Editor’s view: a route to easy money

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3 minutes

Good Hotel Guide editor Adam Raphael riles against the ease with which TripAdvisor allows hotel guests to blackmail hoteliers into unwarranted compensation – or face a negative, dishonest review.

The impunity with which TripAdvisor (T)] allows its website to be used as a forum for publishing defamatory comments by guests about hotels they dislike, but which often have little basis in fact, is shameful. As an instrument for extortion by guests who threaten to post an adverse review if their demand for compensation is not met, it is easy money because most hotels will pay up to avoid reputational damage.

Exaggerated? A typical GHG rant? Please read on. Mr Mitesh Sheth, who describes himself as a financial controller, stayed for two nights with his fiancé at DANNAH FARM earlier this year. A small, simple B&B on a working farm near Belper, Derbyshire, it is liked by GHG readers, which is why it has a shortlist entry in both our print and web editions.

Mr Sheth, however, did not enjoy himself and emailed a long list of complaints, ranging from racism to voyeurism a few days after his stay, none of which he had complained about while at Dannah though he was frequently asked whether everything was ok. His email ended with a threat: ‘I will review your retreat on TripAdvisor as I am sure that it would inform others what to truly expect.’

His criticisms were promptly responded to with courtesy and in great detail by Dannah Farm’s owners, Joan and Martin Slack, who offered a £99 refund. That fell short of the £285 that Mr Sheth was demanding. He appeared, however, to have accepted this compromise: ‘Please refund the £99 to my card as offered. Let’s draw a line under this. I wish you and Martin the best of luck in your future at Dannah.’

A few days later, however, Mr Sheth posted a review on TripAdvisor accusing Dannah Farm’s owners of being ‘racist, ignorant perverts’. This was taken down after the Slacks protested. However, it was soon replaced by another review, again written by Mr Sheth, which alleged amongst other things that they were ‘racist’ ‘voyeurs’ and that they ’employed illegal child labour’. The only fact quoted for the allegation of racism was that he and his fiancé had been asked whether they wanted a vegetarian breakfast. ‘How offensive. Just because me and my girlfriend are Asian, you assume we are vegetarian.’ The allegation of voyeurism was based on the fact that a tractor driven by Martin Slack, had gone past while Mr Sheth and his fiancé had been taking a hot tub.

Mr and Mrs Slack were now advised by their insurance company to issue a ‘cease and desist’ letter to stop these defamatory statements being repeated. Mr Sheth replied saying that he was prepared to discuss an out-of-court settlement which would involve Dannah Farm paying him £736 in addition to the £99 compensation it had already paid, in return for which he would remove his review. TripAdvisor now weighed into the row warning Dannah Farm that because they were pressuring reviewers to remove adverse comments, a penalty had been issued to its listing. ‘Please discontinue any attempts to subvert our system immediately,’ wrote TA’s hilariously named ‘Content Integrity Support Team’.

Mr and Mrs Slack don’t have either the time or resources to sue Mr Sheth or force TA to see reason. But help may be at hand. The Competition and Markets Authority is conducting a review of the practices of online review websites. It certainly should look at TripAdvisor, which routinely publishes defamatory comments about hotels and B&Bs, often written by anonymous reviewers, secure in the knowledge that as a US based company, it cannot be sued in the British courts.

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