New York hotel fines guests $500 for bad reviews on Yelp (updated)

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Updated 12:40 p.m. ET and 3:05 p.m. ET with comments from Yelp, Trip Advisor, and the hotel.

File this one under “hotels that don’t ‘get’ social media.”

A Hudson, New York hotel has an interesting policy for wedding guests: For every negative review left on Yelp, the company fines the bride and groom a hefty $500. The policy was first reported by Page Six.

The hotel in question, the Union Street Guest House, described the official policy on its website as a solution to unappreciative guests. Later, the hotel removed the warning and said it was just a joke. Here’s what the policy stated before it was removed [emphasis ours]:

If your guests are looking for a Marriott type hotel they may not like it here. Therefore: If you have booked the Inn for a wedding or other type of event anywhere in the region and given us a deposit of any kind for guests to stay at USGH there will be a $500 fine that will be deducted from your deposit for every negative review of USGH placed on any internet site by anyone in your party and/or attending your wedding or event

Kindly, the Union Street Guest House promised to refund this fee “once the review is taken down.” That’s nice. However, a quick look at the hotel’s Yelp page reveals significant backlash over the policy.

Here’s what the original warning looked like on the hotel’s site:

hotel yelp

Later, Yelp responded to the news, saying that its service exists to “warn consumers about bad business behavior such as this.” Here is Yelp’s statement, in full:

For ten years (this month), Yelp has provided a platform for people to exercise free speech and warn consumers about bad business behavior such as this. Yelp fights to protect free speech for consumers and against efforts to intimidate or stifle it. Trying to prevent your customers from talking about their experiences is bad policy and, in this case, likely unenforceable anyway.

We encourage people to share their first-hand experiences; reviews that are contributed as a result of media attention and do not reflect first-hand experiences run counter to Yelp’s Terms of Service and will be removed from the site.

Also reached for comment, hotel reviews site Trip Advisor issued a similar response:

It is completely against the spirit and policies of our site for any business owner to attempt to bully or intimidate reviewers who have had a negative experience. We have sent this property correspondence addressing that issue.

The Union Street Guest House did not return VentureBeat’s requests for comment on the matter by phone or email. The legality of this policy is not clear, but the incident is reminiscent of the case “Palmer v. Kleargear.com,” in which a retailer was charged for issuing a fine following a negative review, as one Reddit user pointed out.

More information:

Yelp (www.yelp.com) is a website that connects people with great local businesses. Yelp was founded in San Francisco in July 2004. Since then, Yelp communities have taken root in major metros in the United States, Canada, the United Ki... read more »

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