Maori welcome for British royals in New Zealand

Updated 12 November 2012
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Maori welcome for British royals in New Zealand

AUCKLAND: Britain’s Prince Charles and wife Camilla rubbed noses in a traditional Maori greeting in New Zealand yesterday, kicking off the final leg of a Pacific tour to mark Queen Elizabeth II’s diamond jubilee.
After traveling to Papua New Guinea and Australia, the royal couple touched down in Auckland late Saturday for a trip that will take in everything from whimsical hobbit feet to the devastation of earthquake-hit Christchurch.
They commemorated Armistice Day at the Auckland War Memorial yesterday, where members of the local Ngati Whatua iwi, or tribe, performed a Maori welcoming ceremony.
After formal speeches, Charles and Camilla pressed noses with the Maori representatives in a hongi, signifying the sharing of the breath of life, although the duchess’s hard-brimmed hat caused a minor difficulty.
“You can try,” she said as she leaned in to Ngati Whatua’s Grant Hawke, who later said it was “lucky she didn’t have a flat nose like mine.”
Prime Minister John Key said the enthusiasm of the crowd of about 500 who turned out to greet the royal couple reflected the affection New Zealanders have for the British monarchy.
“He’s the future King of New Zealand so it’s extremely important,” Key said.
“I think you can see by the polls around that New Zealanders’ support of the monarchy is extremely strong. If anything it’s been growing in recent years.”
However, the New Zealand Republican Movement has vowed to stage peaceful protests during the visit, calling for the former British colony to sever ties with the monarchy.
Chairman Lewis Holden said the first in line to the British throne lacked a genuine “Kiwi” connection and the royal link should be abolished and replaced with a popularly elected New Zealander.
“New Zealand needs an effective head of state, not a fly-in, fly-out, token head of state,” he said.
It is the seventh time Charles has visited New Zealand — most recently in 2005 — but the first time Camilla has traveled to the country.
While in Wellington, they will visit director Peter Jackson’s famous Weta Workshop to inspect costumes and props used in “The Hobbit” movies, the first of which has its world premiere in the city on November 28.
Charles is reportedly a major Tolkien fan and British media have cited Palace sources as saying “he is very much looking forward to seeing Bilbo Baggins’s foot.”
The prince will celebrate his 64th birthday in the capital on Wednesday at a gathering at Government House with 64 people who were also born on November 14, ranging in age from 18 to 101.
Val Baker was among those chosen from 1,500 people who lodged applications to attend the birthday bash and said while she was nervous about how to address the prince, she hoped to gain an insight into his everyday life.
“I’d just like to have a chat about general things,” she told Fairfax Media.
“I wonder if he cooks his own breakfast, or does he make coffee for Camilla in the morning? I’d love to know the simple things that they never let the public know.”
The royal couple will get a taste of rural life with a visit to the Feilding farmers’ market, where Charles will be able to indulge his long-standing interest in organic produce.
The trip ends on a somber note on Friday in Christchurch, where residents are still recovering after a catastrophic earthquake last year that claimed 185 lives.


Russian agency offers fake restaurant reviews ahead of World Cup

Updated 30 min 40 sec ago
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Russian agency offers fake restaurant reviews ahead of World Cup

MOSCOW: A Russian marketing agency has offered to help restaurants in cities hosting the football World Cup use fake reviews to bump up ratings on review site TripAdviser, the agency’s owner has confirmed.
Marketing company Bacon Agency says it can circumvent TripAdviser’s algorithm for detecting fraudulent posts and publish reviews in foreign languages ahead of an influx of fans from abroad.
“What can you do if no Serbs and no Swedes have ever been to your venue and left a review?” Bacon Agency asks, in a brochure received by a restaurant in Yekaterinburg, which hosts Egypt and Uruguay in their first-round matches.
“You write it yourself!” the agency says.
For 35,000 roubles ($570), the agency promises a spot in TripAdviser’s top 10 list. “We are offering to help tourists find you, and to leave their money specifically with you,” it writes.
“We oppose any attempt to manipulate a business’ ranking,” TripAdviser said. “Our dedicated investigations team is proactive and extremely effective at catching those trying to solicit fake reviews for money.”
Fake reviews are widespread, but it is unusual for a company involved in the practice to discuss it so openly, or to link it explicitly to a sports event.
The World Cup has created lucrative opportunities for businesses in the 12 host cities hoping to benefit from well-to-do foreign fans at a time when Russians are feeling the pinch from a fragile economy and Western sanctions.
Contacted by Reuters, Bacon Agency confirmed it had offered the service, but said it only wanted to act as the middleman between restaurants and freelancers posting fake reviews.
“We understand that all this is illegal in the sense that TripAdviser is against it,” said Bacon Agency’s owner Roman Baldanov.
“We were just testing this niche, because we see high demand. It’s not because we’re bad guys who came in and said, look, you’ve got to start swindling ... All restaurants know that reviews are ordered, and many use this service,” Baldanov said.
He said nobody had yet taken up his offer. “The response we got was: thanks, but we are already doing this ourselves.”
Reuters tracked restaurants in six World Cup host cities over two months, noting an uptick in suspicious-looking posts.
An event like the World Cup increases incentives to post such reviews, said Stanford University’s Jeff Hancock, an expert in detecting fake reviews.
“Any time you start seeing reviews come in all at once, look sort of similar, have the same kind of language, then alarm bells should start going off,” Hancock said.
At least six restaurants in the TripAdviser top 30 list for Kaliningrad, which will host Croatia and Nigeria, appeared to fit this description.
Peperonchino, a cafe serving Italian cuisine 20 minutes’ drive from the World Cup stadium, used to get around one review a week.
But two weeks ago, reviews began to flood in — 45 in total — the majority from accounts with stock photos, created this year, and rating the cafe five stars. Peperonchino rose from 28th place to 2nd on TripAdviser’s list.
Sister cafe Peperonchino 2 also received a flood of reviews in the past fortnight, also 45 in total, 32 from such accounts.
“All our reviews are real and are left by our customers,” Peperonchino said. “It’s just we have a big loyalty system, a mobile phone app, and so on.”
In a strategy document seen by Reuters, Bacon Agency explains how to avoid detection by TripAdviser.
“The issue is that TripAdviser has developed algorithms which monitor user activity and when they spot an attempt to manipulate the numbers, they sanction the venue,” the agency writes.
To trick the algorithm, fake reviews are published using different IP addresses, devices, browsers and operating systems. Each account has a “back story” of earlier posts.
The reviews will be “full of real details about the menu and decor, as well as ‘real’ photographs, which we will ask you to take.”