Australian hotelier Meriton fined $2.2 million for manipulating TripAdvisor ratings

Between November 2014 and October 2015, Meriton Serviced Apartments falsified or held back the contact details of customers it thought might be critical at 13 properties, Australia’s Federal Court found. (Courtesy Meriton Suites Broadbeach Facebook)
Updated 31 July 2018
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Australian hotelier Meriton fined $2.2 million for manipulating TripAdvisor ratings

SYDNEY: The Australian hotel operator owned by billionaire Harry Triguboff was fined A$3 million ($2.2 million) on Tuesday for misleading customers, after it withheld unhappy guests’ details from travel site TripAdvisor to avoid bad reviews.
Between November 2014 and October 2015, Meriton Serviced Apartments falsified or held back the contact details of customers it thought might be critical at 13 properties, Australia’s Federal Court found.
The company’s booking software allowed staff to add letters to customers’ email addresses to stop TripAdvisor from reaching them if they had made complaints during their stay. It also held back reviews during maintenance periods at the hotels.
On Tuesday, the court imposed the A$3 million fine, which is payable within a month.
This is about a fifth of what the judge had said the maximum levy could be, A$14.3 million, but higher than the A$330,000-A$400,000 Meriton had suggested it should pay.
“Meriton’s conduct created an unduly favorable impression,” Justice Mark Moshinsky said in a written judgment.
“The contravening conduct occurred on a large scale, and the TripAdvisor website, where the misleading impression was created, attracted a very large number of consumers. In these circumstances, I consider that a large penalty is required.”
Meriton did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.
The company had previously disputed that the practice had any effect on its TripAdvisor rating and it stopped withholding customers details as soon Triguboff — who was rated Australia’s wealthiest man in 2016 — found out.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), which brought the proceedings against Meriton, had initially sought a A$20 million penalty.
“This case sends a strong message that businesses can expect ACCC enforcement action if they’re caught manipulating feedback on third party review websites,” ACCC Commissioner Sarah Court said in a statement.


Sounds of the summer: the best festivals to visit this season

Sziget festival. (AFP)
Updated 22 July 2019
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Sounds of the summer: the best festivals to visit this season

DUBAI: From electronica in Morocco to rock in the Japanese mountains, here are six music festivals worth seeing this summer. 

Beiteddine Art Festival

WHEN: July 18-Aug 10

WHERE: Beiteddine, Lebanon

DETAILS: Few festivals have a better location than this Lebanese music, art and culture fest set among the Chouf Mountains in Beiteddine Palace, built over 200 years ago. Tens of thousands of people attend every year to witness an enthralling mix of classic and contemporary music, theater productions and art exhibitions, staggered over three weeks.

HIGHLIGHTS: Iraqi singer and composer Kadim Al-Sahir; French actor and singer Gerard Depardieu interpreting the songs of legendary singer Barbara; Omar Rahbany, from the renowned Lebanese musical dynasty, with his Passport Chamber Ensemble; Moroccan star Abdou Cherif sings some of Abdel Halim Hafez’s best-known songs.

Fuji Rock Festival

WHEN: July 26-28

WHERE: Naeba Ski Resort, Niigata, Japan

DETAILS: Japan’s Fuji Rock hosts 16 different stages and a wildly varied mix of homegrown and international artists playing just about every genre you can think of. Now on its 23rd edition, the organizers overcame a disastrous first year at the base of Mount Fuji to establish the festival (in its ‘new’ location) as one of Asia’s most popular summer gatherings, regularly attracting 150,000 people.

HIGHLIGHTS: The Green Stage and White Stage host the biggest international names, including The Chemical Brothers, The Cure, Sia (pictured), Death Cab For Cutie, James Blake and Thom Yorke, alongside Japanese stars such as Ellegarden, Superfly, and Asian Kung-Fu Generation.

Sziget Festival

WHEN: Aug 7-13

WHERE: Budapest, Hungary

DETAILS: Huge music and culture festival in an idyllic setting on an island in the Danube that makes it easy to lose yourself in its self-contained unreal world. The weeklong festival has expanded from an underground student gathering in the early Nineties to become one of Europe’s most acclaimed festivals, reportedly attracting almost half-a-million visitors and staging over 1,000 performances annually.

HIGHLIGHTS: There’s such an overwhelming amount of music available that anyone attending is bound to find something they like. The biggest names this year include Foo Fighters, Ed Sheeran, Twenty One Pilots, Post Malone, Florence & The Machine, The National, and Martin Garrix, but there’s plenty of less-mainstream fare on offer too.

Woodstock 50

WHEN: Aug 16-18

WHERE: Watkins Glen, New York

DETAILS: The much-imitated, never-replicated OG of rock festivals marks its 50th anniversary this year, still billing itself as “3 days of Peace & Music,” just as it did when more than 400,000 people gathered in White Lake back in 1969. The original was a defining moment in Western popular culture, and although this year’s event is unlikely to have the same impact, it’s still one that music lovers from around the world are eagerly anticipating for its legacy as much as its lineup.

HIGHLIGHTS: The organizers have kept things pretty basic — no multiple stages here, just a long lineup of mainstage performers on each of the three nights, with classic-rock/folk acts such as Santana, David Crosby, Robert Plant and Canned Heat mingling with Miley Cyrus, Chance The Rapper, The Killers, Earl Sweatshirt and Jay-Z (pictured).

Oasis Festival

WHEN: Sept 13-15

WHERE: Marrakech, Morocco

DETAILS: Billing itself as an “intimate destination festival featuring today’s top underground electronic talent,” with the strapline “Dance Somewhere Different,” Marrakech’s Oasis Festival doesn’t go for the “something-for-everyone” vibe of so many summer festivals, instead concentrating its efforts to produce an unfailingly excellent celebration of electronic music in a stunning setting — a luxury resort near the Atlas Mountains. Ideal for dance-music lovers who don’t fancy the muddy grime and portaloos of your typical summer music festival.

HIGHLIGHTS: This year’s lineup includes experimental UK musician Four Tet, classically trained Swiss DJ-producer Sonja Moonear, Berlin-based DJ-producer Jayda G, and Italian-born duo Mind Against.

Rock in Rio

WHEN: Sept 27-Oct 6

WHERE: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
DETAILS: Spread over two weekends in the Barra Olympic Park, Rock in Rio is one of the world’s largest music festivals. It’s travelled to Lisbon, Madrid and Las Vegas over the 34 years since its inception, but this year’s edition finds it back home in the Brazilian capital, and a major party is guaranteed.

HIGHLIGHTS: There are seven different ‘venues’ at this year’s festival, many of which are catering to local audiences with South American artists. ‘Palco Mundo’ is where the superstars play, and this year’s headliners include Drake, Foo Fighters (pictured), Bon Jovi, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Iron Maiden, P!nk, and Muse.