The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is investigating claims Meriton staff have been manipulating TripAdvisor rankings.

Meriton serviced apartments, Sydney.

Meriton serviced apartments, Sydney. Image by smalljude / CC BY 2.0

A former hotel manager of Meriton Serviced Apartments claims staff were instructed to use a technique known as ‘masking’ to prevent guests who complain about their experience from receiving a Trip Advisor feedback form. The employee told the ABC that Meriton staff were instructed to add the letters “MSA” to the email addresses of guests who complained about their stay. In doing so the TripAdvisor feedback form, which is emailed out to every guest, would bounce.

The ABC was shown an email from a Sydney hotel manager, which they have published, reiterating to staff the need to mask guests who have difficult experiences during their stay. In the email the manager explained they had been through the duty log and had noted some accounts had not been masked that ‘should’ have been. The manager cited the example of a guest who was stuck in their shower and had to pull the door off to get out as an account that ” should definitely be masked.”

In addition to masking, the former staff member claimed bribes were offered to guests in exchange for removing negative reviews from TripAdvisor, which is firmly against the website’s rules. In one instance, an employee offered a customer AU$100 off their stay in exchange for removing a negative review, and in another a guest was asked to adjust their review from three stars to four.

In response to the claims, Meriton Serviced Apartments national manager Matthew Thomas said, “we have nothing to gain from squashing negative feedback or pretending we are perfect. We are open to negative reviews. The improvements we have made to the business have all come from customer feedback.”

If found guilty of misleading online testimonials, Australia’s largest apartment developer would be in breach of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 and could face fines of up to AU$1.1 million. Both TripAdvisor and Meriton Serviced Apartments have launched independent investigations into the claims.