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TripAdvisor and the Business Case for Better Safety Information

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The need for better access to safety information while traveling has never been greater. Today’s culture of always-on news has made it increasingly difficult to discern fact from fiction, while safety-related information about specific neighborhoods or businesses is often hard to find or nonexistent online. Often, something tragic must happen in order to engage in a dialogue about traveler safety, which by then is far too late. [source]

Lindsay Nelson
President, Core Experience

It is important to TripAdvisor that all experiences - good or bad - that occur while traveling can be shared on our platform for the global community to see, especially those that contain descriptions of sexual harassment and assault.

Becky Foley
Senior Director, Trust & Safety

Last November, NSVRC and the Urban Institute, with support from Uber Technologies, released Helping Industries to Classify Reports of Sexual Harassment, Sexual Misconduct, and Sexual Assault. In that publication we describe the development of the Sexual Harassment, Misconduct, and Assault Taxonomy, a tool for corporations to use to categorize reports of sexual violence they receive from their customers in a consistent way. Since the publication of the taxonomy, it has been in use by Uber to not only classify incoming reports, but also as part of the basis for targeted prevention education, and to help inform the company's wider approach to safety. The taxonomy has also been put into use by Instacart, a same-day grocery delivery and pick-up service.

Earlier this year, TripAdvisor used the taxonomy to help guide a study of safety-related incidents reported in reviews left by travelers using TripAdvisor’s platform. That study was part of TripAdvisor’s implementation of new features that make it easier to find reviews that contain reports of safety-related incidents. Becky Foley, Senior Director of Trust & Safety for TripAdvisor, led the effort that used the taxonomy and shared some thoughts about their experience using it to help provide a safer experience for their users.

Becky Foley
Becky Foley

Questions asked by NSVRC’s Chad Sniffen, and answered by TripAdvisor’s Becky Foley.

Q: Can you give us a quick description of your business model, and how acts of sexual harassment, misconduct, and assault impact your business?

TripAdvisor is the world's largest travel information platform - helping nearly a half billion travelers each month make every trip their best trip. Travelers across the globe use the TripAdvisor site and app to browse more than 760 million reviews and opinions of 8.3 million accommodations, restaurants, experiences, airlines, and cruises.

Our business model naturally brings people together. The content posted to our site by members of our community helps other travelers make decisions about where to travel. And when people travel, they have experiences and interact with many people on the trip -- from front desk professionals, tour guides, cruise directors, other travelers, etc.. The ability of our platform to influence travel, enable travelers to create experiences, and to bring people together are just a few of the many aspects that make our business unique.

While the vast majority of these interactions are positive, and sometimes life-changing cultural experiences, we also know there is some inherent risk in travel. In rare instances, travelers may experience sexual harassment or assault during their trip. In those cases, travelers can turn to TripAdvisor to share their first-hand experience during or after their trip. It is important to TripAdvisor that all experiences - good or bad - that occur while traveling can be shared on our platform for the global community to see, especially those that contain descriptions of sexual harassment and assault.

Q: What need did you identify (that the taxonomy helped with) before adopting the taxonomy?

At first, the idea of applying a tag to a review containing information about a safety issue seemed like a simple task... until you start to understand the complexity and nuances of sexual assault and misconduct. Even though the instances were rare, each situation presented its own set of facts that ranged from travelers feeling threatened to actually experiencing some sort of physical harm. In the cases where it wasn’t easily a black or white issue, we knew that having defined, articulated guidelines would be helpful in ensuring we uniformly applied our technology and human moderation practices across each case, across all of our global markets in as consistent a way as possible.

Q: How did the taxonomy help to address that need?

The taxonomy helped us to apply categorizations across all reports of sexual assault and misconduct submitted via reviews. We also leveraged the taxonomy to identify reviews around sexual assault that are currently surfaced by our safety filter. The safety filter on TripAdvisor aims to help our community more readily identify reviews which describe a safety incident, like sexual assault.

Q: Did you learn anything about your business from the process of implementing the taxonomy, or from the data the taxonomy generated?

We were able to confirm our previously anecdotal assumption that the rate of reported sexual assaults or sexual misconduct via our site is low comparative to the positive experiences described within traveler reviews. In fact, far less than 1% of submissions describe an incident such as a sexual assault.

We also learned that when users are describing a sexual assault incident, the response from the property listed on TripAdvisor is a critical part of the review experience for travelers. It is within a business’s control to appropriately respond to reports of such incidents in an empathetic and professional manner, and in a way that treats survivors of assault with dignity while still communicating the facts of how the property responded to the incident.

Q: Do you have any future plans for the taxonomy, for the data from the taxonomy, or for addressing sexual harassment, misconduct, and assault in general?

TripAdvisor is constantly evolving our policies and processes. We will continue to use this data to help drive decision making that supports the general travel community. We also plan to improve our data around additional types of safety incidents that our community may have while traveling such as death, drugging, extreme physical violence, and more.

Q: What would be your recommendation to other business who are interested in taking a deeper look at sexual harassment, misconduct, and assault?

It is important to fully document and understand the data on your platform as you work to identify solutions that enhance the experience of your users. Not every instance of a safety issue fits into a perfect category. Cases can be black and white, but often times there is gray. We have found that it’s important to create a living guide on how to manage each unique situation early on, but know that it’s a living document that evolves. Feel free to make revisions to the process but document everything as it will help you in the future more uniformly take action to the benefit of consumers using your business. And never underestimate the value of data. As TripAdvisor continues to explore how we can improve the traveler safety information displayed on our site, data will remain core to those solutions.