We read every last review on Airbnb. We make sure every Uber driver’s rating is near-perfect. We do deep dives on Hostelworld and find online forums to confirm our findings before we book. Queer, female, and non-white tourists, especially, know to vet and learn as much as they can about the businesses and people they trust during their travels.
But Last October, a woman, known only as K, was on a trip with friends when she decided to go on an outdoor excursion. She did her research and booked an excursion with a tour guide who had “stellar” reviews on TripAdvisor. But as the New York Times reported, the woman woke up in her hotel room to find that one of her tour guides had broken into her room and raped her.
K is the author of a petition with more than half a million signatures urging the company to “stop covering up sexual assault.” “My assault was deeply traumatic and probably one of the worst things I’ve ever experienced,” she wrote in the Change.org petition. “But the humiliation I was put through when I turned to TripAdvisor for help was almost worse."
When K turned to TripAdvisor for help with informing fellow travellers about the dangers this tour guide posed, the company suggested she leave a review, a course of action the woman said would force her to relive her trauma and out herself on a public platform where her assailant could easily find her. After K’s review was later not approved by TripAdvisor because it didn’t meet requirements like being written in the first person from the account of the person who experienced it, she wrote the petition. It currently has over 500,000 signatures. In March, the Guardian also found about 40 other reviews describing sexual assault and misconduct from otherwise highly-rated institutions.
It wasn’t until this week that TripAdvisor’s president of core experience, Lindsay Nelson, shared the company's new safety features on a blog post: A new safety filter will allow travellers to easily find reviews concerning sexual assault and misconduct from employees and staff members of the listed businesses. Additionally, a notice will appear at the top of each review that alerts readers about traveller safety information.
Despite the company’s new safety features, there are still no private or safe channels to report sexual assault. The only way to surface these concerns is to leave a first-person review, the same way you’d leave a complaint regarding mould in a hotel room. Protesters gathered on Wednesday to demand that TripAdvisor take violence against women seriously.
This is not the first time TripAdvisor, one of the largest online travel resources, publicly mishandled requests for more transparency regarding the sexual assault histories on its listed businesses. In 2017, the company publicly apologised to Kristie Love after repeatedly deleting her 2010 forum entry detailing her sexual assault at the hands of a Paraiso Maya Resort employee. The company then introduced a warning badge that would identify hotels and locations where sexual assaults, racial discrimination, and health violations have been reported. Similarly, Airbnb came under fire in 2016 after videos of a white host in Amsterdam pushing a black guest down the stairs surfaced. And despite improved policies, racial discrimination is still a safety concern for non-white Airbnb users.
We trust ride-sharing, online review forums, home rental services because they have point systems, security checks, and teams of people whose job is to vet all the parties involved. We’re not just looking at the reviews to see if we’ll get a bang for our buck. We’re also checking to see if we’ll survive.