An Australian accommodation provider has been fined $3 million for manipulating TripAdvisor reviews, in a Federal Court case that will act as a warning to other accommodations and services conducting similar practices.
Late last year, the Federal Court found that Meriton Property Services, trading as Meriton Serviced Apartments, engaged in misleading conduct by implementing a practice of ‘masking’ email addresses. This practice effectively negated the ability of guests suspected of leaving poor reviews to do so on TripAdvisor’s Review Express service.
“Meriton’s management directed staff to engage in masking to stop potentially negative reviews from appearing on TripAdvisor. This gave the impression Meriton accommodation was of a higher standard than otherwise may have been the case,” said Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) commissioner Sarah Court.
“People often make purchasing decisions for accommodation based on the rankings and reviews they read on third party sites like TripAdvisor. Manipulating these reviews is misleading to potential customers, who deserve the full picture when making a booking decision.
“This case sends a strong message that businesses can expect ACCC enforcement action if they’re caught manipulating feedback on third-party review websites,” said Ms Court.
Meriton’s masking process worked by inserting additional letters in customers’ email address or by not sending guests’ email addresses to TripAdvisor at all.
Accommodation providers who participate in TripAdvisor’s Review Express service would usually pass on all email addresses of guests who have consented to provide reviews.
According to TripAdvisor, accommodation providers that use the Review Express service see an increase in TripAdvisor reviews for their properties of 28 to 33 per cent.
If staff at Meriton suspected a negative review would be left by guests, they enacted the masking policy, thereby making it impossible for poor reviews to be posted.
Meriton Serviced Apartments offer serviced apartment accommodation in at least 13 properties in NSW and Queensland.
Have you ever stayed at a Meriton Serviced Apartment? How was your experience?
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