Hotel Threatens To Charge Guests For Negative Online Reviews

Filed Under: Hotels, Media

In the age of the internet, it sort of blows my mind that any hotel could possibly think this is a good idea. The Castle Hotel is a small independent hotel located in Berwick-upon-Tweed, which is England’s Northernmost town.


Per TripAdvisor, the hotel is sending out emails to guests as soon as they book, warning them of an “administration charge” of £100 in the event of a negative online review. Here’s the relevant part of the email:

The management of the Hotel will charge an Administration Fee of £100 + VAT if the circumstances arise where a response has to be made to any comment or picture posted on electronic media which is in their opinion unfair or scurrilous in nature or to which they were not given opportunity to rectify when or after the service was provided. This charge will be deducted from the Credit or Debit card provided as guarantee for the booking. The Hotel management reserve the right to amend or cancel any booking without notice.

The stupidity of this blows my mind. The same crowd that would potentially write an online review of the hotel is probably the same crowd that would be enraged by such a policy, regardless of how their stay is. Interestingly the hotel has received several negative reviews, though it doesn’t look like they’ve responded to them, so I guess the “administration fee” wouldn’t apply…

(Tip of the hat to LoyaltyLobby)

  1. Tripadvisor is overrun with fake reviews. Many restaurants in popular tourist spots like Hawaii are on the fake review train. Bumping up just half a star can make all the difference. Look for 5 star reviews and then click on the user to see other reviews they have given. All just 5 star with maybe one 4 star is a good hint. Bad grammar or non-objectivity like raving about a particular dish is another. I’m convinced there are better ways to filter out fake reviews.

  2. I don’t think it’s stupid. In the past, all reviews were submitted to an editor where a BUSINESS were held responsible. Today, under Silicon Valley socialism to destroy all in an instant, it’s slander without prosecution.

    I support the administration fee. If it’s stupid, then ObamaCare’s fine; i.e., the individual mandate for not possession forced health insurance, tops the list.

  3. @Oscar

    You wrote: “Good luck enforcing it……”

    Apparently, the fee will be charged to [your] credit card on-file. The credit card owner, you, would have to enforce it.

  4. It’s a stupid policy, but to me the key words are “not given opportunity to rectify when or after the service was provided.”

    I see no issues with giving a 3-4* review when your experience was ‘fine.’ I also see no issue when you have a bad experience and the hotel/restaurant/whatever choose not to do anything about it.

    What bothers me (and what I think this hotel is getting at) is people who will find something small and use it to justify a bad review. Or, rather than addressing an issue with management, they’ll say everything was fine and then use it to blast the hotel online. If I ran a hotel i’d much rather a guest tell me ‘I’m unhappy with XXX’ and give me the chance to make things right than have a guest not say anything and then give me a 1* review.

    That’s what I think this policy is trying (poorly) to prevent.

  5. Absolutely brilliant idea. Sick and tired of amateur critics posting their nonsense online and playing the Simon Cowell character. Too many think their opinions matter to a wider audience when 90% of the time they don’t. “Food was brilliant, setting fantastic, but waiter was wearing brown belt with black shoes – 1 star, won’t be returning.” The likes of Tripadvisor needs heavier moderation to allow for a fairer critical appraisal. This forum can be such an unreasonable detriment to hard working business owners.

  6. @Melissa – What you’re trying to refer to is “libel”. Slander is oral, libel is written. “Prosecution” never enters the equation as both are civil matters, not criminal. A negative review or complaint would only be libel if it were false and would do harm to the other person. “Housekeeping never changed the towels and the front desk refused to bring me clean ones” isn’t libel. “Worst meal I’ve ever had” isn’t libel. “The hotel management runs a prostitution ring using the guest rooms” would be libel if it’s untrue.

    It appears this email is sent after one has made a booking – it should be disclosed prior to completing the booking process at the very least. Though I guess if there is no fee to cancel after booking that’s better than nothing.

    Still, a horrible and counter-productive policy to be sure. I wouldn’t even consider such a hotel if I knew this was their attitude – even if it was a fabulous bargain or had great reviews. Also their policy leaves open the possibility for the hotel to abuse their power, as they alone judge when “a response has to be made” and when the review meets their definition of unfair, etc.

    If I had stayed at this hotel and wished to leave a negative review, I’d word it such that they hotel couldn’t pin down who I was (while still keeping the review honest and accurate).

  7. “What bothers me (and what I think this hotel is getting at) is people who will find something small and use it to justify a bad review. ”

    Why? What you think is small might be a big deal to the one who wrote the review. For instance, I just read a TripAdvisor review of a fancy hotel in which the reviewer gave it one star because the bellman was a complete jerk. It seemed pretty minor to me, but it could have ruined this guy’s vacation. I really don’t care whether he gave the hotel 1 star or 5. What I care about is knowing what his experience was. Reading through TripAdvisor reviews is much more informative than the star ratings. Reading also allows you to use your BS filter to determine when the business is posting its own reviews (based on the reviewer’s language, reviewing history, etc).

