TripAdvisor Outsmarts Hotel, Posts Harsh Warning

Filed Under: Hotels

Several weeks ago an American was jailed in Thailand for negative reviews he left online about a hotel. Well, as reported by The New York Times, TripAdvisor has now taken action against this hotel, and the hotel isn’t happy about it.

How a traveler got jailed for an online review

Back in September an American man living in Thailand was being sued for reviews he left online about a hotel. I recommend checking out the original post for all the details, but essentially he had left harsh reviews that stemmed from a disagreement over a corkage fee, and it was enough to trigger Thailand’s defamation laws.

The man was arrested at the school he had been working at, was escorted 250km away, and then was jailed, before eventually being able to post bail.

While I do think his review was harsh, I think the fact that this is something that can lead to being jailed is on a completely different level.

How TripAdvisor defended the traveler

When this case escalated, TripAdvisor stepped up to help the traveler, even though he had posted negative reviews on multiple platforms:

  • TripAdvisor paid his legal fees and helped bring the two parties together
  • The hotel ended up dropping the complaint against the traveler after he made a “sincere apology” for his review; in a forced confession, the traveler apologized and thanked the hotel for forgiving him
  • The fine print of the agreement required the traveler to get an agreement from TripAdvisor that it wouldn’t post a “red badge” warning against the hotel
  • Sure enough, TripAdvisor did agree not to post a “red badge,” leading to the charges finally being dismissed last week, at which point the traveler’s passport and bail money were returned
  • The traveler has now left Thailand and returned to the US

How TripAdvisor took revenge

While TripAdvisor had agreed not to post a “red badge” for the hotel, the online review platform has instead done something else. TripAdvisor has added a one-of-a-kind warning on this hotel’s TripAdvisor page:

“This hotel or individuals associated with this hotel filed criminal charges against a Tripadvisor user in relation to the traveler writing and posting online reviews. The reviewer spent time in jail as a result. Tripadvisor serves its users best when travelers are free to share their opinions and experiences on our platform – both positive and negative. The hotel may have been exercising its legal rights under local law, however, it is our role to inform you so you may take this into consideration when researching your travel plans.”


The hotel isn’t happy about this warning

The hotel isn’t happy about the new notice on its TripAdvisor page, claiming the new warning is “deeply disappointing” and “extremely misleading and lacks complete information.” As a representative for the hotel explains:

“We fail to understand how Tripadvisor going back on their word, and not being impartial, is helpful to any of the parties involved in this case.”

TripAdvisor’s general counsel notes that it wasn’t a party in the settlement, and that its only commitment was to keeping the traveler out of prison:

“We have no agreement with the hotel. We sent a letter to Mr. Barnes taking steps to ensure his safety. We told the hotel the letter was accurate when they asked. We also have not violated any terms of the letter.”

Company representatives note that the settlement agreement tried to get the traveler to “convince Tripadvisor to stop acting like Tripadvisor,” and that’s not something that was going to happen.

Bottom line

Huge respect to TripAdvisor for how it handled this situation — the company helped out the traveler who was being punished for an online review, and is still warning travelers about the risk of posting reviews of this hotel. This is the right thing to do.

The hotel was clearly technically within its rights (per Thai law) to take things as far as it did, but it’s simply terrible business. You can only control the narrative about your business so much. I’m happy the hotel is being held accountable here for how it acted.

What do you make of how TripAdvisor handled this situation, and its warning about the hotel?

  1. One time move for TripAdvisor. Other hotels in the area will no longer make a similar agreement if this is to happen again.

  2. TripAdvisor seems to have done the right things and taken the right steps in this case, good for them.

  3. This guy deserved the trouble he got into. He lived there enough to know the situation, know the laws, broke the laws, and thought his foreign passport made him special. Considering he broke TripAdvisor’s rules in the process, I’m both shocked and bummed that they helped him out. I have 0 sympathy for this dude.

  4. This is likely a checkmate for TripAdvisor. The hotel’s play here was to intimidate travelers into never leaving negative reviews. This ultimately hurts TripAdvisor as their entire business model is predicated on people trusting that reviews are (mostly) truthful. From a business standpoint TripAdvisor had little choice but to be aggressive, and their action now intimidates hotels into not utilizing Thai law to go after guests who leave negative reviews. Hotels probably have little choice but to back down.

  5. US residents enjoy a level of free speech that the laws (or the mob) of many countries simply don’t allow. Unfortunately, many Americans wrongly think their right to free speech is guaranteed outside the US as well, by their citizenship. I feel bad for the reviewer, but kudos to TripAdvisor for doing the right thing. The hotel management also demonstrated their lack of knowledge on how social media and global business really work.

    I may not like what I see or experience but if I am not in my country of citizenship, then I am going to keep my opinion to myself unless it is a matter of life & death. My personal learning.

  6. So in Thailand it’s illegal to make a complaint ?
    What if you post the comment from overseas ?

    Can you imagine the Thai government attempting to extradite someone for complaining about the staff at a hotel and that the food was off

  7. No one deserves to be thrown in jail for a mere written negative opinion regardless of how “fake” the said review was! This was over the top cruel punishment and humiliating experience that doesn’t fit “the offense”!

