Jamie Morton

Jamie Morton is science reporter at the NZ Herald.

Malicious web review infuriates motelier

Tony Drinkwater. Photo / Alan Gibson
Tony Drinkwater. Photo / Alan Gibson

A Bay of Plenty motelier says his business was unfairly smeared by a disgruntled guest on review website TripAdvisor - prompting an industry outcry about similar cases.

Tony Drinkwater is getting legal advice after his Kaimai View Motel in Katikati was criticised online by a patron who, he says, arrived just before midnight and began banging on doors.

On checking out, he refused to pay the $195 a night he had been quoted for his group of four. He argued he should pay only the $160 rate given on the Automobile Association's travel website.

The dispute "got a bit nasty" when the man refused to sign his credit card slip and threatened to write a bad review of the motel on TripAdvisor, which claims to be the world's largest travel site, with more than 50 million customer reviews.

Mr Drinkwater said the man later cancelled his credit card and is trying to get his money refunded.

But he was more annoyed a review had since appeared on TripAdvisor describing him as "dishonest with pricing", while adding the rooms in the four-and-a-half-star motel were "very basic".

Under "Room Tip", the patron wrote: "No good room, go for another motel."

Mr Drinkwater said TripAdvisor had refused to delete the review, "even though I gave all of the details and it clearly showed that this review is deliberately malice and deliberately false".

"If you look at our other reviews, we've got a fantastic reputation."

While Mr Drinkwater posted a response to the review, the website's guidelines prevented him posting material to back it up.

"Obviously [bad reviews] can do a lot of damage to motels, but I think in this instance people are going to have some common sense and see this as not very nice ... but there's the odd person who doesn't see it that way."

His lawyers were investigating whether he had a case against the website.

Motel Association chief Michael Baines said the case was one of many where moteliers had been threatened with scathing reviews on TripAdvisor and other websites.

The association plans to issue a public statement this week urging prospective guests to be vigilant of malicious online comments.

"As an industry I'm sure we don't get it right all the time ... but more and more we see people saying, 'Hang on a tick, if you don't give us a discount, we'll write a bad review on TripAdvisor'. To me, that's nothing different from demanding money with menaces."

The association wrote to TripAdvisor when it received complaints, "but they're a multinational operating offshore - this is not a local thing, it's an international thing".

A recent report in Britain said more than 80 hotel and bed-and-breakfast owners had reported such threats from customers.

In one case cited by the Daily Telegraph, a guest asked for a 50 per cent discount in order to prevent a "one-star review" and false reports of theft and food poisoning.

- NZ Herald

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