Australian accommodation group fined $3m for deceiving guests

An Australian accommodation group has been fined $3 million for deceiving guests.

Hotel cheats TripAdvisor ratings

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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    COMMENTS

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    Cowboy Jim
    4th Aug 2018
    9:33am
    Was happy with our stays at Meriton Apartments several times in Brisbane. Using them for stays before flying to Europe and when coming back. No complaints but then we do not write reviews either.
    doris008
    4th Aug 2018
    11:22am
    I have stayed at Meriton in Sydney twice I found their great place stay
    near airport and go back again yes I will write reviews if I think their worth time.
    Their standards sure up to expectation and can't ask for any thing better.s
    MICK
    4th Aug 2018
    11:53am
    Saw that. I jigged to this years ago when I saw that negative reviews had been removed from Tripadvisor. I then did some reading and discovered that some businesses had the ability to have comments they did not like removed. That made me sit up and take notice and I have since been very careful booking anything because of Tripadvisor comments. The website is helpful though and we sort of made decisions using a lot of logic.
    I am happy one of the player was caught out on this.

    The problem of fraud in business is not new and not unique to Australia. Our ACCC should be fixing spot fires when people alert them to scams but they rarely do. I alerted the ACCC to a car rental scam where the vehicle booked is advertised really cheaply but then you get another vehicle when the booking is made. This is known as 'bait and switch' and could be ended with one quick phone call. Instead I received a long email giving all the reasons why no action was going to be taken, which would have taken longer to write than the phone call which could have stopped that sort of advertising. Don't get me started.....
    Scott
    4th Aug 2018
    1:16pm
    TripAdvisor seems always to post positive reviews (many of which appear contrived) censoring only negative reviews.
    JayJ
    25th Mar 2019
    9:35pm
    I stopped using TripAdvisor because reviews there are really all positive. And that is almost impossible, people usually too lazy to write something good even if they liked everything. Now I use https://planetofhotels.com/en/north-america this service a much more trustable


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