In Thailand, Being An Awful Hotel Guest Is Now A Criminal Offense

An American hotel guest was jailed for writing a bad hotel review. He had to wait a couple of days to make bail after the hotel pressed defamation charges.

It does seem like the guest was something of a jerk on the property, making a scene over his unwillingness to pay a corkage fee to drink his own alcohol in the hotel’s restaurant (the hotel says they waived the fee). This guest’s perspective on a hotel may not match yours, so you may want to discount their one star review. The property did a good job responding to the review, I thought, painting the guest as unreasonable and difficult to please.

However the ability of a hotel to put a guest in jail over their hotel review points to a fundamental issue with the Thai legal system, and puts us all on warning over the things we write after a holiday in the so-called Land of Smiles.

After the incident started to receive broad coverage the hotel went on a P.R. offensive, telling ‘its side of the story.’ Multiple commenters referenced the Bangkok Post followup, and a handful of readers emailed the story to me as well. One comment suggested I “should revise [my] post” and another read the story and sided with the hotel, “sometimes you have to do what you have to do.”

I disagree vehemently. Here’s what I quoted from a review left on TripAdvisor,

The staff was not friendly. Nobody could smile. The restaurant manager was very rude and full of himself. He is from the Czech republic. There are other hotels with better-friendlier staff. Avoid this place as if it was the Coronavirus!

Let’s take this one piece at a time.

  • “The staff was not friendly.” This is opinion
  • “Nobody could smile.” This is likely an exaggeration, but reflects the guest’s subjective experience.
  • “The restaurant manager was very rude and full of himself.” Again, opinion.
  • “He is from the Czech republic.” That’s a statement of fact, and it’s unclear whether it’s in error, however it isn’t defamatory in any case.
  • “There are other hotels with better-friendlier staff.” Opinion
  • “Avoid this place as if it was the Coronavirus!” A personal recommendation

There aren’t any knowingly false statements that damage the reputation of the hotel here.

Now let’s look at the hotel’s side of the story which amounts to: this was an awful guest, and he was airing opinions over and over that they deemed to be unfair.

The gist of it is,

  • The hotel says the man “continued to post comments that were completely untrue.” (The hotel disagrees with the guest’s subjective opinion.)

  • The guest continued to post reviews on multiple sites.

  • He claimed that staff at the hotel are badly treated (and used the hyperbolic framing of ‘modern slavery’) however there were no specifics or factual claims surrounding this conclusion that could be false.

  • The hotel which pressed these charges itself admits, “that the defamation law may be viewed as excessive for this situation.”

Being an awful guest is reason for a property to ask someone to leave, and to ask someone not to come back. It shouldn’t be a criminal offense. And even if the guest wrote something false that was damaging to the reputation of the hotel, and the property could show harm, at most there should be a civil cause of action. The guest should not spend time in jail pending bail, and face additional jail time as the result of a trial.

For what it’s worth, the hotel guest has his own response to the hotel, though I don’t think it adds much to the discussion.

There’s a dispute between a guest and the hotel. It doesn’t seem like it ought to be legally actionable to me. Even if you disagree, surely we can find common ground that it shouldn’t be considered criminal?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. A good reason to get home before writing any negative reviews about Thai hotels. Still, the laws are ridiculous.

  2. Here is the problem. Gary, you are using USA-centric standards and USA principles of law. The laws in Thailand are different. Every traveler should be aware of the laws in the countries they are visiting. Yes, criminal action is overkill, and the hotel even says this. But (according to the hotel) they reached out to him to get some kind of truce or accommodation, but he simply posted angry things about the hotel on more and more sites. The hotel couldn’t let it go. And they had the law on their side. It’s Thailand. I remember this advice I got before the first time I visited Thailand: BE CAREFUL – IN THAILAND YOU CAN DO ANYTHING YOU WANT, BUT YOU CAN’T SAY ANYTHING YOU WANT. IT’S THE OPPOSITE OF THE USA, WHERE YOU CAN SAY ANYTHING YOU WANT, BUT YOU CAN’T DO ANYTHING YOU WANT.

