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.
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?