Kosciuszko Thredbo Pty Limited v ThredboNet Marketing Pty Limited
The Federal Court of Australia has refused to allow Thredbo Alpine Village to stop a hotel internet marketer from using the place name Thredbo in its domain names, websites and social media sites to market accommodation in Thredbo.
The Federal Court decision has serious ramifications for marketers in the travel, destination and accommodation industries.
Not only has Thredbo Alpine Village (Kosciuszko Thredbo) lost its ability to protect its hard-earned brand name, but by failing to implement an effective digital strategy it has cleared the way for competitors to dominate in the lucrative search engine rankings market.
The battle for mindshare has irreversibly shifted from brand to browser in the travel and accommodation industries as travellers increasingly use the internet to research and book travel and accommodation.
This is not to discount the value of brands and brand names – they are incredibly important. The word ‘Thredbo’ has been built up over many years and is a highly recognised and actively searched term online. This can be seen from how often the term ‘Thredbo’ is searched online every month in Australia:
· ‘Thredbo’ is searched ~ 40,500 times
· ‘Thredbo weather’ is searched ~ 8100 times
· ‘Thredbo accommodation’ is searched ~ 5400 times
· ‘Thredbo alpine hotel’ is searched ~ 1600 times
· The Thredbo Wikipedia page received 2967 search results in the last 30 days
“The best place to hide a dead body is on the second page of Google” – Unknown
From the marketer’s perspective, the term ‘Thredbo’ is important. Thredbo Alpine Resort has invested heavily and benefitted enormously from the now-famous brand they have built. All this branding was negated because the Federal Court looked at Google screenshots of searches for ‘Thredbo’, and ‘Thredbo reservations’ that showed a variety of links to traders which ‘proved’ that the word Thredbo was not distinctive to the Thredbo Alpine Village business, and the website disclaimer was effective.
So what are the implications for the destination or travel marketer?
1. Obtain appropriate legal advice to make sure your trading name and trade marks are effective
2. Secure any protections available as early as possible in your marketing efforts
3. Just using the name and even owning a trademark may not be sufficient to protect your brand
4. Your appearance in search results and that of your competitors can and will be relied upon as evidence to support or negate your brand claim
5. You must have a fully integrated strategic marketing plan incorporating a comprehensive digital strategy
6. The digital strategy must include more than just your website. It must include:
- an active domain name strategy utilising multiple domains
- search engine optimisation
- search engine marketing
- social media strategy
- effective monitoring, measurement and management to detect emerging issues early
In summary, from a marketing perspective it appears that Thredbo Alpine Village relied too heavily on their reputation and failed to properly assess the risks to brand protection in today’s digital economy.