In a statement following the Federal Court judgment, ACCC commissioner Sarah Court said the court found Meriton’s management had deliberately tried to influence ratings of its properties to minimise the number of negative reviews.
The strategy was implemented between November 2014 and October 2015.
“In reducing the chances of a customer posting a negative review, Meriton created a more positive or favourable impression of the quality or amenity of the Meriton properties on the TripAdvisor website,” said Ms Court.
“Many consumers base their purchasing decisions on reviews they get through sites like TripAdvisor. It’s therefore vital the reviews on these review sites are not manipulated and accurately reflect all customers’ opinions – the good and the bad.”
Meriton, owned by high-profile billionaire Harry Triguboff, has built a number of prominent apartment buildings across Australia, as well as various commercial sites and Meriton-branded hotels.
The company’s general counsel, Joseph Callaghan, told My Business he was disappointed with the decision.
“Meriton has never denied that between November 2014 and October 2015, some Meriton staff masked email addresses of certain guests at its hotels, which meant that those guests did not receive a reminder email from TripAdvisor to review their stay,” he said.
“As soon as Meriton’s managing director was made aware of the conduct, it was stopped.”
Mr Callaghan added: “Meriton did not agree that the conduct had the effect on the consumer alleged by the ACCC, but the court has decided against us. We will review the judgment and consider all options.”
Perth restaurateur and former Olympic swimmer Eamon Sullivan recently revealed to My Business his innovative approach to dealing with bad reviews.
More tips on defusing damaging online reviews can be found here.