Is the privacy of hotel reviewers protected?

CHIANG RAI, 11 January 2022: Most hoteliers shake off a negative review like water off a duck’s back, but just a few explode and threaten the reviewer with a fate worse than death for ruffling the hotel owner’s feathers.

(Additional information on TTR Weekly’s request for a response from Agoda added 12 January 2022. Agoda responded on 18 January. See the latest updated report with Agoda’s response below.)

The latest example of this silly behaviour saw a Thai hotel (located in Khao Yai 150 km northeast of Bangkok) lose its cool, last week, over a not so favourable review. It is likely to raise alarm bells for reviewers who can’t resist the temptation to pen a few home truths about the hotels they stay in when visiting Thailand.

Photo: https://websitetipsandtutorials.com.

At first, the hotel replied to the offending review posted on Agoda.com  with a standard thank you and we are endeavouring to improve the shortcomings mentioned. That was until someone higher up the hotel totem pole read it. They immediately demanded that the author remove the offending review from the Agoda.com booking site. To strengthen the argument, they also threatened the Thai reviewer with a THB3 million claim for damages and THB 50,000 for every day the review remained visible to cover the estimated revenue losses. Plus, they rolled out the standard demand ordering the reviewer to pay for apology advertisements in five Thai language newspapers for five days in a row if the reviewer wanted to avoid a painful and expensive day in court.

It’s not the first time a Thai hotel has gone on the attack and threatened a reviewer for defamation and loss of business in the land’s criminal and civil courts. In 2020 a hotel on Chang Island had the reviewer arrested for posting an offending piece on Tripadvisor. The foreign resident in Thailand who happened to be a teacher settled, but it made Tripadvisor scribes think carefully about the risks of posting an honest review about their hotel stay.

But this time around, we have to ask how did the hotel actually identify the reviewer and obtain their address and email to file their threat of legal action?

The reviewer apparently told her lawyer she had not requested Agoda.com to remove the post. Then who ordered and authorised the removal of the offending post on the booking website?

Of course, hotels should take criticism firmly on the chin and learn from the experience to rebuild their star rating on a booking site. To do otherwise makes a mountain out of a molehill that only fuels media attention and drives more readers to the offending review.

But the spat that erupted in local media leaves questions about protecting a reviewer’s privacy. Agoda.com invariably hides a reviewer’s identity and contact information. Therefore, we have to ask how the hotel could identify the author to serve notice demanding an apology and financial compensation?

Agoda and other review sites may not be entirely off the hook. In defamation cases,  both the author and the publisher are often on the firing line when demands reach a court. In this latest spat, did the hotel opt to target the small fry author rather than file a complaint with the mega online channel that published the offending review? Whatever, Agoda took it down, and we asked the global booking channel if they could clarify how it will protect the privacy of its reviewers going forward. Could clarification be in the mail?

12 January 2022 update:

TTR Weekly reached out to Agoda.com for a response and received confirmation that they had received our questions regarding the privacy and protection of reviewers.

18 January 2022 update:

Agoda responded with a clarification on its reviewer rules and procedures. See follow-up report.

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