Should one refrain from negatively reviewing a hotel? A recent incident has triggered this question. It all started when an American expat in Thailand was sued for leaving a negative review of a hotel online. Despite the hotel claiming to be accommodating to the guest and waiving a corkage fee he brought into the restaurant, the man used abusive language towards the staff and then left a negative review online. The hotel asked him to delete the review and, when he refused, a police report was filed. This caused the man to be arrested.
Wesley Barnes, the American guest, publicly apologised last month for his blunt online reviews of Sea View Koh Chang resort in Thailand. In exchange, the hotel promised it would drop the complaint that led authorities in Thailand to file criminal defamation charges against him. In his review, Barnes had written about encountering “unfriendly staff” who “act like they don’t want anyone here” after a stay at the resort, which is famed for its sandy beaches and turquoise waters. In another review that was taken down by the site for violating its guidelines, he accused the hotel of “modern day slavery”. After the resort sued Barnes, he spent two days in custody and was charged under Thailand’s strict defamation laws—the maximum sentence is two years along with a 200,000-baht ($6,300) fine.
With the tourism industry badly affected by the pandemic, reviews like these can do considerable damage to the reputation of a hotel. At a time when the industry is going all out to provide the best care and comfort to its guests, such incidents trigger an alarm, causing consumers to rethink if it’s safe to travel.
This isn’t the first time, however, that somebody has posted a critical review online. On portals like TripAdvisor and Google, it’s common to come across blunt and critical reviews of places travellers have visited. In fact, one can see travellers condemn everything on social media, be it airlines or hotels, criticising them for loss of baggage, among other complaints.
The use of social media for a wide spectrum of scenarios in tourism and hospitality and the influence of social media on consumers’ hotel decision-making process, however, remains little understood. Consumer behaviour and social media play an important role in tourism and hospitality, transforming the way tourists search, find and co-create information about products, and changing the way they make hotel-related decisions online. With the majority of bookings done through online channels, online reputation management works towards evading negative reviews, an inevitable element of the feedback process.
Then there is the question of the fake review. Do fake positive reviews propagated by influencers serve as bad publicity? In some cases, fake reviews can raise doubts based on content, services or authenticity built organically through years of hard work. Of course, living in the age of bots and followers, it’s only a software that can identify what the reality is. Also, based on different categories like cleanliness and service, the overall rating of a luxury property will be different from that of, say, a four-star hotel’s. The good news is most travellers return to a hotel that has particularly attentive staff or seems loyal to their brand value.
The Vienna Tourist Board works with influencers and media around the world, and welcomes their views on the city. “We don’t encourage anyone to create fake posts as, in the long run, that would be detrimental both to us, as well as our guests,” says Isabella Rauter, head, International Media Relations India, Vienna Tourist Board. “Citizens of Vienna love welcoming tourists to the city, as they understand the positive economic and cultural returns guests bring to the city and its people. Almost 95% of the 4,000 citizens polled welcomed tourists into Vienna. This welcoming attitude leads to positive feedback from tourists, as they experience the magic of Vienna’s heritage, culture, music, art and cuisine, as well as the modern, smart and eco-friendly facilities. Mercer, an American human resource consulting firm, has ranked Vienna as the most liveable city for 10 years.”