A VIP card is making it easier for the public to threaten hotels and restaurants into giving them special treatment. Photo by AvidlyAbide.

Imagine if you could walk into a restaurant that had a line of patrons winding all the way out the door – but you could skip straight to the front of the line. And imagine if you could enter a five star hotel and instantly get a 50 percent discount – just for being you. Seem too good to be true? Well, that is exactly what a new reviewer perks program is promising its members.

ReviewerCard is a sleek black card that founder Brad Newman hopes will be the key to good service, preferential treatment, and all manner of freebies. It’s an ID card that he’s offering to “top reviewers” or people who post lots of reviews on sites like Trip Advisor and Yelp.

Newman is vetting applicants based on how many reviews they’ve written and where. He’s already doled out 100 of the cards to applicants and another 400 to journalists and marketers that he thinks “deserve” them.

The card sells for $100, but reviewers who flash their cards at hotels and other establishments are sure to get their money back many times over. And this is where things start to get really sketchy. Look at the way Newman described the card to the LA Times:

Newman provided examples of the ReviewerCard in action. He told me about the time he visited a hotel in Geneva where a room typically costs about 400 euros a night, or roughly $500 at the time.

“I took out my card and asked if I could pay 200 euros,” Newman said. “In return, I would write a great review on TripAdvisor. The woman at the hotel immediately said yes. It was a win-win for both of us.”

Yeah, but wasn’t he actually saying that he’d write a crappy review if he didn’t get that 50% discount?

“That’s one way of looking at it,” Newman replied. “But the threat would have been that if I didn’t get the rate, I’d write a one-star review. I was offering a five-star review.”

The idea that a reviewer would write a scathing review for a potentially wonderful hotel simply because it didn’t slash its prices for him is outrageous at best. At worst, it amounts to a form of blackmail.

Yes, it’s true that those who review hotels and restaurants can have an impact on whether others visit that establishment. But the last thing anyone needs is a situation where the hospitality industry is forced to its knees in order to avoid the digital destruction of its reputation. Nobody but the so-called top reviewers win: hotels and restaurants are gouged for all they’ve got, and consumers are left with a bunch of “glowing” reviews that provide little insight into what they can really expect when they visit that establishment. I don’t want to read reviews about someone’s amazing experiences that I can never recreate as an ordinary patron – I want to know what I, the average Joe, can expect. If that’s a 30-minute wait to be seated at a restaurant or a high nightly tariff on a room, so be it. At least it’s the truth and I know what I’m in for.

This brings us to another problem with the ReviewerCard – the obliteration of any trust that existed between those who write reviews and those of us who read them. The card’s founder, Brad Newman, doesn’t disclose the fact that he received special treatment, discounts, or perks in any of his reviews. So now there’s no way to be sure if that positive hotel review you read is based on a genuine experience, or on one that’s been “bought” because a hotel felt threatened by a reviewer.

It also seemingly goes against the policies of sites like Trip Advisor. The company clearly states in their guidelines that travelers should not have received any kind of inducement or monetary benefit for writing the review, and all reviewers are required to agree to the following terms:

I certify that this review is based on my own experience and is my genuine opinion of this hotel, and that I have no personal or business relationship with this establishment, and have not been offered any incentive or payment originating from the establishment to write this review. I understand that TripAdvisor has a zero-tolerance policy on fake reviews.

I honestly hope that most reviewers aren’t so desperate to be lavished with attention and freebies that they’ll stoop to blackmailing hotels and restaurants with this card. If you’re not happy with the level of service you receive when you visit an establishment, here’s a novel idea: say something. Ask to speak to a manager and tell them what went wrong. The vast majority of businesses will bend over backwards to make things right with a customer – and that to me, is the kind of place that genuinely deserves a good review.

Source: LA Times via Gadling

What do you think? Is the ReviewerCard a good way to insist on excellent service? Are you bothered by the underhanded nature of the program? Does this shake up your trust in online reviews?