Maybe Sandals isn’t just for the beautiful people, after all.
You’ll recall our recent case in which a customer had been inconvenienced by a four-day photo shoot that closed the beach, the pools and other facilities at Beaches Turks and Caicos.
Well, I have a resolution to report. But in the process I also opened a Pandora’s Box with TripAdvisor. I’ll get to that in a minute.
Arthur Boas reported that halfway through his vacation, resort management abruptly closed the majority of the facility. All lounge chairs were removed, chained and locked, beaches and restaurants were closed, and helicopters flew noisily 100 feet overhead while swimsuit models occupied the property, floating in the pools, for four days. His complaints to management on site fell on deaf ears, and his follow up calls to the company went nowhere.
It was an experience he couldn’t shake off, so he turned to us.
Our readers expressed a fair amount of outrage over this story, sharing their disgust over the “corporate arrogance” on the part of Sandals, the parent company that owns the resort. Many readers urged us to advocate for Boas.
So I contacted Sandals on his behalf. Sandals assures me that photo shoots are “extremely infrequent, and every effort is taken not to inconvenience the guest.” Nevertheless, once it understood the depths of Boas’ disappointment, Sandals offered to refund his money for the four days during which he and other guests were unable to use the property as advertised.
So, in the end, Sandals did the right thing, and Boas is pleased with the result.
“Just the facts, ma’am”
Another issue raised by Boas — and our readers — was the mysterious disappearance of Boas’ reviews of his unfortunate vacation experience from TripAdvisor.
TripAdvisor did, however, confirm that the reviews in question were removed because they “did not meet our review submission guidelines.” These guidelines get pretty specific, but generally require that reviews are family-friendly, authentic, relevant, unique and independent.
Because the review was permanently removed by TripAdvisor, it is impossible for our readers to judge for themselves whether Boas’ review ran afoul of the rules.
I captured the review via screenshot while it was briefly active on the site, and in my view, the review met the site’s broad guidelines.
On closer review, however, TripAdvisor breaks each guideline down into greater detail, describing review characteristics that may disqualify a review from publication.
TripAdvisor actually has a deadline for posting reviews following a travel experience. On a separate page, TripAdvisor spells out that a review cannot be posted more than 12 months following the experience, and waiting that long renders a review “irrelevant.”
In response to our inquiry, TripAdvisor told us that Boas’ review may have been removed due to its untimeliness — that is, Boas posted the review more than 12 months following his ordeal at Sandals.
However, there is no objective evidence to suggest that TripAdvisor would have figured that out on its own. It is possible that Boas’ review was flagged as untimely by Sandals, since the company ostensibly knew when their last photo shoot occurred, and resort management monitors and responds to guest reviews.
The review could have caught the attention of TripAdvisor because of Boas’ suggestion within the review that “Sandals got TripAdvisor to take [this review] down, so I’ll keep putting it back up.” TripAdvisor guidelines state that it “reserves the right to remove a review or management response at any time for any reason.” It can, for example, take down reviews for perceived threats or allegations, however benign, toward TripAdvisor staff.
Ultimately, TripAdvisor says that it notifies users, including Boas, of every removal and the justification for it. In this case, there were a couple possible violations of site policy. Other negative reviews of Beaches Turks and Caicos remain active on TripAdvisor, so it is clear that it doesn’t remove negative reviews solely on that basis.
So while it is valuable to share your experiences — both positive and negative — with the wide audience that visits TripAdvisor, it is important to keep in mind that using language that is abrasive, accusatory, or anything other than factual may disqualify your review, keeping it forever in a locked vault of TripAdvisor reviews that never see the light of day.
Now those reviews, I’d like to read.