This is never something I thought I’d have to explain, but I’m realizing that for some people who are new to the internet, the rules here may not be clear.
Fining patrons of your business for posting bad reviews online is the official “Ace In The Hole” of plans that will surely backfire. You honestly can’t go wrong if you’re looking to drive your business flat into the ground.
Take Union Street Guest House, for example.
It’s a little boutique hotel in the Hudson River Valley in Upstate New York, and it charges event bookers an extra $500 out of their deposit for every negative review posted of the hotel online, whether it’s from the event coordinators or their guests. This obviously includes weddings or other social gatherings booked at the venue. In fact, the kind folks at USGH even state this policy proudly and explicitly on the hotel website.
Please know that despite the fact that wedding couples love Hudson and our inn, your friends and families may not.
If you have booked the Inn for a wedding or other type of event anywhere in the region 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 of USGH placed on any internet site by anyone in your party and/or attending your wedding or event. If you stay here to attend a wedding anywhere in the area and leave us a negative review on any internet site you agree to a $500 fine for each negative review.
A trip back in history on the Union Street Guest House Yelp page, from before this story hit Page Six, shows a mixed bag. Some folks say the service is bad, while others say it’s a fine little place to stay. Trip Advisor, on the other hand, gives an overall good review for the hotel, ranking it first out of three hotels in the area and showing the majority of the 113 user reviews as excellent.
In other words, USGH was in the same boat as pretty much every other mediocre SMB trying to make a name on the internet. At the same time, small hotels live and die by the internet these days. With competition from Airbnb and more developed, well-known competitors, small hotels and B&Bs rely on the information that travelers can dig up on them.
So it makes sense that USGH would want to improve their Yelp page. What doesn’t make sense is bullying good reviews out of paying customers. The internet, historically, has never responded well to “shh.”
And so, USGH has received more reviews on Yelp today than it has during its entire time on Yelp. And each of them points to the fact that USGH will rip away your First Amendment rights or else make you pay for them.
Honey, folks. Not vinegar.
Luckily, not everyone in the hotel business is using technology for evil.
Update: In one of the saddest attempts at damage control I’ve ever seen, the USGH has made a comment via Facebook:
The policy regarding wedding fines was put on our site as a tongue-in-cheek response to a wedding many years ago. It was meant to be taken down long ago and certainly was never enforced.
However, emails referenced by former guests at the USGH show that this policy is (or at least was) no joke.
Update 2: USGH has deleted their Facebook response. We screen-capped it.