MILWAUKEE — Kristie Love read the Nov. 2 headlines from around the globe; “TripAdvisor apologizes for deleting user’s post about being raped at resort;” “TripAdvisor apologizes for removing rape claim ...” and “TripAdvisor apologizes to alleged rape victim. ...”
Then, the next day, she saw a statement on LinkedIn from Steve Kaufer, CEO of TripAdvisor, saying the company was making improvements, was horrified at what had happened to Love and others and that travelers should be aware of the incidents.
And, he said, the company has “apologized to the victim for her experience.”
Love was outraged.
“WHAT APOLOGY?” she replied on LinkedIn. “I’ve yet to hear a word from TripAdvisor, and certainly not an apology!”
In a letter to Kaufer on Wednesday, Love elaborated: “Not receiving a single phone call or email from your company, my immediate thought was ‘hearsay,’ ” she wrote. “It was then brought to my attention this so called ‘apology’ was in the form of a Press Release dated Nov 1, 2017.”
“Hearsay” is the reason TripAdvisor gave dozens of travelers for not publishing their warnings of terrible things that had happened to them or their loved ones at highly rated resorts in Mexico.
Turns out, while the company was publicly apologizing, nobody had actually contacted Love, the woman from Texas whose post about being sexually assaulted by a security guard at a resort in Mexico in 2010 was deleted from TripAdvisor.
At least two other women reported being assaulted at the same resort after Love’s TripAdvisor warning had been removed.
Kaufer did eventually call Love, but for her it was too little, too late.
As TripAdvisor scrambles to respond to complaints from users who say the company has forbidden them from posting negative reviews and comments detailing serious injuries and other terrifying experiences while traveling, dozens more have told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel they, too, have had their posts blocked by TripAdvisor.
At the same time, the company placed its first warning “badges” Wednesday on three resorts in Mexico, including the Iberostar Paraiso Maya, the complex where Love and others were assaulted and where Abbey Conner, a 20-year-old Wisconsin woman mysteriously drowned just hours after arriving with her family.
The Grand Velas Riviera Maya, where a tourist receiving a massage at the spa was sexually assaulted, also had a warning badge placed on its site.
The red banner across the top of the resorts’ listings on TripAdvisor caution tourists that the establishments have been subjects in media reports and suggests travelers might want to do further research.
The warning notes that the media reports or events may not be reflected in the TripAdvisor reviews.
“Those were just the first three,” said TripAdvisor spokesman Brian Hoyt about the warnings. “We’ll be monitoring news coverage moving forward.”
He said an internal committee is responsible for making the decision on which properties and establishments get the badges.
TripAdvisor began engineering a new warning system to alert tourists to hotels, restaurants and attractions that have been subjects of media reports after the Journal Sentinel first began asking the user-ratings site questions while investigating Conner’s death in July.
The company said it is also revising the way it informs consumers that their reviews and forum posts were deleted for containing hearsay. The company now will specify the exact sentence or words that consist of hearsay so users can edit their submissions and have their posts published, Hoyt said.
And the company has initiated new training for the destination experts and others who have the ability to remove posts, ensuring they know that health and safety issues are important and need to remain on the site, he said.
The Journal Sentinel found that an untold number of “trusted community members” have the ability to remove forum posts and that “destination experts” — members who provide advice on travel spots — can be local tour guides, property owners and have other financial interests in attracting tourists. TripAdvisor does not disclose potential conflicts and won’t say how people or companies gain these privileges.
“The company is doing the appropriate things to recognize that what happened to Ms. Love in 2010 was awful,” Hoyt said. “We’re looking at this as an opportunity to do things better in the future.”
TripAdvisor’s profits are driven by clicks and bookings to resorts from its site.
Shares in TripAdvisor stock have plunged 20 percent to five-year lows since Monday’s close of $39.53, following disappointing earnings and recent news reports. The price dipped below $30 on Wednesday before closing at $31.66. The company has lost $1 billion in market value this week.
Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) is urging the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the company. A week earlier, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) asked the inspector general to launch an examination into how the U.S. Department of State “monitors, records and reports overseas incidents involving physical abuse or death after the potential consumption of tainted alcohol.”
In a Nov. 2 letter to Maureen Ohlausen, acting chairwoman of the commission, Baldwin said she’s concerned that TripAdvisor “may be prioritizing profits over providing and open, honest forum for traveler reviews.”
She said access to accurate information is especially important in light of the deaths and injuries in Mexico and the failure by the State Department to properly warn tourists.
She called it “imperative” that TripAdvisor and websites like it not censor their crowdsourced content.
“In particular, limiting or removing reviews that detail unsafe conditions could put future travelers, who look to TripAdvisor for accurate information, at risk,” she wrote.
That was the main reason Kristie Love was determined to get the word out about what happened to her as she walked to the lobby of the hotel one night after the key to her room had been deactivated. She wanted to protect others.
“Mr Kaufer, six months after my warnings were deleted, my nightmare and motivating reason for pursuing this criminal became reality,” Love wrote in a Nov. 7 letter to the TripAdvisor CEO. “I was contacted by the parents of a 19 year old girl from New Jersey who was also raped by a security guard at the same property while on vacation with her family.
“Could you imagine if this had been YOUR daughter that was not protected? And THAT is what I can never forget. Even more than the crime committed against myself, this innocent college sophomore traveling with her family had her life FOREVER changed. Since the family owned a travel agency and significantly relied on the reviews of TripAdvisor both in their business and personally, I am quite confident this would have never occurred had my story NOT been removed.”
Late Wednesday afternoon, Love received an email from Kaufer, who apologized and explained the company's new warning policies.
"While I know nothing I tell you can ever undo what happened to you, or make up for the anguish caused by not being able to warn others about your sexual assault on our platform at the time, I hope this letter helps clarify our current policies and explain the measures in place to ensure experiences like yours can be shared on TripAdvisor,” Kaufer said.