Wesley Barnes (picture), an American tourist, stays in the Sea View Resort in Thailand. After a dispute over a $15 (€12.70) corkage fee, he posts a review of the resort on Tripadvisor. But free speech is not a respected principle in Thailand. The hotel files criminal defamation charges against him, which could result in 15 years in prison.
However, Barnes is lucky that Tripadvisor assists him and pays his legal fees. Eventually, the hotel agrees to drop its complaint if Barnes makes a “sincere apology” for his reviews. That is what he does after having spent 2 nights in jail for criticizing the hotel online.
The fine print of the settlement also requires him to obtain an agreement from Tripadvisor. Therefore, he asks the company for a commitment that it would not post a “red badge” warning on the hotel’s page.
To get Barnes free, Tripadvisor gives him a letter promising the company would not post a “red badge” on the hotel’s page. But it goes against the company’s own practice of informing travelers. Therefore, TripAdvisor drafts a new type of warning that it posts on its website after Barnes has left Thailand. It goes hand in hand with a substantial drop in the hotel’s ranking on the website.
Once Barnes is safely out of Thailand, Tripadvisor takes action against the resort. The travel site posts the new type of warning on the hotel’s 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.”
Sea View Resort
Most likely, this is not what the Sea View Resort expected. Although Thailand is tourist-friendly in general, the country has an extensive anti-free-speech legislation. Recently, however, thousands of protesters have defied restrictions on free speech through huge demonstrations in Bangkok, Thailand’s capital.
Related: Penniless in Bangkok
Tags: Thailand, Tripadvisor, hotel review, free speech