Australian Company Fined $3 Million for Masking TripAdvisor Reviews

Ahead of my TripAdvisor workshop at Arival on the 25th of September, I’ve decided to write a short news piece about Meriton Serviced Apartments’ TripAdvisor faux pas.

Meriton made a huge mistake with its TripAdvisor account, leading to a pretty hefty fine! I usually like to focus on making positive changes to help companies rank on TripAdvisor, but I think what’s happened with Meriton should serve as a stern warning to anyone working in the tourism and hospitality industries.

Why you should never manipulate your TripAdvisor reviews

Today, the serviced apartment company, Meriton, has been fined $3 million (Australian dollars) by the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) for manipulating how customers left TripAdvisor reviews. Obviously, falsifying and manipulating reviews is against TripAdvisor policy, but it’s also against Australian consumer law, and it’s this breaking of the law that has landed them with such a considerable penalty. 

TripAdvisor has a service called Review Express that allows companies to send over a list of emails of recent customers interested in leaving a review who have consented for their email addresses to be shared. TripAdvisor then contacts the customers and prompts them to write a review. It’s a great way for companies who don’t have any free time to stay on top of their TripAdvisor accounts.

Meriton identified several customers it knew where likely to leave bad reviews due to negative experiences with their properties. Rather than simply passing these customers’ email addresses along, Meriton added letters or changed the addresses slightly so that the customers were never contacted by TripAdvisor. This technique is called ‘masking’ and it is extremely bad form. Not only is it dishonest; it’s also illegal in Australia and in most other countries with well-regulated consumer regulation bodies.

Customers ‘deserve the full picture when making a booking decision’

Today, the ACCC Commissioner, Sarah Court, spoke about the ramifications of Meriton’s conduct:

“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. 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.”

I wholeheartedly agree with the commissioner’s assertion that customers deserve the ‘full picture when making a booking decision’ and this sits right at the heart of the TripAdvisor’s service. TripAdvisor works by placing maximum importance on customer reviews by assuming that the best people to tell you whether a service is any good are the people who have recently used the service.

This is how TripAdvisor works and any attempt to circumvent or corrupt this system might have worked with varying success in the past, but it’s regular algorithm updates have significantly reduced the efficacy of this method. TripAdvisor has made it harder and harder to manipulate your ranking and this is good news for any company willing to knuckle down and earn their good reviews, improving their ranking the honest way.

If you’re looking for a way to improve your TripAdvisor ranking and you can’t make it to my workshop at Arrival in September, you may like to check out the blog post I wrote about TripAdvisor rankingsback in May.

What happened with Meriton should be a wake-up call for some companies

Most companies guilty of masking their TripAdvisor rankings won’t be caught, but many will be, and they may incur similar penalties (or worse) to Meriton’s. My advice is to learn from this court case and to change your TripAdvisor practices so that your company’s TripAdvisor activity is as honest and transparent as possible in the future. It’s not too late to do TripAdvisor the right way. Not only might this save you a lot of money (from not receiving a $3 million penalty), but it might also save your current TripAdvisor rankings from dropping.

If you turn everything around and start earning good reviews the old-fashioned way, then you could avoid any pitfalls down the road that might come as a result of continuing to manipulate your listing. Even if you aren’t penalised by the law, you will almost certainly by penalised by TripAdvisor eventually. And if you get a lot of business from TripAdvisor, this penalty could be devastating to your business. It’s not too late to clean your TripAdvisor act up!

I hope this blog post has been useful and that it’s helped a few readers reconsider their company’s practices and policies regarding TripAdvisor and other third-party reviewing platforms. If used correctly, TripAdvisor can be an incredibly powerful marketing tool and I’ll be going into the how’s and the whys of this in my workshop at Arrival in September. If you’d like to know what TMA could do for your company’s TripAdvisor ranking, please get in touch.

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