Trip Advisor, Blackpool and the bad review

Wednesday 19th November 2014

Stephen McVey, a solicitor in the commercial litigation team looks at how a Blackpool hotel has been attempting to “fine” guests who leave a bad review on social media and travel websites. Click here to read the BBC article.

This shows what some hoteliers will do to try and control their reputation online.  In this case, the hotelier tried to impose a contractual provision in the booking documents allowing them to charge £100 on the guest’s credit card for every bad review.   A couple’s credit card was charged after they had posted a bad review on Trip Advisor.  It’s not surprising that Trading Standards became involved and the £100 is to be refunded by the credit card company, who will no doubt take it up with the hotelier.

As the hotel has found out, it can be extremely difficult to control your reputation online even if, in general, you are providing a good service to your customers.  The irony is that the novel steps they took damaged, rather than improved, their reputation.

So what can be done?

  • Tackle a negative review upfront. If there is an option to respond on the website, use it.
  • Treat the review as you would if the customer was sat in front of you.  Be constructive and, if there is any merit in what they say, explain what you are doing to put things right.  If there is no merit, stand your ground and put your point across professionally.
  • Close the complaint down.  Leaving your response open for further comments may result in an unseemly online argument.  Remember your other customers can see what you are saying.
  • Most review websites have their own user guidelines which are usually readily available.  Check them to see if the review breaches the guidelines.  If so, report it to the website; there is often a link on the review which allows you to do this.  Explain objectively why the review breaches the guidelines. Remember the website is there to allow customers to post both negative and positive reviews.  The website will not simply remove the review because it is negative.
  • If the review is defamatory, you can write to the customer explaining this and the consequences of them failing to remove the post.  There are however risks in doing so and the position should be carefully analysed before making a decision.  You can also look to the website and the website host provider to remove it on this basis.
  • Sometimes the best option is to do nothing.  If you receive lots of positive reviews, the occasional bad one can quickly be lost in the mists of time.