By Sebastien Malo
NEW YORK, Nov 9 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Women's anti-violence groups on Thursday welcomed a new warning system on the online travel site TripAdvisor Inc that shows which hotels are believed to have been sites of sexual assault.
The giant booking site, which claims hundreds of millions of online visitors each month, said it will measure hotel safety based on users' post and news media reports.
Hotels where there have been incidents will be designated on the online listing, the Needham, Massachusetts-based company said.
So far, three hotels, all beachfront resorts in Mexico, have been pinpointed in the warning system, which began on Wednesday. TripAdvisor lists 1.9 million hotels and other lodging options in 49 countries.
"Anything that gives honest information to the public is always a very good thing," Ebony Tucker of the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
A third of all women experience violence at some point in their lives, and that figure is twice as high in some countries, according to the United Nations, where leaders recently launched a global anti-violence effort campaign.
The move by the travel site also comes amid heightened awareness of sexual harassment as accusations have been mounting against a multitude of public figures.
A spokesman for TripAdvisor said more hotels are expected to be designated as the site's staff assesses user reviews.
However, the company says it does not fact-check the reviews, which could pose a problem for participating hotels, said Suzanne Markham Bagnera, an assistant professor at Boston University's School of Hospitality Administration.
"Without having that verification process, it can create an impact for your business," she said.
The designations will remain on a hotel's TripAdvisor web page for up to three months and may be renewed or removed based on decisions by TripAdvisor staff, the company said.
The warning system is a sign of increased recognition in the hospitality industry of a need to protect against sexual assault and harassment, said Maya Raghu, spokeswoman for the National Women's Law Center in Washington.
She said a U.S. labor union campaign has been pushing for laws to protect hotel workers from sexual harassment by guests.
Some U.S. hotels have equipped housekeepers with panic buttons.
"There are several different trends that are happening right now that are perhaps forcing the travel and hospitality industry to address this issue," she said.
"I'm glad (TripAdvisor) are taking this issue seriously," she said.
TripAdvisor was criticized last week after USA Today reported it had repeatedly deleted posts from a user who said she was raped by a security guard at a Mexico resort.
TripAdvisor apologized to the women in a public statement.
(Reporting by Sebastien Malo @sebastienmalo, Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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