An Irish hotel has been cautioned by global internet travel service TripAdvisor for posting fake reviews to boost its ratings.
The Clare Inn Hotel & Suites, which is part of the Lynch Hotel Group, has been given a "red badge" warning by TripAdvisor for reviews posted about its service.
The website believes individuals associated with the property, or those who hold an interest in it, interfered with traveller reviews and the hotel's popularity index.
And the site has revealed it has been forced to remove suspect reviews from other hotels within the Lynch Hotel Group following additional concerns.
TripAdvisor is the world's largest travel site, with more than 40 million visitors seeking advice on the standard of hotels each month.
It provides around 25 million reviews and opinions from people who have stayed in more than 490,000 hotels worldwide.
Any hotel caught posting a fake review, which is in violation of the 2009 EU Unfair Commercial Practices Directive, is given a "red badge" warning.
A TripAdvisor spokeswoman said the Clare Inn, in Dromoland, Co Clare, would not be removed from its site and insisted the warning was a "better punishment".
"We have reasonable cause to believe the Clare Inn has engaged in suspect fake reviews on TripAdvisor," she said. "Subsequently, a red badge has been applied to the Clare Inn pages on the site, warning all potential guests of the suspected activity.
"We have completed a thorough investigation and removed the reviews," she added.
"The Clare Inn is the only Lynch Hotel Group property to have received a red badge, although reviews have been removed from other hotels within the group."
The warning on the Clare Inn webpage insists that TripAdvisor has "reasonable cause to believe that individuals or entities associated with or having an interest in this property may have interfered with traveller reviews and/or the popularity index for this property."
Last night, there were 176 reviews of the Clare Inn on the TripAdvisor site. Eighteen reviews rated it as 'excellent', 17 as 'very good', 40 'average', 35 were 'poor' while 66 reviews rated the hotel as 'terrible'.
Correspondence obtained by RTE's Four Live, which broadcast details of the story yesterday, claimed a hotel executive emailed seven colleagues to "fake" good customer reviews.
The email, received on October 4, said there was a need for good reviews as renovation work had just begun.
"We have come up with a plan for everyone on this email only to post a review about their stay at the Clare Inn," the email read.
"You must do this from your HOME PC or internet cafe, do not use a Lynch PC or the IP address will be picked up.
"I'd rather you didn't discuss this with your team. This is not something we would normally endorse but the reviews of the Clare Inn at the moment leave us with no choice," it added.
"Please do not use hotel language or else our plan will backfire."
The email told staff to "praise value for money" at the hotel and it said different aliases had been created for everyone.
The Clare Inn refused to return calls from the Irish Independent.
The Lynch Hotel Group, which incudes the Breaffy House Hotel in Castlebar, the George Boutique and South Court Hotels in Limerick city and the Ocean Cove Hotel, Kilkee Bay, and West County Hotel in Co Clare, also refused to comment.