    “Too many think their opinions matter to a wider audience when 90% of the time they don’t.”

    If other people’s opinions don’t matter to you, why do you bother to read them?

  8. @Eric: “Still, a horrible and counter-productive policy to be sure. I wouldn’t even consider such a hotel if I knew this was their attitude – even if it was a fabulous bargain or had great reviews. Also their policy leaves open the possibility for the hotel to abuse their power, as they alone judge when “a response has to be made” and when the review meets their definition of unfair, etc.”

    That hits the nail head-on. I would never, EVER knowingly patronize a business with a policy like this. We do not need businesses to be the thought police.

  9. So, how will the hotel connect a bad review on TripAdvisor to a specific customer? I don’t use my name on TripAdvisor (I use a nickname) so I don’t see how they can connect that a specific review is coming from me and than charge a fee to my credit card. No big deal since I have no intention to go to this hotel anyway. 🙂

  10. Snic, why I bother to read them is because you can get a very insightful view about a property by reading fair, balanced reviews. By reading someone’s minor grievances over such a negligible issue who then go on to completely slate the property can be quite damning and may indeed lead you to doubt potentially booking a property.

    Being a critic is not an easy job and is indeed a profession. Ben Schlappig is one such example – his are worth reading as more often than not he posts very fair reviews which you can tell a mile off.

    Anyone can post on Tripadvisor. There usually the people who don’t have the guts to say anything to the proprietors face at the time. But they’re more than happy to go online, hide behind a fake name – like “Snic”- and pretend they’re the most worldly, hard to please person about.

    That said, you can learn a lot from Tripadvisor. Use it properly and inform others sensibly.

    That’s all I’m saying.

    Maybe I’m not that good at dealing with the Internet age.

  11. In other words: ‘We run a crappy hotel, and are tired of all the negative reviews that result from that.’ Assuming one is given immediate notice of this after reserving, and can cancel without charge, I would really appreciate being given this sort of advance warning. 😉

  12. Although the hotel’s policy of attempting to charge is both bogus and completely unenforceable, I do think there should be a better way for businesses to weed out reviews that are BOTH lousy and lies, or that they weren’t given a chance to make right. It makes me sick to read reviews where “the shower didn’t work but we couldn’t be bothered to tell management so we both just took a bath – one star.” It’s obviously easy to disregard that review upon reading it, but the single star drags down their star rating as a whole. “It rained the entire time we were there” is something that is out there stuck on the web for everyone to see that the hotel can do nothing about.

  13. Silly but sinister at the same time. If I’m unhappy with any aspect of a stay, I make my feelings known in the post stay survey well before leaving comments or reviews on any public forum.
    The better-run properties will respond, others never do . In the case of the latter they will invariably go into the ” please give us another chance” response in reply to posted reviews that are negative ( in that case why didn’t you go to the bother of responding to that effect BEFORE the review posted).
    I’m equally sceptical of the crazy OTT positive, rave reviews some place get: amazing, incredible, to die for, blah, blah, blah. Much of it non-specific crap on which no person could make a judgement about the prospects for a stay.

  14. “…which they were not given opportunity to rectify when or after the service was provided.”

    In other words, I can inform them of a bad service and if they do not rectify it to my liking, I can then post a bad review and be in the clear. Good luck actually enforcing this rule; because of providing evidence to trace my account to me.

    I can simply place a fraud alert or notify of a payment halt to my credit card company since this charge is not included on an invoice.

  15. My God, this is ridiculous!
    Of course there are many false or exaggerated reviews on Tripadvisor, but this doens’t justify the attitude of the hotel. Besides that, as has been said, unless you use your name, the hotel has no way of knowing who made the comment. It seems a way to intimidate customers and require good comments. Disgraceful..

  16. A bad review can have a terrible effect on a small (non chain) hotel or restaurant. This approach to prevent bad feedback is not helpful because it discourages people from making a reservation – better to take your chances and hope for better outcomes.

    That said, there are plenty of fake (good and bad) reviews on TripAdvisor. The worst hovel I have ever stayed at had a 4.5 star rating on Tripadvisor so it cuts both ways. When using these ratings you almost have to apply filters on the extremes in order to get a true idea of quality.

    My own experience with Amazon purchases is that negative product reviews are rarely consistent with the product.

  17. if you guys are reading positive reviews on tripadvisor you are not doing it right.

    first you look at overall rating then you read the worst reviews. how bad are they are they nitpicking nonsense ?

    a good hotel would have very little bad reviews and if they do it would be nitpicking nonsense that’s how I pick my hotels.

