Hotel Bites Internet – Internet Bites Back

Online reviews are a modern-day fact of life for any company operating in the hospitality industry, but an Internet maelstrom erupted on Monday when one hotel’s surprising response to that reality was brought to light.

Namely, the Union Street Guest House in upstate New York threatened to charge those who booked wedding parties at the venue US$500 for every bad review posted online by any of their guests — or at least it did until Monday morning.

“Please know that despite the fact that wedding couples love Hudson and our inn, your friends and families may not,” read a policy on its website exposed in the early hours of Monday by the New York Post.

“If you have booked the inn for a wedding or other type of event … and given us a deposit of any kind for guests to stay at USGH … there will be a $500 fine that will be deducted from your deposit for every negative review … placed on any Internet site by anyone in your party,” the warning read.

The stated policy was captured and posted by a commentator on the hotel’s Facebook page:

Union Street Guest House Facebook post

‘A Tongue-in-Cheek Response’

The hotel’s Web page no longer mentions the fine, however, and an anonymous respondent to an inquiry CRM Buyer emailed both to the hotel’s general and events email addresses suggests that the hotel was “just kidding” about the original policy.

“The policy regarding wedding fines was put on our site as a tongue-in-cheek response to a wedding many years ago,” the respondent wrote. “It was meant to be taken down long ago and certainly was never enforced.”

By press time, CRM Buyer had received no answer to a follow-up inquiry requesting the respondent’s name and title at the hotel.

The hotel finally did manage to get around to changing the language on its website, though:

Union Street Guest House

Meanwhile, by late afternoon on Monday the hotel apparently had not made any attempt to respond to numerous related attacks and inquiries on Facebook.

‘Charged to the Wedding Party’

The hotel has been bludgeoned by countless negative Yelp reviews since the story broke, and at least some of them suggest it has in fact attempted to enforce its original stated policy.

“The management of this hotel had the gall to email us twice to threaten us financially about the negative review!” wrote Rabih Z. late last year, for example.

“Here is an excerpt from their first email: ‘Please note that your recent on-line review of our Inn will cost the wedding party that left us a deposit $500. This money be charged via the deposit they have left us unless/until it is removed. Any other or future reviews will also be charged to the wedding party (bride & groom) from the guarantee they have provided us.'”

‘A Big Game of Whac-a-Mole’

Such a policy is “clueless,” Paul Gillin, blogger, podcaster and author of Attack of the Customers, told CRM Buyer.

“Why would you have a policy like this?” he wondered. “If you were booking an event, why would you do it at a place that would fine you?”

Also evident is a “complete misunderstanding of the fact that you can’t control this stuff,” Gillin noted. “There have been more than 40 new reviews in the last 20 minutes.

“People in travel should know that the Internet is a big game of Whac-a-Mole — you can hit one place, but they’ll pop up in another, even more angry,” he said.

In short, the policy was “a lame, stupid idea,” Gillin concluded. “It’s kind of sad, but they’re getting what they deserve.”

‘Caught With Their Pants Down’

The Union Street Guest House isn’t the first to try strong-arm tactics to prevent negative reviews, said Greg Sterling, founder and principal analyst with Sterling Market Intelligence.

“In the end, this sort of thing doesn’t work,” he told CRM Buyer.

“I find this practice of fining negative reviews counterproductive,” said e-commerce and social media consultant Rob Abdul. “Potential future customers will not be able to trust the validity of the reviews if a system to punish negative reviews is in place.”

Bottom line: “They’ve been caught with their pants down,” customer service expert, professional speaker and bestselling author Shep Hyken told CRM Buyer.

“It’s amazing that companies actually do this type of thing,” Hyken said. “I understand why they’re concerned, but they’re making the rule up for a very small percentage of people that are probably going to complain no matter where they go or what they do.

“We all hate to get a negative review, but there’s always an opportunity to respond,” he added. “I encourage companies that get a negative one to respond and address the issue, and hopefully get the customer to follow up with a positive one.”

In other words, Hyken concluded, “if they give you a second chance, don’t mess it up.”

Katherine Noyes has been reporting on business and technology for decades. You can find her on Twitter and Google+.

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