Restaurants are being targeted by “malicious” fake bookings and online reviews by people opposed to the requirement to prove full vaccination against Covid-19 for indoor dining, the sector’s representative body has said.
The Restaurants Association of Ireland (RAI) has written to tech giants Facebook and Google to highlight its suspicion there is a "co-ordinated" campaign in this regard and how this is having an economic impact on businesses.
It has also contacted the Tripadvisor website on the matter.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin described any such campaign against restaurants as “reprehensible”.
There was a general reopening of indoor hospitality services on Monday, but customers must prove they have been fully vaccinated against or have recently recovered from Covid-19 in order to eat or drink inside the premises.
RAI chief executive Adrian Cummins wrote to tech companies and politicians about the issue of bookings and reviews. He wrote that "fake bookings and reviews are intended as a protest by those who disagree with recent legislation permitting only the vaccinated or recovered . . . entering a premises to dine indoors.
“As per our members, those leaving the reviews have not dined in the premises and such negative and spurious reviews are directly impacting upon the competitiveness of these businesses and their ability to trade.”
He said the fake bookings and reviews are a “malicious” campaign against small businesses “who are simply adhering to the law of the land”.
Mr Cummins wrote: “We would respectfully ask that online media and review platforms take any necessary steps available within their community guidelines to prevent such fake claims continuing to be made to the detriment of the hospitality sector.”
Mr Cummins told The Irish Times that the RAI has also contacted Tripadvisor to highlight the same issues. He said he doesn’t know what the internet companies can do about it but the RAI contacted them to make them aware of the fake bookings and reviews that his organisation believes are being “conducted and co-ordinated by a minority group within Ireland”.
The Irish Times contacted Facebook and Google on Thursday evening for comment but they have not immediately responded.
Asked for comment, a Tripadvisor spokesman said that the website has had specific guidelines on what reviewers can say in relation to Covid-19 since the early stages of the pandemic.
He added: “We do not allow reviews that criticise businesses for following government rules, nor do we allow reviews that encourage others to ignore government guidelines in relation to the virus.”
The spokesman also said the website is taking steps to prevent reviews by people who have not had first-hand experience with the premises they are reviewing and said this is a “long-standing guideline”.
He said if any business is concerned that a review may be in breach of Tripadvisor’s guidelines they can report it via the website’s management centre, where “our team of moderators will then take a look and determine the appropriate action”.
At a press conference earlier the Taoiseach said: “The hospitality sector has been through a terrible time because of Covid-19.
“Covid-19 has just completely undermined and disrupted hospitality, travel, tourism, the live arts, culture, music, because unfortunately the virus is very compatible with the behaviour that encourages congregation.
“So I think we need to give them every chance to make a comeback.”
He said the Government has supported pubs and restaurants “as best we can”.
Mr Martin added: “They really want to be back in business serving people safely. I think that anything that undermines that is reprehensible.
“We’ll continue our engagement with the sector in terms of any issues that are arising.”