Property mogul Harry Triguboff has hit out at the national consumer watchdog, vowing to defend his company against claims that it misled members of the public.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission last week initiated legal proceedings against Triguboff’s Meriton Serviced Apartments in the Federal Court, alleging Meriton employees attempted to minimise the number of negative reviews about the business on TripAdivsor by not sending reminder emails to some guests and this amounted to misleading and deceptive conduct.
The first hearing for the case will be held on December 9 in Melbourne, however, in a statement provided to SmartCompany, Triguboff labelled the proceedings as “unnecessary”.
“They want to fine us, but we will fight that,” he said.
“The public has not been misled. The public has much better judgment than the government is giving them credit.”
Triguboff reiterated earlier comments made by Meriton that the company had acted swiftly in October 2015 once it became aware of some instances where the practice of “masking” emails – adding extra letters to the email addresses of guests so that they did not receive an automated feedback form – had been used incorrectly.
“They told us that we had been doing the wrong thing last year and we fixed it straight away,” he said.
“We stopped using the [TripAdvisor] Review Express service for five months, and a lot of our No. 1 rankings were unaffected.”
Meriton’s special counsel Joseph Callaghan said in the same statement the ACCC’s proceedings against the company relates to a period of 11 months when approximately 1600 guests did not receive a reminder email from Meriton to review their stay on TripAdvisor.
Meriton says it has more than one million people stay in its apartments each year and as such, the number of guests in question in this case is “comparatively very low”.
“It’s important to be clear about this—we are not talking about false reviews as has been the case with other businesses, some of which have not be pursued by the ACCC,” said Callaghan.
“We are talking about some guests not receiving an email reminder to review their stay.
“Anybody can say whatever they like on TripAdvisor. They do not need an invitation or a reminder from Meriton to post a positive or negative review.
“We have said to the ACCC all along, show us the class of people that would have negatively reviewed their stay but did not, only because they didn’t get a reminder email.”
In a separate letter provided to SmartCompany, Meriton said many of its employees “feel the attack by the ACCC is completely unwarranted”.
“The customer review marketplace is relatively new and hotel industry opinion is that Meriton has been unfairly targeted,” the company said.
“The ACCC should be working with TripAdvisor to address consumer concerns around lack of transparency in respect of how reviews are verified (if at all) and TripAdvisor’s unregulated and overwhelming control of the customer review market.”