Billionaire property developer Harry Triguboff’s Meriton Serviced Apartments business has been hit with a $3 million fine for attempting to stop negative reviews being posted on TripAdvisor.
The Federal Court handed Meriton Property Services Pty Ltd the $3 million penalty today after finding last November that the company had engaged in misleading or deceptive conduct and conduct liable to mislead the public by “masking” email addresses in an attempted to stop guests Meriton suspected would give negative reviews on TripAdvisor.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) launched legal action against Meriton in 2016, claiming a breach of the Australian Consumer Law.
Meriton defended the action brought by the ACCC, but lost.
The scheme involved TripAdvisor’s ‘Review Express’, where the online ratings website sent guests an email after their stay asking them to submit a review.
The email addresses are supplied by the venue, and Meriton was found to have inserted additional letters in the guests’ addresses so they never received the email. The Court found that between November 2014 to October 2015, Meriton altered the addresses in an attempt to prevent negative reviews
Meriton Serviced Apartments is Australia’s biggest hotel group, with more than 4,000 suites. At the time it had 13 properties in Sydney, Brisbane and on the Gold Coast, with a gross annual turnover in excess of $380 million.
Meriton boss Harry Triguboff, the country’s biggest property developer, was named Australia’s second richest person earlier this year, with $12.77 billion, adding another $1.33 billion to his 2017 worth.
ACCC Commissioner Sarah Court said Meriton’s management directed staff to engage in ‘masking’ to stop potentially negative reviews appearing on TripAdvisor.
“This gave the impression Meriton accommodation was of a higher standard than otherwise may have been the case,” she said.
“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.”
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