    I exclude hotels that have a whole bunch of valid bad reviews with serious problems and serious service lapses or bad attitude on the part of the management

  18. this is the price we pay living in a society, people have different reaction to the same subject matter. one person thinks it’s acceptable while to next person it;s horrible.
    TA reviews are just like people you run into at a mall, you are there for the same reason but you cannot take their input entirely. that’s society.

  19. I use TA religiously and participate as well – I’ve been reviewing hotels, restaurants, etc… for 10 years. When researching a hotel or restaurant, I look at the overall rating and the actual review – it’s easy to comprehend what review is legit or its someone with sour grapes. I also click on the review to see how active the reviewer is on the forum. If it’s a one off, I disregard immediately.

    If this hotel in England is threatening to charge guest who leave bad reviews, I assume automatically that the grievances are warranted. It’s different if the review is a fake reviews but if guest are leaving bad reviews, then there is smoke where there is fire. And just the sheer arrogance to have such a policy tells me that customer service is not their concern.

  20. Made my day! Where can I buy stock in this hotel?!?! Sounds like something you would see in the old BBC television sitcom “Faulty Towers”. Perhaps they’re planning on hiring John Cleese to once again play Basil, so he can shoot a disclosure video that prospective guests must watch prior to confirming their reservation.

  21. @Melissa
    There is no way you can enforce this because you are not required to give tripAdvisor your credit card when you make your account nor your actual identity. There is nothing that says I can’t create an account call MelissaThinksYourHotelSux to criticize the hotel.

    They obviously have not learned the lessons of others who have tried this. You will get destroyed by online reviews real or fake once you try to tell the internet they cannot do something. They will get 1 star reviews across the web that cannot be erased.

  22. That is shocking. I’d love to see them flooded with negative reviews after this. It would be such entertaining reading.

  23. This type of nonsense is absurd. I won’t give my business to a company that requires that type of payment. End of story. I honestly believe any company that goes after someone for a legitimate negative review should get slammed in court and have to pay damages to the person they went after. The only exception is if someone writes a deliberately malicious review. Like they claimed the hotel employee assaulted them, but then it turned out that it was all a complete fabrication. Or they give a negative review bashing the hotel, but then it turns out they never even were a guest at the property and they had a personal dispute with someone who works there. Any review that is legitimate (even if others don’t agree with the final rating) should stand. With a number of reviews people learn to write off the few negative ones if the majority of reviews give high ratings.

  24. I recently stayed at an IHG hotel (Crowne Plaza Cherry Hill) which was an absolute fiasco – I had everything go wrong, from not being checked in on time to housekeeping skipping my room. I contacted the hotel multiple times – I called the front desk to ask them for housekeeping, i called the front desk to ask them to send down security, I messaged IHG on twitter to ask them to put me in touch with the hotel manager. None of that worked – the front desk manager met with me, said she’d ‘get in touch with the manager’ when he was back at work the next day, then there was silence for the next two weeks. I got frustrated and posted reviews on Yelp, TripAdvisor, and a couple other sites. Lo and behold, literally an hour after my tripadvisor review goes live, I have a voicemail message from the manager, talking about how “i’ve been leaving reviews online” and “please call me so we can talk about it.” Which is all to say, I’m pretty sure most people who leave negative reviews do so when they have attempted to rectify the situation, but no effort has been made on the part of the hotel.

    Not to mention, that if a hotel provides good service, then they should believe their reviews would reflect that. The only reason you would be afraid of an honest review is if you had something to hide. And, given how many people read this blog, this hotel has probably just ensured they’re going to go out of business.

  25. Melissa, by the tone and words used I’m pretty sure you’d vote Trump… Then just remember how he’s run his business… and think of the fact that Melania ‘I copied Michelle Obama’ Trump could potentially be the First Lady (even though she’s not Donald’s first)…

  26. @Anastasia – “And, given how many people read this blog, this hotel has probably just ensured they’re going to go out of business.”

    I think you overestimate how many readers Lucky has.

  27. Eric has my vote! Small establishment that has issues they have no clue how to resolveand someone told them this would solve their problems! Unfortunately once the word gets out they will only succeed in loosing business.
    Anastasia would you mind explaining why, if you were so displeased with this hotel, what possessed you to remain there for two weeks! You are either a glutton for punishment, staying in some one horse town with no alternatives or you simply enjoy the sound of your own voice,

  28. Being in a hospitality related business I hear that you have no idea how many people out there are blackmailing operators with the threat of a bad online review. They find some nit picky little thing, maybe a hair on the bathroom floor, and go threaten management that if they aren’t given a huge discount, or even a free night, they will be posting a negative review. I am told by a cross section of owners that this happens quite freqently. Dispicable.

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