THE DANGERS OF NEGATIVE ONLINE HOTEL REVIEWS

Most hoteliers shake off a negative review like water off a duck’s back, but just a few explode and threaten the reviewer with a fate worse than death for ruffling the hotel owner’s feathers.

The latest example saw a Thai hotel (located in Khao Yai 150 km northeast of Bangkok) lose its cool, last week, over a not so favourable review. It is likely to raise alarm bells for reviewers who can’t resist the temptation to pen a few home truths about the hotels after dissatisfaction with a hotel stay.

At first, the hotel replied to the offending review posted on Agoda.com  with a standard thank you and we are endeavouring to improve the shortcomings mentioned.  That was until someone higher up the hotel totem pole read it. They immediately demanded that the author remove the offending review.

To strengthen the argument, they also threatened the reviewer with a THB3 million claim for damages and THB 50,000 for every day the review remained visible to cover the estimated revenue losses. Plus, they rolled out the standard demand ordering the reviewer to pay for apology advertisements in five Thai language newspapers for five days in a row if the reviewer wanted to avoid a painful and expensive day in court.

It’s not the first time a Thai hotel has gone on the attack and threatened a reviewer for defamation and loss of business in the land’s criminal and civil courts. In 2020 a hotel on Chang Island had the reviewer arrested for posting an offending piece on Tripadvisor. The foreign resident in Thailand who happened to be a teacher settled, but it made Tripadvisor scribes think carefully about the risks of posting an honest review about their hotel stay.

Of course, hotels should take criticism firmly on the chin and learn from the experience to rebuild their star rating on a booking site. To do otherwise makes a mountain out of a molehill that only fuels attention and drives more readers to the offending review.

But the spat that erupted leaves questions about protecting a reviewer’s privacy. Agoda.com invariably hides a reviewer’s identity and contact information. Therefore, we have to ask how the hotel could identify the author to serve notice demanding an apology and financial compensation?

Agoda and other review sites may not be entirely off the hook. In defamation cases,  both the author and the publisher may be in the firing line when demands reach a court. In this latest spat, the hotel opted to target the author rather than file a complaint with the mega online channel that published the offending review.

TTR WEEKLY