    As a matter of principal, we as a family will never stay at this property even if it’s the only place on Koh Chang! I applaud TripAdvisor for this pro-speech pro-travel consumer move.

  8. The guy was a complete dork.

    Drunken misbehavior is not excusable, especially not if you are a guest in a foreign land.

  9. Ryan Smith:

    So what is exactly wrong with Tripadvisor letting people know “fuck around with this hotel and find out”?

    Oh, and personally I’m going to take Human Rights Watch (“Thailand’s use of criminal defamation is really off the charts”) over some rando commenter on Lucky’s blog when it comes to what’s reasonable about laws and how they are applied. Any number of inequities and outright shameful acts are within legal rights, while not particularly moral, ethical or wise.

  10. As a frequent visitor to Thailand and the owner of holiday accommodation in the UK that gets reviewed on TripAdvisor I can see both sides of this story.

    As I business owner I’ve had to defend my business from occasional negative reviews left on TripAdvisor by guests who were using the threat of a bad review to get money off or a discount on their stay. They are a small minority but can cause substantial damage to a small businesses income in the short term.

    I consider this guy to be in that minority. A corkage charge is common all over the world and he was wrong to leave such a review for a totally legitimate charge that was withdraw by the hotel anyway.

    Thailand has some of the strongest defamation laws in the world but they are rarely used, unless the deformation is against the Royal Family.

    This guy disrespected the manager and the business on a very public platform even after they had removed the disputed charge from the bill.

    He deserved to be taught a lesson. But jail? A bit harsh. However, visitors to foreign countries need to be aware that the laws are often quite different to their own countries. I do think the hotel owner could have been a little more media savy and not escalated this minor event into a fullblown arrest of the reviewer. I do understand the frustration and the damage the business suffered, especially after they accommodated this idiot’s demand to have a correct charge removed from the bill.

    As for TripAdvisor, they are a business in decline as more and more people realise the reviews can not be trusted as anyone can post a positive or negative review of a restaurant or hotel without ever having visited the place.

    I don’t think supporting this guy, who slandered an individual and a small business in public after they had pandered to his demand that a legitimate charge be removed from his bill will do anything to help their increasing irrelevance to the travelling public. And this small business has no recourse against a giant American corporation.

    A sorry state of affairs all round.

    This seems to be the course of life in 2020.

  11. @ Icarus their request would be denied. Even though extradition exist between countries, we would only extradite a citizen if what they did was illegal in the US as well. That’s why Amanda Knox was not sent back to Italy. She was found not guilty once, to send her back would violate double jeopardy laws in the US. In this case we wouldn’t send someone back because free speech is protected. As others have said if you are back in the US you can post all kinds of negative reviews…just don’t go back to Thailand.

  12. MM–Your suggestion that the guy wait until he was back on U.S soil might have merit, why in the world did you end the post with “Dope?” How did that contribute anything at all to your post and your otherwise valid opinion? MY opinion is that feeling the need to add “Dope” is the embodiment and an example of how something as potentially wonderful social media is and can be, really runs off the rails. Please have more respect to all of us and avoid unnecessary mean spirited name calling. Thank you.

  13. Good for TripAdvisor. This law is not conducive to their business – and frankly, the hotel blew it. Clearly they don’t understand that many of their guests are NOT Thai nationals, and international folks want honest reviews and feel like they should be able to say what they like online. Gross overreaction on the hotel’s part, not that I planned to go to Thailand anyway, but I would certainly not stay at this hotel if I do so in the future.

  14. The hotel followed local laws (Thailand) and what they did was technically right.
    TripAdvisor also followed local laws (US) and what they did was technically right as well.

    Seems like the hotel was playing games, and now they’re mad because TripAdvisor outplayed them.

    Also, seems funny that these Thai establishments want to earn foreign money but expect to censor us on our own turf (non-Thai website). They can either ban TripAdvisor in Thailand, which Thailand has every right to, or bite the bullet and accept that on foreign websites people can say whatever they want as long as it’s not against the website’s TOS. TripAdvisor is under no obligation to tacitly help hotels rip tourists off.

  15. I respect local laws to the degree if its truly awful like this I would not visit. That said TripAdvisor did a great service to let us know. Because how many of us understand or are aware of the local law when we visit the country. Many countries have terrible laws still on the books even though they no longer enforce it. So when a country do exercise that I personally would want to know about it. If someone is being an idiot on social media reviews that can be made evident very quickly and corrected in a respectful way. A hotel should know better and behave better.

  16. Thailand has strict defamation laws, but the entire lawsuit was based on a first borderline racist review which was then deleted by TripAdvisor for violating their ToS. He then posted another, less offensive review and now everyone thinks that’s why he got arrested for. It’s also noteworthy that the owner and GM are Prayut supporters.

  17. One side needs to back down already.

    Next they will ban Tripadvisor in Thailand.

