Australian hotel chain fined $2.2 million for manipulating TripAdvisor reviews

One of Australia’s largest hotel chains has been fined $2.2 million ($3 million AUD) for trying to prevent negative reviews on the popular TripAdvisor website.

Australia’s federal court said that Meriton Property Services violated consumer law by preventing guests who had complained or may have had negative experiences from getting a “Review Express” email inviting them to review the property on TripAdvisor.

The court said that between November 2014 and October 2015, hotel workers gave TripAdvisor invalid email addresses for complaining customers so they wouldn’t get the emails. If a property had a major disruption, they wouldn’t submit any guests’ email addresses.

“This conduct created a more positive or favourable impression of the quality and amenity of Meriton’s serviced apartments, and had the effect of reducing, in the minds of consumers, awareness of the prevalence of service disruptions at Meriton’s properties,” Justice Mark Moshinsky wrote in the order.

The court said Meriton’s conduct “was likely to mislead or deceive” because it inflated the number of good reviews in relation to bad reviews and even improved some properties’ rank on the TripAdvisor website.

In a statement, TripAdvisor said it became aware of the problem in October 2015 and “took action to investigate and self-regulate, ensuring that any issues identified were addressed immediately and to the satisfaction of TripAdvisor’s strict guidelines.”

“We believe in the rights of the travel community to share their genuine experiences — both positive and negative — and it is incredibly important that we continue to be a valuable resource to the millions of people who use us each week to plan and book their travel,” it said.

In addition to the fine, Meriton was banned from filtering, selecting or limiting the addresses it provides to TripAdvisor for three years and was ordered to create a compliance and training program for its staff.