Big brands and colossal companies spend small fortunes to protect their online reputations, so what's a small boutique hotel to do when it's worried about bad reviews? Well, for an object lesson in what not to do, consider the case of Hudson, New York's Union Street Guest House. By now, the broad strokes have been well established: The company had a ridiculous policy featured on its website, under which bad reviews were punishable with $500 fines. Here's the offending bit, before the hotel excised it from the web:
Naturally, the press found out and thoroughly poked at the hotel while disgruntled guests and trolls torpedoed the establishment's rating on Yelp. In a bid to calm those ravenous reviewers, though, the hotel may have committed the greatest sin of all: lying to cover its butt. You see, after the offending policy was removed the from website, a representative from the Union Street Guest House posted a response on Facebook (which, curiously, has also since been deleted) to refute the accusations:
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.
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.
Here's the thing, though: That doesn't actually appear to be the truth. According to an email conversation obtained by Engadget from a former guest, the USGH has attempted to fine at least one newly married couple for a scathing review left by one of their guests. From an email dated October 30, 2013:
One would hope that over time, the hotel would just suck it up, learn its lesson and move on. Not quite. An email sent the next month after more critical online feedback from the same guest illustrates just how seriously the Union Street Guest House considered this policy:
Eventually, the hotel owner personally joined the fray and apologized to the guests for a less-than-optimal stay. He explained that although he was saddened by the situation, the staff wouldn't issue a refund unless the negative reviews were pulled from the web. They weren't. In the end though, the hotel was sort of telling the truth: According to the guest, the couple was never actually charged the $500 fine, so the hotel didn't actually enforce its paranoid edict. Of course, that's not to say it didn't try for months before apparently giving up the fight.
You can't blame the folks at the USGH for trying to maintain a particular image. You can, however, blame them for being restrictive, overzealous and woefully misguided. We live in the future, where critiques and opinions streak across the web in an instant -- learn from them, take them to heart or ignore them, but know that you'll never really control them.
We've reached out to the Union Street Guest House for comment, and will update this story if we hear back.