The Australian National University plans to kick a cafe owner out of a premier Canberra location partly because of more than 40 bad comments on the TripAdvisor and Urbanspoon websites.
Cafe owner Simone Hunter has lashed out at the university's reliance on the reviews saying the websites were defamation magnets that unfairly relied on anonymous users being able to make unsubstantiated claims without rebuttal.
Ms Hunter runs the Scope Cafe at Mount Stromlo, which boasts possibly the best views in Canberra, but had closed its kitchen as of Thursday.
"I'm spent, I'm exhausted, I'm bedraggled," Ms Hunter said, although she insisted she was "not walking" without legal advice.
The university's decision not to renew her contract ends a lengthy battle which has seen Ms Hunter quoted in the media lobbying for the cafe's facilities to be upgraded and more recently a dispute about more than $8000 in unpaid rent.
A letter from ANU to Ms Hunter on Monday said her licence to operate at the site would cease at the end of this month.
The letter outlined the unpaid rent and said the university had noted negative reviews on TripAdvisor and Urban Spoon referring to poor service and food.
"The university is concerned about the reputational issues that this will cause to the future operation of the site," the letter said.
The letter said the university had spent "many resources" trying to resolve negotiations over a new contract "to no avail".
Ms Hunter said it was wrong for the university to use the bad reviews in its reasoning. She believed the comments had been used against her because she was in the middle of a dispute about upgrading the facilities.
Websites such as TripAdvisor have annoyed hoteliers and restaurateurs across the world for years and many have claimed reviewers have had bad motivations or were fake.
Ms Hunter said a lot of the complaints on the website related to the rundown nature of the facility which she had been lobbying ANU to fix.
The cafe owner, who has been at the site for four years, said the location lacked a decent kitchen – a shipping container was being used at the moment and mice were getting in – and did not have enough security infrastructure. She said there had been five burglaries in a year.
Ms Hunter said she believed her deadline to pay the rent had been granted because of problems with the facilities last year. In its letter, the university rejected this and said there was another occasion when the cafe had delayed paying rent.
A university spokesman said the licensing agreement between ANU and Ms Hunter's business, Hoshitaka Pty Ltd, to operate the Scope Cafe expired in February.
"ANU has been negotiating a new agreement with licence holder since January 2014, the spokesman said.
"ANU and the licensee were unable to settle on terms and conditions for a new licensing agreement.
"Details of the licence agreement between ANU and Hoshitaka Pty Ltd are confidential.
"ANU maintains that it has at all times negotiated with Hoshitaka Pty Ltd fairly and in good faith.
"The university plans to continue to offer cafe services to staff and the many visitors who travel to the historic Mount Stromlo site."
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