  3. Criminal is overreach, to put it mildly. Though it sounds like this guy was looking for trouble and found it.

  4. This guest was a jerk. He posted under different identities. He took the managers loud voice to link a situation to “slavery.” (Not good in today’s world). And he failed to contact the resort regarding their concerns about his first post. Additionally, he admits that he and his friend were drinking on the beach and didn’t want to drive to dinner. A BOTTLE of gin in a restaurant. I am surprised they even let him in. He is the definition of an “Ugly American.” Next time, he should be aware of the laws in the country he is traveling. If he was smoking pot in the Middle East, he could still be in jail.

  5. Interesting story
    If we had that law in the us trip advisor would bite the dust
    It’s already heavily censored as since it was sold years ago the push to sell revenue rooms made it a conflict of interest to have highly negative or critical reviews
    So they ban many reviews without real transparent guidelines it’s bizarre
    So if the current administration were to sign a similar policy into law it will stop the critics from speaking out & end some of the self entitlement with travelers fearful of being jailed if they speak their mind

  6. I think the accusation about slavery might be actionable in the US as well, although as Gary points out it would be a civil matter.

    @Don I think your advice is good but I don’t see anything wrong with commenting (even critically) on laws in other countries. Anyone’s opinion of any situation will be [insert name of country] centric and those reading the opinion should take that into account. But there is nothing wrong with having a discussion of matters outside your own country.

  7. Expending public resources to prosecute reviews of private businesses is wrong. The hotel’s overreaction to this situation lends credence to the guest’s claims. One or two bad reviews out of many is par for the course with any business.

    Regardless of who is being accurate, the hotel did itself no favors by putting a guest in jail and making this incident an international news story. I don’t think many would choose to stay at any hotel with a reputation for putting guests in jail for complaining (rightly or wrongly) about a bad experience.

  8. An American, I first went to Thailand in the late 1970’s. I have been innumerable times since then (at least 20 maybe 30 times) on 7-20 day vacations and business in Bangkok, Koh Samui, Phuket and Pattaya & places in between. What I can tell you is this, the Thai people are among the kindest, friendliest, most considerate and hospitable people you will ever meet. The country is absolutely gorgeous, exotic and very safe. You will never feel nervous in venturing out, male or female in my experience. And when you need help, as I sometimes do now after 30+ years have passed me by, there’s always someone to lend a hand, be it in your hotel, or on an internal airline’s flight, with you bags, or crossing a street corner. Did I mention how incredibly reasonable, and sometimes downright cheap, hotels are, even 5 star rated bargains. The same is true for food, transportation, beauty treatments and spas, tailors and excursions. I was in Samui last April, 2019, and my wife and I rented our usual cottage style 1 bedroom villa, directly on the oceanfront, for $149 per night which included a huge breakfast buffet and omelet station. I could go on and on but my point is when you read something like this person’s rant, it’s really an anomaly. Don’t l;et it stop you from going to Thailand, you will fall in love with the country, I assure you. And when you return home, you’ll be hoping to return again. And your wallet or purse will still be a little fuller as well.

  9. I think the hotel and government’s reaction is excessive, and at the same time think the guy was dumb for putting it on a review site while he was still there. When you are on the property, take the complaint to management. If they won’t address it, complain later on reviews and social media – after you are out of their reach if in a place where you don’t understand the law.

  10. I totally agree with J.Kelly.
    I myself have been numerous times and it is true, the people are friendly, kind and full of smiles.

  11. The uncouth American. You can say what you want, but there can be ramifications. Even in America you can not spout off without the possibility of swallowing your teeth. Whats this guys address in the states?

  12. I’ve been to Thailand several times every hotel I stayed in was accommodating and willing to please me any problems that may come up staff was willing to go out there way they’re way to make me happy. Before I went to Thailand I brush up on their laws so I will not have any problems while visiting Always follow the rules of the house when visiting someone else house I don’t like the rules don’t go back

  13. Moral of the story is don’t post lies on the Internet. If so be prepared to accept the legal consequences. I think the hotel has tried to reason with this individual and when he refused to remove the comments, intentionally posted on more than one platforms, it took legal action against him. This is very reasonable to me. If someone defamed me or my business, I would defend it to the fullest extent of the law.

