As part of its new policy, TripAdvisor will try to be more clear about why reviews are rejected. “Our new email communications will clearly articulate the phrase or sentences that are in violation of our policy, inviting the reviewer to make edits and resubmit their review,” Mr. Carter said.
Complaints of sexual assault on travelers are not new, and there are many posts on TripAdvisor written by travelers who say they were raped in various countries. The government also identifies locations where sexual assaults occur. For instance, under “Country Information” for Mexico, the State Department cautions that, “Rape and sexual assault are serious problems in resort and other areas. Many of these incidents occur at night or during the early morning hours, in hotel rooms, or on deserted beaches, or through drugging of drinks.”
The Journal Sentinel reporting about TripAdvisor came at a time of a national conversation around sexual assault that was brought about by the Harvey Weinstein scandal and the #MeToo social media campaign.
The confluence of those events “served as a wakeup call to TripAdvisor,” said the travel analyst Henry H. Harteveldt, the president of San-Francisco-based Atmosphere Research Group.
“It’s 100 percent true that in 2017, and certainly going forward, no travel website can arbitrarily censor or remove posts just because they may address an uncomfortable topic or be awkward,” he said, noting that the travel sites have a responsibility to businesses to ensure that the allegations are accurate and verifiable.
The health, safety and discrimination badge is the third that TripAdvisor is using to mark businesses with potential concerns. A badge is used to identify listing that may be violating posting guidelines; for instance, by putting up fake reviews. Another badge is used to note when TripAdvisor freezes reviews during major news events where posts may not reflect the opinions of actual guests. That was used next to the Mandalay Bay listing in Las Vegas last month after a gunman killed 59 people and injured more than 500.
Mr. Harteveldt said he believes that TripAdvisor should link to government warnings as well. “I think that travel websites have a responsibility to be an advocate for their customers. It is helpful, and adds frankly to the trust, if they were to provide links to State Department advisories,” he said.
Mr. Carter said that TripAdvisor thinks that its 455 million users provide the necessary “checks and balances. As always, we encourage consumers to do additional research outside of TripAdvisor.”