    The Thai hotel could certainly raise a cvil case of defamation even in the US if they wanted.

    Nobody is going to win here.

  18. This guy is a jerk and well deserved the jail time. I encourage all those are backing him up to find out the true issues of this incident, he was acting like a jerk with entitlement, and hotel handled it well but this jerk made false accusation in order to damage hotel’s image and business so he deserves to be locked up in a foreign land.

  19. Agree in that this situation is unique because the traveler lived there so he should have known the local laws. It would be different if he was just a traveler and did not know better, but this reminds us that we are still subject to local laws overseas when we travel. Agree with the comments that many Americans expect the world to be setup or designed just like the US and it is not.

  20. @David

    But did you read the original review? It is borderline slander.

    Whilst criminal law and prison would certainly not be involved in the west, I don’t think any company would have trouble suing for damages/defamation/libel/slander in the civil courts.
    Whether or not such a case would be successful ultimately would with lay with the discretion of the court to asses loss of profit if any and statutes would be secondary (at least in the U.K.).

    Furthermore, I’m from the U.K. but I do practice law and I just read the US act you quoted and it states “ The law does not limit the ability of a person or business to file a civil cause of action for defamation, libel, slander, or any similar cause of action under State law.” Therefore, the act, which you quote does not mean they cannot file a civil case for the above mentioned reasons.

    Indeed the hotel in Thailand is not particularly legally savvy as has been demonstrated already, whilst they may or may not win a civil suit, there is nothing to prevent them from issuing proceedings!

  21. @K4

    I have not, and cannot find any copy of the original review. Have you read it? The “approved” review could reasonably be what he felt. I’m not sure about UK law, but it seems he could have argued honest opinion as a defence. Sure, you can start legal proceedings over anything as long as you have the money (as Trump has demonstrated with all his election lawsuits), even without merit.

    Look, I’m not trying to defend this specific person, as by all accounts he seems to be a scumbag, but if the hotel is going to use the “law of my land” justification, then there’s nothing wrong with Tripadvisor doing the same.

  22. Complete BS move on TripAdvisor’s part. I now no longer trust anything posted on their site, including reviews that “might” have been authored by actual participants. By sad enough to say, now part of the American culture following their short lived presidents lead. You support this @Lucky, then you are just as underhanded as them. I guess I now consider your reviews in the same light. You say you aren’t paid for them, but do you later get money? No different. Character in the USA is at an all time low. Even for the Banana Republic it has become.

  23. @K4

    That’s exactly my point; Tripadvisor (or a lot of American companies in general) need to stop playing God. They can do it until they get away with it but in the end they will face the worst problems.

    Likewise, the hotel should be able to accept honest criticism, but then again the law doesn’t have provisions to allow for loss of revenue just because someone doesn’t have a filter. If you cause loss or damage to an entity – expect to be sued at best and prosecuted at worst. Freedom of speech is one thing, speaking in a way that causes loss or damage to another is different.

    Finally, I won’t comment too much on the reviewer himself, because no matter what he wrote, he doesn’t deserve jail for essentially something that could even be fiction.

    My point is nobody is going to win, so they all need to stop.

  24. @K4: I rest my case, in true American egotism it is enough to disagree without conversation so therefore my post is wrong. I thank you for your justification that Americans are no longer worthy of any respect.

  25. Regardless if the review was objective or not, there needs to be a warning to tourists that a particular hotel has past history of litigating when someone post a negative review. It is a warning, nothing more, nothing less.

  26. Perfectly fine with tripadvisor doing this. I would never stay in a hotel that engages in jailing customers who leave negative reviews. The fact the hotel tried to extract concessions directly from tripadvisor before agreeing to the charges being dropped is sketchy as hell.

  27. @Lloyd – he seems like a real winner. “…he claimed that he was a federal agent while inside Bobby Baker’s Lounge at 7418 Wornall Road in Kansas City, Jackson County, Missouri, USA and showed a witness a handgun. He told the same story at Waldo Bar at 7438 Wornall Road and opened fired after being kicked out from the bar at about 1:00 a.m. on October 18, 2017. He opened fire again at 1:30 a.m. on the same day at the QuikTrip at 10232 Wornall Road.”

    At least he’s getting the attention he desperately craves.

  28. The guy who wrote the review was an a$$hole but trip advisor did the right thing here. Having someone jailed over a review, even if they are a cheap prick who can’t pay a corkage fee, is totally ridiculous.

  29. @Ray

    I get there is sarcasm in your post, but I can’t really make any sense of it.

    What exactly are you trying to say?

  30. @Bill:

    “This site is great.
    Fringe Travel News At A Time”

    I’d definitely demand a refund, Karen, I mean @Bill.
    You clicked on the article (at least to post your comment) and then complain that the site isn’t providing what you want…

    Once again, to quote the great Ricky Gervais: “… BUT I DON’T WANT GUITAR LESSONS!!”

  31. Its best to write such a review AFTER you’ve left, the hotel or the country as a lesson learnt from this guest’s experience.

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