  14. I guess Gary has no travelled much, he does not realize other countries have their own laws. Why doesn’t he go to China and try to protest against the government and see how that goes?
    Or is he just an ‘ugly American’ as well?

  15. @Don
    Did you realize that this is the law-abiding way to resolve an issue? Furthermore it was not a Thai person, rather a Czech person, who asked the Thai authorities to investigate. Hmm. So is the conclusion that Westerners, Americans and Czechs being western, are ruining the world?

  16. You got it partly correct. But The reviewer would say the following: What was left out is that the reviewer had already paid 6800 baht to stay in the hotel (btw not the 2000 the hotel posted he paid); he along with his friend (not a group of friends the hotel said in one post) spent 45 minutes to go to the beach and decided to eat at the restaurant. Not wanting to spend another 45 minutes to go back to their room first to drop off the bottle they walked in and the waitress saw the bottle and told them there was a 500 baht corkage fee. He admitted he complained but AGREED to pay the fee. They then sat down at their table. They never started drinking until it was agreed on. So it was settled. The waitress apparently told the manager they didn’t want to pay so he came out with an attitude and they all got in to it a little with the result being the manager let them drink with no corkage fee. Why? this is BS. He should have kicked them out or pay the fee so there is a lot of smoke here on the hotel side in my view. If the guy was drunk you kick him out. You don’t let him stay and drink more. Now since we weren’t there why is the hotel side any better than the reviewer side? The hotel made a few claims that are not accurate. Maybe the guy though, thought wtf I thought this was settled and out comes the manager with an attitude. This guy has posted a few replies that some suggest show an attitude so it is pure speculation who to believe. Then he alleges he saw the same manager chew out an employee in public and that is when he decided enough was enough. And he did the review. I have traveled all over the world. I have stayed in a ton of shithole hotels. When you are in the middle of nowhere it happens. I don’t waste my time writing a negative review. Something must have happened to set this guy off and as far as writing reviews on all the sites why not? They each have different customers. There is a lot lot more to this story. I spoke with the hotel spokesperson 3 times. He told me they would drop the charge if the reviews were deleted. I told him Barnes agreed to do that. I also sent a message on their FB site saying the same thing. I got no response. I suggested they jointly put out a press report saying there was a misunderstanding and all is well. Lastly, you forgot to add that the initial review was REJECTED by Trip Advisor in an email to Barnes that I have a copy of. So the hotel knew that and filed a complaint anyway. And what is also not mentioned is that in the second review posted to TA (I assume because the first one was denied) none of the 3 accusations (xenophobia, covid or slavery) was even included but it was this review that the manager responded even saying he knew his customers would not take it seriously. So much more.

  17. I think yu have it backwards. The reviewer sent Barrow his side of the story after he got arrested. THEN the hotel replied. Just saying. And what this really does is set a precedent that ANY negative review is now a target for defamation action. There are thousands of negative reviews on the booking sites that could be considered negative. Where does the negative rating come in? 9, 8, 7, 6,where? Who decides? Although Barrow has already posted this is not the first case of retaliation by a hotel. So , by going after this guy other hotels may think wtf why not. Maybe I can extract some money from this guy. A review cannot be half pregnant. Either it is a negative review or not. So if I post a review saying you forgot to leave me my towels. Hope it doesn’t happen again that is a negative review. People can laugh all they want but it is what it is-defamatory. Look up the Thai defamation Sec 326 and 328. You can google it. And defamation seems to be whatever the defamed claims it is. Ridiculous. Of course that mean all those Thai Visa posters should be going to jail soon I guess. lol It’s a ridiculous situation. Trip Advisor is to blame as well. They actually sent out an email asking everyone to go visit the place after saying they didn’t approve of the defamation complaint. They should delist any hotel that does this. It was a fucking review. A review is an opinion not a fact. And the hotel gets to respond. Absolute whores not wanting to lose out on the commissions. This whole thing should have been stopped in its tracks by higher ups. And it could have ended days ago. Why didn’t it?

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