The Thai Hotel That Sent An American To Jail For Writing A Bad Review Now Has Special Warning

In September a hotel guest was jailed for writing bad reviews of the Sea View Resort & Spa, Kah Change. American working in Thailand who wrote the review was arrested at his job and jailed over a defamation lawsuit filed by the property.

He spent a couple of nights in jail before being able to post a 100,000 Baht (~ US$3165) bail. He faced up to two years in prison if convicted.

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.

Though the charges were eventually dropped by the hotel, the ability of a hospitality business to put a guest in jail over their online 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.

Now that the case is resolved TripAdvisor has created a special warning for anyone viewing the property on its site. At the top of the hotel’s TripAdvisor page there’s now a warning that guests there may be sent to jail if they stay and complain:

This hotel or individuals associated with this hotel filed criminal charges against a Tripadvisor user in relation to the traveler writing and posting online reviews. The reviewer spent time in jail as a result. Tripadvisor serves its users best when travelers are free to share their opinions and experiences on our platform – both positive and negative. The hotel may have been exercising its legal rights under local law, however, it is our role to inform you so you may take this into consideration when researching your travel plans.

Credit: Sea View Resort

In order for the hotel to drop the charges against the person writing the review, Tripadvisor had to agree not to put up a red badge warning on the property’s page. They didn’t. So they created a custom warning. It has an orange bar and black text, instead of red border and red text.

Once again the hotel is furious,

The warning comes with a penalty: a substantial drop in the hotel’s ranking on the website.

In its statement, the Sea View accused Tripadvisor of reneging on its commitment by posting the new notice.

“We fail to understand how Tripadvisor going back on their word, and not being impartial, is helpful to any of the parties involved in this case,” the hotel said.

TripAdvisor made a promise not to put up a red badge. The promise was made to the American reviewer, and he offered that promise as part of the deal for charges being dropped. TripAdvisor kept its word to the reviewer, and made no other commitment to the hotel.

One thing that strikes me as interesting in this: the negative review was clearly retaliatory for bad feelings at the property. Positive reviews are sometimes offered as thanks. That solves part of the mystery of why do people write reviews in the first place? There’s usually little benefit to the reviewer to do so, but when accurate and detailed (with photos!) can be a real public good for others.

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. The hotel deserved this. Management should be smart enough to know not to jail American tourists over a dumb corkage fee? I hope they fire all these idiots that were in charge. You don’t try to jail someone from a free country for words they type. Stupid stupid hotel, stay away

  2. Let’s be sensitive to other cultures and not call them stupid. We Americans have a very unique take on freedom of speech. As an American, I am proud of that. But it does not implore any other country to follow suit. Personally I’m glad the reviewer is out of jail, and while I won’t be staying or recommending the hotel that’s for sure, I will stop short of judgment based on American values. American values aren’t worldwide accepted.

  3. @Jason, totally agree. @Phillip, what is acceptable to you as an American in the US doesn’t mean that it is acceptable elsewhere in the world. That is where so many Americans get wrong with their lack of understanding of other cultures, rules, customs and especially laws. Not saying what the hotel did is right either. But have to see that the traveler initially is to blame.

  4. What the hotel did was over the top. The expat’s behaviour was not perfect either. The tale does serve as a warning for tourists though, not all countries enjoy the freedom of speech as it is in the States.

  5. This was stupid of the hotel. Did they really think they wouldn’t face any backlash for what they did. The guy seemed like an a**, but still doesn’t deserve to go to jail for what writing a review. If the hotel thinks they can just put people in jail they deserve what ever backlash they get. In my opinion a warning message on tripadvisor is a slap on the wrist.

    Most reasonable people know that some guests are unreasonable and take that into account when reading reviews.

  6. The hotel was the bad guy. But TripAdvisor is acting like a sneak, unethical lawyer. Shame on them.

    A more honorable thing for TripAdvisor to do would be to have a warning not to post negative things about the hotel. Rather it says “we agree not to post a red warning but post an orange warning. TripAdvisor could have solved the problem easily by removing the bad review and maybe putting a “censored” notice so that the man would not be in jail. For this, I consider TripAdvisor to be just as bad as the hotel.

    Someday a lawyer for the state police should post signs saying “Speed Limit 60, No Tickets EVER Written for Speeding”. Then when they catch you speeding, they seize you car. See, we told the truth, like TripAdvisor.

  7. Never going to stay at this property and I’m not going to trust any reviews I see of it given this is how they react to negative reviews. Also, I don’t care for the nonsense from people claiming we have to be sensitive to other cultures where their court system threatens to throw people into prison for two years over a negative review. No screw that. What’s wrong is wrong. People who spout that nonsense are the same ones who don’t have an issue if a foreign country executes someone for simply being gay. Cultures like that certainly deserve to be called out.

  8. I followed the story and it seemed like what the person wrote on tripadvisor was verging on malicious and untrue of the actual facts. But hey, in America people are never wrong. If anything, just chock it up to ‘fake news’ or my other favorite ‘my truth’ :-/

  9. @derek
    Adopting your logic, tripadvisor should censor all negative reviews on Thai hotels because those hotels could feasibly pursue criminal charges against guests. Do you understand the very purpose of tripadvisor and how it works?
    I actually find tripadvisor’s actions here pretty amusing:
    “We promise not to post a red notice”
    *creates orange notice specially*
    The hotel would have done well to seek better legal counsel before settling as this does seem to have been a pretty obvious course of action for tripadvisor.

  10. Seems more like the “ugly American” syndrome. Call it channeling Trump. Boorish behavior, retaliation, false regret – after a night in a jail.
    That said, it is ridiculous for a hotel to strong-arm a guest and use the law to silence criticism. Then again, this “land of smiles” is a contradiction of sorts. Wonderful peaceful people; a corrupt and medieval power-structure; archaic les majeste laws for an apathetic king who is the opposite of his late father; laws that tolerate degenerate Europeans/Americans to exploit young people for a much-needed influx of foreign tourist business.

  11. It’s black and white to me pay to use the hotel and if the service is bad keep your mouth shut and smile , the hotel is at fault for not telling the customer they will try to get you jailed for 3 years if you complain …I would not stay if the hotel paid me ….I don’t think the customer should spend years understanding the anal laws of a backward country …I’ve travelled many times and would stop in an instant if this was the norm ..well done Trip advisor .

  12. “I don’t think the customer should spend years understanding the anal laws of a backward country ”

    You just keep on believing that. You go to another country, it’s theirs. They do what they want with their laws, you are a guest. If you don’t like the anal laws of a ‘backward’ country, don’t go. Try smoking some weed in Singapore and see how much they give a s*** about your opinions of their laws.
    The arrogance and belief in exceptionalism is the death of America (also rapidly becoming a backward country).

  13. To a those who said “their country, their laws”. Lol stop there’s a limit, nazi Germany was their own country too maybe we should respect their genocide ? Also North Korea and China modern day prison camps? Yea no gtfo

  14. Good to see some Americans who understand the need to respect cultures and laws of other countries. If you do not like it, don’t visit.

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