system will still expect victims to make a first-hand account of their assault, and allow alleged attackers employed at businesses to publicly reply directly to victims. TripAdvisor said this was to allow management to inform travellers whether action has been taken to resolve it and address their concerns.
Campaigners are calling for a separate channel to directly alert TripAdvisor of safety issues.
TripAdvisor will also not penalise hotels or businesses that have been accused – or indeed found guilty – of sexual assault, meaning hotels with staff accused of sexual assault may still hold a top star rating.
Still, TripAdvisor said the changes were just the start of the site’s plan to elevate safety information for users. Throughout the coming months, it said it would be conducting extensive user research to establish other features it could introduce.
Hayley Coleman, TripAdvisor’s UK media relations manager, said: “These are just the first of many changes to come as we work with our global community of travellers, businesses and tourism destinations to continue to evolve our platform and deliver more valuable information to travellers. We never stop working to make the TripAdvisor experience better. Travel safety is part of that and something we’re deeply committed to for the long term.”