Expression of opinion vs defamation – bad TripAdvisor reviews

By January 8, 2015Uncategorized

Tony and Jan Jenkinson were fined £100 by the Broadway Hotel in Blackpool for a leaving a negative TripAdvisor review about it, where they described the hotel as a ‘rotten, stinking hovel’.

The hotel introduced a policy of charging people who left bad reviews with the hope of preventing customers from ‘defaming’ the business. After seeing the bad review, the hotel charged £100 to the couple’s credit card.

The hotel has now cancelled its policy after warning by Blackpool Trading Standards that it could be illegal and it has since refunded the £100 to Tony and Jan Jenkinson.

A further issue

Cases like this highlight a further problem with websites such as TripAdvisor and their effect on businesses. In its 14 years of existence, TripAdvisor has introduced the notion of public criticism of hotels, B&Bs and guesthouses that we are used to seeing for films or music. Although the case of Tony and Jenkinson, the bad review was genuine, the problem is that reviews on TripAdvisor can be posted without verification and so there is nothing stopping customers threatening bad reviews in order to get a discount.

We are left with trying to find a balance between someone’s ‘right to give fair comment’ and the reputation of a hotel, which could be unfairly tarnished if this ‘right to give fair comment’ was abused.

Final thoughts

It is unlikely, as we saw with the Broadway Hotel that hotels will be able to protect themselves from unfair reviews by introducing a policy, as this could be legally problematic. It seems a compromise between the consumer and the business is necessary, in that consumers provide genuine, honest opinions if they choose to leave a review, and for businesses to focus on improving the services they provide.