When feedback attacks: Hotel fines couple £100 for Trip Advisor review

20th Nov 2014

It’s said that no publicity is bad publicity, but does this apply to online reviews?

A segment of the hospitality sector doesn’t think so, and after months of deliberating the pros and cons of restricting customers from negative online reviews, the Broadway Hotel in Blackpool has played the role of guinea pig, and in the process caused a minor media storm by charging a Cumbrian couple £100 for posting an undesirable Trip Advisor review.

Tony and Jan Jenkinson were travelling from Whitehaven to Oxford and made a snap decision to stop off for a night in the hotel before continuing their journey the next day.

After their stay they posted a review on Trip Advisor describing the hotel as a “rotten stinking hovel”. The Broadway subsequently charged the £100 because the couple had failed to notice a clause in the contract they’d signed for their stay stipulating the banning of negative reviews.

The hotel’s policy contained the following small-print:

"Despite the fact that repeat customers and couples love our hotel, your friends and family may not. For every bad review left on any website, the group organiser will be charged a maximum £100 per review."

Mr and Mrs. Jenkinson made a complaint to Blackpool Trading Standards who upon investigating the clause, were told by the hotel they planned to remove it from future guest contracts

While the case may be an extreme one, there’s no denying that online reviews are an increasingly murky world for service providers and hoteliers, in particular, to have to navigate through.

In response to The Broadway’s policy revelation, Claire Smith, president of hoteliers group Stay Blackpool criticised the hotel’s actions, saying: “It doesn’t seem a very moral thing to do and I have never heard of anything like this before. You can’t go around charging people if they have had a bad stay and given you a bad review.”

However, she also sympathised with the wider issue of people abusing online reviews for personal gain, adding, “we have had people phoning up and asking for a discount. When we refuse they threaten to give us a bad review on Trip Advisor. Something like that can have a serious effect on a business.”

In contrast, a number of customer service commentators have been quick to denounce the actions of any business that might consider restricting their customers from giving feedback online, regardless of its content:

"Those who fail to grasp the value of customer feedback shouldn’t be in business,” said Phillip Smith, retail expert and UK country manager at Trusted Shops. “Doling out fines to visitors who’ve expressed negative views is a failsafe way to alienate an audience and prove good service isn’t a priority.

“In an age where online reviews have become a powerful weapon in the battle for our hearts, minds and more importantly, our wallets, businesses should embrace feedback using closed review platforms. Otherwise consumers will seek alternative channels like TripAdvisor and Twitter to potentially tarnish the brand.”

The possibility of customers being fined for reviews first raised its head back in March, when a bride was almost sued over a review of her wedding photographer in which she commented negatively on the value of the service.

The Jenkinsons’ have called the action an attack on freedom of speech, however, Jan Vels Jenson, CMO at Trustpilot believes it shows a lack of understanding about feedback’s role in improving customer service:

“Businesses must reach out to all customers, not just the ones who are likely to be happy. Every type of customer should be empowered to review their business as not all customers are the same and consumers are more likely to believe reviews if they mirror the experience they have had or expect to have with a business.

“Our research shows that 95% of unhappy customers will return if an issue is resolved quickly and efficiently. All reviews, both the good and the bad, open up possibilities to build credibility, popularity and reputation.”

Recent stats also showed that 89% of British consumers are influenced by negative reviews. 

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