Hell hath no fury like a holidaymaker scorned.

The words "wait till TripAdvisor hears about this" are enough to drive fear into the heart of the hospitality industry.

There is something strangely vindicating in the knowledge that, at the end of an abysmal stay, the world will hear your righteous fury vented on forums of the online rating platform.

However, wronged guests of Meriton properties had been denied this by a series of dubious practices.


The hotelier and property giant Meriton has been ordered to pay US$3 million (NZ$4.4million) in fines for manipulating reviews of its suites and serviced apartments.

The US Federal Court found the company guilty of stopping guests from leaving reviews on the website, in breach of consumer law.

It was revealed that property managers purposefully voided the email addresses of some guests by adding the letters "MSA" to the end of them. Meaning they were not invited to leave reviews on the platform.

The tampering was exposed earlier this year for Meriton guests between 2014 and 2015, and resulted with today's fine being issued by Justice Mark Moshinsky.

"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," the court order read.

Apart from this fine, the hotel chain has been ordered to set up training for employees in consumer law.

There's no doubt that online ratings platforms such as TripAdvisor are becoming increasingly important to the hospitality industry, and the penalties for misleading customers with their data increasingly severe.

Peter Hook the self-styled
Peter Hook the self-styled "director of propaganda" was found to be reviewing properties he managed. Photo / Twitter, TripAdvisor

In 2013, Peter Hook the self-styled "director of propaganda" (as his twitter profile read) for Accor hotels in Asia and the Pacific, was rumbled by the online management firm Kwikchex.

Hook was caught writing scathing reviews for rival properties on the TripAdvisor app. In a report by the Telegraph, the hotel executive was found to have fired off 106 reviews during the course of a year.

These included a damning appraisal of rival Park Hyatt Sydney ("the very ordinary bar food, high prices and ordinary service didn't match the music or the light show,") while talking up Accor properties such as Sofitel Penh Phookeethra ("I didn't know much about the hotel scene so booked a brand I knew well. It turned out to be a good choice").

As the regional executive for the company, it seems unlikely that he knew so little about the hotel that he was unaware of it's ownership by his Accor.

A spokesperson for TripAdvisor at the time said "It would clearly be inappropriate for a senior executive of a hotel company to review hotels within their own company."

It's not just the mega hospitality chains and execs that have been accused of "gaming" the online review economy.

Last year journalist, Oobah Butler, managed to fool the TripAdvisor algorithm to place his humble garden shed as the top-rated restaurant in London.

Butler, who had made a living by writing paid TripAdvisor ratings for clients, knew the value of a good review and was able to quickly boost his shed's prominence on the site.

The ruse was able to fool several prominent foodie critics, including the Guardian's Jay Rayner who tweeted "At last: a restaurant that recognises food is all about mood. Of all the shed-based eating experiences out there this one sounds like the best."

Writing for Vice, Butler was philosophical about the transformative power of a solid TripAdvisor review: "I invited people into a hastily-assembled collection of chairs outside my shed, and they left thinking it really could be the best restaurant in London, just on the basis of a TripAdvisor rating."

In a statement about the "garden shed" experiment, TripAdvisor told the Telegraph that the only people with anything to gain from "fake restaurant listings are journalists in misguided attempts to test us. As there is no incentive for anyone in the real world to create a fake restaurant, it is not a problem."

Although Butler was not fined for his meddling with the website's rankings – there were no restaurant customers to mislead – his stunt showed there were plenty of vulnerabilities in the rating system. These are vulnerabilities through which companies other than "misguided" journalists might have a lot to gain.

TripAdvisor remains an open review platform but there will always be those with properties at stake and guests with axes to grind and although opinions are freely given, the reliance on review websites has made these opinions into big businesses with the power to skew industries.