A motel on the NSW south coast has been forced to close temporarily due a massive public backlash after it slugged a guest $50 for posting a critical online review.
The owners of the Ocean View Motel in Mollymook told news.com.au they have been inundated with threatening phone calls and fake bookings after the guest, Sharon Graham, said she was billed $50 for her "inaccurate" review of the accommodation on Booking.com.
Ms Graham gave the motel a score of six out of 10 after a recent two-night stay, noting the property was in a "good location but the room was a bit noisy".
She said the view from the room was "quite nice" but she was "surprised that the room was not serviced as I stayed for two nights".
"Not sure if that's what they normally do or it was just overlooked," Ms Graham wrote.
After the review was published, the manager of the motel sent Ms Graham another invoice for her stay, which included a $50 charge for "social media bookings false review".
The invoice said the charge would be "refunded if you remove the review within 24 hours. If not it will go towards legal proceedings".
Hours later the motel sent Ms Graham a third invoice that included another $50 fee for "administration letter writing".
The extra charges to Ms Graham have since been refunded.
But the motel's owners Rachelle and Graham Fulton told news.com.au they added the charges as they felt Ms Graham's review was misleading and didn't accurately reflect the quality of her stay.
They said Ms Graham's two-night booking did not include housekeeping and she was discounted accordingly.
"The guest did not put her housekeeping sign out. We could not enter her room without her sign," Ms Fulton told news.com.au.
"The guest did not contact us or Booking.com to ask for housekeeping during her stay. If the guest had of asked us for housekeeping we would have done this for her. Instead the guest went straight to social media first."
Ms Fulton said the business has received threatening calls and a barrage of fake online bookings since news of the $50 bad review fee – which was the first time they'd made such a charge – went public.
The intense fallout had forced them to temporarily shut down the motel.
"Due to all the threatening phone calls and fake phone bookings and fake online bookings we have had no choice but to close the business. Our whole system is gridlocked," she said.
"All we wanted was the guest to amend her review so it would not damage our business in the eyes of the public.
"It reached a breaking point … We had seven weeks of bushfires and major stress, we lost thousands of dollars in our peak season."
The listing on Booking.com, where the reviews were hosted, has now been taken down.
Previously in another instance, motel management threatened police and legal action against a reviewer who had mentioned they'd seen a cockroach on the premises.
The husband and wife team behind the motel, which has no other staff, said "just one bad review stops people" supporting businesses like theirs.
"We have many small businesses closing down in our area due to damaging reviews to restaurants, et cetera," Ms Fulton said.
"Just one bad review stops people going to the business.
"Behind every small business is a family struggling to stay positive and pay their bills.
"Negative reviews destroy people's lives and I am not sure that the public totally understands the severity of the impact from their quick negative reviews.
"This has gone viral online (and) we would have preferred the guest mediate first before going straight to social media."
Ms Graham was for comment.