When we travel, one of our primary concerns is the safety of the resort where we plan on staying. Whenever I’m planning a getaway, I turn to travel websites, blogs and reviews before I even consider booking a resort. I look at the hotel’s website and sources such as TripAdvisor to get quality reviews from people who have stayed there before.
Nowadays, I’m turning to the news.
Recent controversy is swarming around TripAdvisor’s atrocious management of sexual assault reports on its website. It’s imperative to discuss the critical components of travel research, safety and ethics. The entire dilemma has me wondering; How many times have people tried to report bad experiences, only to have their reviews removed? Why hasn’t TripAdvisor directly apologized to these victims? What other horrific resort incidents are we not aware of?
The TripAdvisor Incident; What You Need to Know
There have been several reports of resorts in Mexico that have caught my attention the past year. The three main Playa del Carmen resorts that have surfaced in news reports are:
- TheGrand Velas Riviera Maya (Google News Search Results)
- Iberostar Paraiso Maya (Google News Search Results)
- Iberostar Paraiso Lindo (Google News Search Results)
Victims have reported incidents of rape, sexual assault, drugs, and robbery at these three resorts. Vacationers have even reported death of family members and horrendous stories involving how badly the hotels and local hospitals have handled the situations. The reports and assault claims include women, men and couples of varying ages – so it’s evident that safety is of concern for everyone. The Iberostar Grand Paraiso was also conveyed as dangerous by two sisters who stayed at the resort in August 2017. The women were charged extra when they arrived at the resort, despite providing documentation of their prepaid all-inclusive trip. They felt unsafe and even threatened the rest of their time there by the hotel management, according to the Journal Sentinel interview. When they attempted to warn others of their experience on TripAdvisor, the website wouldn’t publish it.
The three resorts previously mentioned now have warning “badges” on TripAdvisor’s website, but there are other resorts that have yet to be labeled. After a little research of my own I found that there are 240 negative reviews (poor or terrible) on the Iberostar Paraiso Maya TripAdvisor page, one of which describes being robbed of jewelry. Other reviews for just this resort include the following descriptions:
- “Worst Vacation Ever”
- “Beware, we were all sick, horrible resort”
- “Room smells bad and bed bugs”
- “Premium price for non-premium experience”
- “Terrible service from an outdated, crowded hotel”
- “Workers search the rooms and steal things”
- “Not a luxury resort. Extremely disappointed and won’t come back.”
Unfortunately, these reviews don’t instantly pop-up when you first view the TripAdvisor page. You must click on the boxes for “Terrible” and “Poor” under the reviews section to see them. Otherwise, all the reviews seemingly appear by the most recent date, however, it is mostly positive reviews. This is somewhat deceiving, considering that we don’t know which comments have or haven’t posted concerning the past incidents. A simple Google search of “Iberostar Paraiso Maya rape” reveals over 13,000 results, with TripAdvisor’s forum at the top of the list. This forum (pictured below) reveals a personal account of a rape at the hotel by a security guard from 2010, which wasn’t approved until recently.
TripAdvisor’s CEO Steve Kaufer stated in his press release on LinkedIn on November 1, 2017 that the company had apologized to the specific victim from 2010, yet doesn’t mention any others or their experiences. It also states that the company’s “mission is to help everyone safely enjoy the perfect trip. That mission remains at the heart of everything we do.”
Kristie Love, the specific victim Kaufer is referencing, paints a different picture. Love recently spoke to USA today stating that she was never apologized to by the company before this press release.
Travel Safety and the Truth About Mexico
It’s important to take the right precautions before traveling internationally or considering Mexico for your next trip. Here are some safety tips and more facts to consider:
Decide your destination wisely: Travel safety starts with picking your resort and the area where you’ll be exploring. While going off the beaten path can be fun, in a foreign country you need to be careful and read travel guides or have a real guide with you. Planning a trip around a popular area increases your chances of safety, however, you should always be cautious when vacationing abroad. When it comes to Mexico, the government sustains a country information page with current insights into the country’s environment. The latest travel warning was released on August 22,2017 and contains information on which states in Mexico are the most dangerous and which states don’t fall under the advisory.
Arrange transportation from the airport through your hotel: Plan ahead and set up transportation from the airport to your resort through the hotel. Mark one item off your list and make certain you know how the employees will be dressed, who will be picking you up and even a description of the vehicle. It can be hectic when you arrive at the airport but knowing these details and confirming with the driver your name on the reservation is the safest approach. One time I had an incident in France where the driver lied and said we were his prepaid reservation, when in fact it wasn’t the right company. We had to pay out-of-pocket for the ride and lost the money that we had put towards the initial reservation.
