In the case of one hotel, the customer isn’t always right, as a resort in Thailand is taking legal action against a guest who left a negative review on a travel booking website.
On Dec. 19, a guest named Khing expressed dissatisfaction with her deluxe room at the Ozone Hotel located near Khao Yai National Park. Given its close proximity to the capital Bangkok, travellers regularly frequent the mountain park, a UNESCO World Heritage site that was also a filming location for Leonardo DiCaprio’s movie The Beach.
In her Agoda review, which scored the hotel 6/10 but has since been removed, Khing described the resort as being “too expensive” and falling short of expectations.
“The room did not look new as it was advertised,” Khing wrote, adding that it was dirty and hotel staff were unhelpful. “I could not call reception from my room, so I had to walk down by myself. Night-shift staffers were not so helpful, but some were welcoming.” She was also not impressed by the forested mountain views. “The room’s view was just okay,” Khing said, comparing it to other resorts in the vicinity.
The resort initially posted a short, apologetic response to Khing’s review on Agoda. But management later seemed to have a change of heart when they served her with an official notice telling her to delete the review and publish a public apology in five Thai-language newspapers for seven days, or pay hefty compensation.
“She was told by the resort to delete the review comment immediately, or else she must pay the resort 50,000 Thai baht [$1,500] per day in compensation and 3 million [$90,000) for the damages,” her lawyer wrote, adding that if she didn’t pay, she’d face a criminal lawsuit.
The case is now pending, and it’s unclear whether Khing plans to comply with the demands.
Khao Yai National Park. Photo: Mladen ANTONOV / AFP
The case is the second of its kind in Thailand, where defamation is a criminal rather than civil matter. Even if criticism is deemed truthful or fair, this does not necessarily protect someone from legal action in Thailand.
In a similar incident that played out in 2020, another hotel—this time on the Thai holiday island of Koh Chang—threatened legal action against an American tourist named Wesley Barnes. Barnes had left repeated negative reviews about the hotel on TripAdvisor and other travel websites, including one alluding to “slavery” occurring at the hotel.
He was later arrested by the authorities following the defamation complaint and spent a weekend in jail. Charges against Barnes were eventually dismissed after Barnes issued a public apology in which he conceded that he had gotten “carried away.”
But TripAdvisor took the unusual step of posting a warning on its page for the hotel. “This hotel or individuals associated with this hotel filed criminal charges against a TripAdvisor user in relation to the traveller writing and posting online reviews. The reviewer spent time in jail as a result,” the warning stated, the first of its kind on the site.
“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.”
Speaking to VICE World News, Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch in Asia, highlighted the problematic nature of criminal defamation laws in Thailand, where legal harassment by “those with resources” is “easily used” to shut down legitimate criticism.
“There’s absolutely no excuse for this resort owners’ outrageous and unacceptable effort to censor a critical review of their site,” he said.
He also called on Agoda and other travel websites to bar hotel and resort owners who resort to legal action against guests and travellers.
“Sadly, only when resort owners like this one understand that their business will suffer because of such actions, will they finally desist from them.”
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