ABC INFOGRAPHIC: This email shows the hotel manager telling staff the account of a guest who got trapped in a shower should have been ‘masked’. (Supplied)
Meriton allegedly prevents guests from giving negative reviews, bribes them to improve ratings on TripAdvisor
Influential American travel website TripAdvisor is investigating claims Australia’s largest residential apartment developer is “cheating the system” by preventing guests at its luxury hotels from submitting negative reviews.
- Emails show Meriton guests were allegedly offered bribes to change their TripAdvisor ratings from low to high
- Staff allegedly used a ‘masking’ tactic to ensure guests who complained did not receive TripAdvisor feedback forms
- A former employee says staff used the tactic dozens of times a day and were criticised for failing to do so
A former Meriton employee has told ABC staff that Meriton Serviced Apartments are ordered to stop TripAdvisor feedback forms being emailed to guests who complain to the front desk during their stay.
Screenshots taken by the ex-hotel manager and provided to the ABC reveal guests were allegedly offered bribes to pressure them to change their rating from a low score to a high score — a clear breach of TripAdvisor rules.
“I was always uncomfortable about doing it. I thought it was crazy,” the former employee said.
“If you work in a five-star chain like Four Seasons, you receive the negative feedback and you act on it to prevent it from happening again, you don’t contact the guest and bribe them to take it down.”
While every guest at Meriton is supposed to be emailed a TripAdvisor feedback form after their stay, a tactic allegedly used by staff ensures those who complain about their experience never receive the form.
The tactic, referred to in internal emails as “masking”, involves staff adding the letters “MSA” to the email addresses of angry guests, causing the emails to bounce.
According to the former employee, staff used this tactic dozens of times a day and were criticised by their managers when they failed to do so.
“I have gone through the duty log for the past few days and a couple of accounts were not masked,” an email from a Sydney hotel manager reads.
“This guest was stuck in their shower and then had to pull the door off to get out. This should definitely be masked.
“I need each of you to ensure that you are being proactive to prevent these comments reaching TA [TripAdvisor].”
According to TripAdvisor’s rules, “selectively soliciting reviews … only from guests who have had a positive experience” is considered fraudulent and could result in the offending accommodation provider being removed from its listings.
Meriton offers guest discounted stay for removal of review
It is also against the rules to offer incentives in exchange for glowing reviews.
However, another internal email reveals Meriton staff appear to be doing just that.
“If you ever do change your mind in regards to removing your review, please allow to [sic] compensate you $100.00 off your whole stay, which is a little over 10 per cent in total,” an employee wrote to a guest.
In a separate exchange, a guest reacted angrily to a similar offer.
“I was hoping that if you would be kind enough to consider adjusting the review from a three-star to a four-star as a three-star is quite low,” the employee asked.
“We do take TripAdvisor feedback very seriously as it is a strong marketing tool for our product.”
The guest replied: “No I am not happy to readjust [sic] my review. This is the rating that I think it should receive.”
TripAdvisor has released a statement saying while it would not discuss this particular investigation, “we fight fraud aggressively”.
“Any attempts by an owner of a property to boost the reputation of a business by selectively soliciting reviews only from guests who have had a positive experience is considered fraudulent, and is subject to penalties,” the statement said.
Meriton declined to comment.