Examine your food and drinks: Approximately 36 percent of alcoholic beverages in Mexico are illegal, according to a 2017 report by Euromonitor International. Several of the claims and deaths in Mexico have involved tainted alcoholic drinks at the resorts. These hotels can be all-inclusive or upscale and are located near Cancun and Playa del Carmen. In August it was reported that 10,000 gallons of alcohol was confiscated from an illegal manufacturer providing booze to well-known resorts, one of which was the Iberostar Paraiso Maya. Whether you have an all-inclusive deal or not, pay attention to the food and drinks you are being served. Drink bottled water if you aren’t certain the hotel’s tap water is filtered.
Know where the nearest U.S. Embassy is: Research ahead of time where your hotel is and where the nearest US embassy or consulate can be found in case of an emergency. The U.S. department of State’s website provides is a list of emergency resources for incidents such as; medical emergencies, contacting loved ones, missing persons, victims of crime, crisis abroad, lost passports, etc. The number to reach overseas citizen services is +1 202-501-4444 (From Overseas) or 1-888-407-4747 (From the U.S. & Canada).
Beware of vendors: Most likely you’ll be able to research areas to shop before your trip or once you get to the resort, but be careful of random vendors that come up to you on the beach or at tourist permeated spots. Buying items from local vendors comes with a risk. For example, when we toured the Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins, we were advised to not buy wooden souvenirs from vendors onsite because they could be termite infested.
Inform your emergency contacts: Before you go, make sure to leave the address, dates and contact information of the hotel you are staying at with your loved ones in case you can’t be reached or something happens. Oftentimes, I don’t have signal or the Wi-Fi connection is poor and impossible to message my friends and family. Make sure to give them the hotel’s contact information and it will give everyone peace of mind.
Should TripAdvisor be Legally Held Responsible?
TripAdvisor’s recent scandal brings to light the reality that many of these websites choose and approve exactly what is published on their sites, and often have disclaimers concerning the information that is provided. As a writer with a journalism background, I find it appalling that the sexual assault claims, reported deaths and threatening situations have not been addressed or published sooner on these websites, considering reports are linked back to 2010.
One of the main problems is that websites such as TripAdvisor don’t have a legal responsibility to warn tourists about these dangerous scenarios, according to an article by USA Today. While they may have an ethical one, the website clearly hasn’t abided by it, considering its previous deletion or removal of comments and closure of forums. Travel agents, on the other hand, are in a different category and are expected legally to reveal the risks of travel resorts, according to the article, which cites attorney Gary Davidson from Miami.
TripAdvisor’s proclaimed reason for not posting the reviews before was that they weren’t considered “appropriate” for the website’s family friendly community. The site also has a disclaimer that news reports may not be included in its reviews. Management justified not posting the comments by calling them “hearsay” or rumors. While the CEO Kaufer did post an apology statement, it’s hardly enough for the victims such as Love who’ve been outraged and dealing with the aftermath of their experiences for so long. Seven years later, the announcement more accurately reflects the lyrics “it’s too late to apologize” by Timbaland than qualifying for sincerity with the victims.
Are Travel Bloggers Being Honest?
Incidents such as this TripAdvisor problem raise several questions and concerns for the blogging community. Many bloggers are paid to stay at and review hotels or resorts constantly. Are they making sure to write completely honest accounts of their stay? Or is their primary goal to write a post that encompasses solely an “amazing” experience?
Travel bloggers should ethically consider what they are writing and why they are writing it. Writers should make sure to include pros and cons of the places they are visiting, rather than simply devising a public relations story for the resort’s benefit. As a woman, I want to know how safe a place is and if I would feel comfortable traveling there with my family and walking around the area by myself. Maybe we could all do a little better job of considering safety as a top priority when writing hotel reviews.
Check out my experience at the JW Marriott Resort and Spa in Cancun, Mexico. I had a fantastic time there on our honeymoon and felt very safe at the resort. During our week there, we went on a guided tour to the Chichen Itza Mayan ruins, which was worth the day trip:
Also, if you’re considering going to the Caribbean for your next vacation, my review of the Atlantis Resort lists pros and cons of the popular Bahamas destination: