Meriton slogged with $3m fine for misleading customers on TripAdvisor

Meriton slogged with $3m fine for misleading customers on TripAdvisor

The latest from the Federal Court might make you want to reconsider how much trust you place in TripAdvisor.

Meriton was ordered on Tuesday to pay a $3 million fine for misleading customers on hotel review site TripAdvisor after engaging in the process of 'masking' email addresses.

By 'masking' guests that the hotel chain suspected would give negative reviews from receiving TripAdvisor's 'Review Express' prompt email the hotel attempted to potentially stop negative reviews from appearing on the popular site.

ACCC commissioner Sarah Court says the 'masking' practice misleads customers into believing the reviews for the site are better than they potentially could be.

"[Masking] gave the impression Meriton accommodation was of a higher standard than otherwise may have been the case," says 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."

The 'Review Express' service, provided by TripAdvisor, allows accommodation providers like Meriton to pass on the email addresses to TripAdvisor who then emails the customers to request a prompt review of the accommodation.

Meriton's 'masking' involved inserting additional letters into guests' emails so the email could never be sent, or declined to send the email address to TripAdvisor.

Court says the Federal Court decision should act as a warning to any other accommodation providers in Australia also engaging in 'masking'.

"This case sends a strong message that businesses can expect ACCC enforcement action if they're caught manipulating feedback on third party review websites," says Court.

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