Opinion

Does TripAdvisor Have a Women Problem? | Opinion

Following an investigation in the Guardian last month, TripAdvisor is under fire for failing to respond to users concerns about sexual violence. The company’s rocky history, internal concerns about the predominantly male leadership and board, and this new scandal begs the question: does TripAdvisor have a woman problem?

If we’ve learned anything in the post #MeToo era, it’s that these problems don’t disappear with carefully crafted press releases and band-aid solutions. If TripAdvisor is going to continue as a trusted leader within the travel industry, it will need to make meaningful commitments to their growing female demographic.

The company’s problems began in 2017, when some users who had reported being sexually assaulted by hotel staff members found that their TripAdvisor reviews warning others of their attacks had been rejected or outright deleted. Soon after, the company announced that it would stop deleting those reviews, and implemented a badge system to indicate user-reported health and safety concerns about a given business.

However, an investigation by the Guardian last month suggested that the system has proven insufficient and ineffective for survivors and travelers concerned about security while traveling. K, who wishes to remain anonymous, claims she was sexually assaulted by a tour guide who came with excellent TripAdvisor reviews. According to the Guardian, while her legal case against him was underway, she attempted to leave a review on his TripAdvisor page, only to have it left pending indefinitely. She spent three weeks trying to get in contact with a human being at the company, and was ultimately told that her only choice was to leave a first person account of her assault, which would easily be buried on his page and risk alerting her attacker.

K is now leading a Change.org campaign asking TripAdvisor to implement policies to meaningfully warn travelers about businesses with a history of sexual assault. Her petition is fast-approaching 500,000 signatures, with global support from fellow travelers in the United States, the UK, Canada, Spain, Russia, Brazil and India.

As a woman, and a member of the Change.org team supporting K, this campaign is close to my heart. I come from a family of women travelers, and took my first fully solo trip when I was 22. Since then I’ve had the privilege to solo travel through Brazil, Argentina, Haiti, Kenya and the Dominican Republic, journeys which were incredibly valuable to me – and which I planned almost exclusively through research on TripAdvisor’s forums. And I’m not alone: 60 percent of global travelers who research their trip ahead of time do so on TripAdvisor.

Women are one of the fastest-growing demographics in the travel industry, and make 80 percent of travel decisions, whether traveling alone or with others. Yet in a world where our safety is constantly under threat, the travel industry is failing us as consumers.

As the world’s largest travel site and a leader in the industry, TripAdvisor is unequipped to meet women travelers’ unique needs. The company’s board was made up entirely of men until the launch of this campaign, when TripAdvisor announced the addition of two female members. Only two women served on their ten person executive team until April, when a third was added. The company seems almost unaware that the growing trend of female travelers could and should influence how they work: their 2016 and 2017 “TripBarometer” reports on traveler sentiments and emerging hospitality trends include almost no data on gender.

For many women, sites like TripAdvisor are their only option to prevent other travelers from encountering their attacker. A recent New York Times exposé on violence against women travelers details the inconsistent and insufficient legal responses available to survivors depending on the country in which they were assaulted. K was assaulted while traveling in the Horn of Africa, a region notorious for having an undependable justice system.

In a message to her signers, K writes: “I have done everything, but I have to accept that there is only a small chance my attacker will ever be held accountable by his government for what he did to me. I might not be able to stop him from attacking other people, and now TripAdvisor won’t let me warn people who are considering hiring him as a tour guide.”

Women make up half the world’s population, but we are not yet free to explore the world safely. At a bare minimum, we deserve the right to meaningfully warn and protect each other from potentially dangerous businesses. It’s time the world’s largest travel site stopped standing in our way.

Juliana Britto Schwartz is Associate Campaigns Director at Change.org.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​​​

The company responded to the article as follows: "TripAdvisor absolutely disagrees with the premise of the accusations made in the Change.org petition. First, safety and inclusion for all travelers -- as well as our global employees -- are among our top priorities. Our goal is to empower all travelers -- especially women, the LGBTQ+ community and persons with accessibility issues -- with relevant and timely safety information. We are currently working on a number of solutions and policy enhancements to enable TripAdvisor users to more quickly find relevant safety information, which we will begin rolling out soon. We are working closely with several sexual assault survivor groups and survivors themselves as we seek feedback about our plans. We have received, and are taking under active consideration, ideas and input from “K,” the author of the Change.org petition, and we plan to provide her with an additional update personally within the next few weeks. Second, we continually work to find the right balance between honoring a survivor’s privacy and making the TripAdvisor platform helpful to travelers. To date, “K” has declined to submit an account of her experience, even via an anonymous profile. Without a review on our platform, we cannot make the information available to our users. Finally, Change.org has misrepresented a number of facts related to our company’s commitment to diversity. Through early 2018, women held executive leadership roles at TripAdvisor, as well as on the board of directors. For less than a year, due to natural attrition and retirement, TripAdvisor had an all-male board, with several executive roles open. We saw these openings as an opportunity to bring in more diverse thinking and experience to our management team. Two women have recently been appointed to our board of directors, and three women currently hold leadership positions on our executive team. Our early efforts to build a more diverse TripAdvisor have already been recognized with a recent 100% rating by the Human Rights Campaign’s “Corporate Equality Index” and inForbes’ “Best Employers for Diversity” list in 2019. This is a beginning, not an end-state, of our goal to create an increasingly diverse workplace and a better TripAdvisor for all travelers."

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