- A Hudson, New York, inn had a policy on its website imposing a fine for bad online reviews
- Internet users responded with a vengeance, posting negative comments and reviews on Yelp
- Language about the $500 penalty for bad reviews was removed from the inn's site
- Fine was "tongue-in-cheek," according to a Facebook post that was later removed
Threatening your guests rarely yields smiley happy reviews.
It's a lesson Union Street Guest House in Hudson, New York, learned Monday after the New York Post highlighted the hotel's attempt to fine wedding parties $500 for any negative online reviews posted by any members of their parties.
Hundreds of people took to Yelp.com on Monday to complain about the policy and write mostly fake, eviscerating reviews of the property. At one point Monday there were more than 700 reviews on Yelp, but the company had deleted many reviews by Monday afternoon because they didn't reflect "first-hand experiences," according to Yelp.
"Trying to prevent your customers from talking about their experiences is bad policy and, in this case, likely unenforceable anyway," Yelp said.
Screen shots of the policy, which had been removed from the hotel website as of Monday afternoon, read "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."
Apparently guests who don't like their stays at the guest house just don't understand the historic buildings or region, according to the hotel website.
"Please know that despite the fact that wedding couples love Hudson and our Inn, your friends and families may not," the website says. "This is due to the fact that your guests may not understand what we offer -- therefore we expect you to explain that to them. USGH & Hudson are historic. The buildings here are old (but restored).
"Our bathrooms and kitchens are designed to look old in an artistic 'vintage' way. Our furniture is mostly hip, period furniture that you would see in many design magazines. (although comfortable and functional -- obviously all beds are brand new.) If your guests are looking for a Marriott type hotel they may not like it here."
CNN.com called the inn repeatedly but only reached a busy signal, and an e-mailed request for comment was not returned.
The inn posted an explanation on its Facebook page, which was later removed. "The policy regarding wedding fines was put on our site as a tongue-in-cheek response to a wedding many years ago. It was meant to be taken down long ago and certainly was never enforced," the post said.
But one Yelp reviewer posted complaints about the policy last year after he posted a negative Yelp review. "The management of this hotel had the gall to email us twice to threaten us financially about the negative review!" wrote one reviewer, whose Yelp handle is Rabih Z.
He continues: "Here is an excerpt from their first email: 'please note that your recent on-line review of our Inn will cost the wedding party that left us a deposit $500. This money be charged via the deposit they have left us unless/until it is removed. Any other or future reviews will also be charged to the wedding party (bride & groom) from the guarantee they have provided us.'"
Other parts of the hotel's website are a little cranky, too. One example: "We reserve the right to cancel a reservation at any time for any reason." Another policy about cancellations: "If your stay is longer than 3 days we do not accept cancellations of any kind."
Positive online reviews equal more hotel revenue, said Josiah Mackenzie, director of ReviewPro, an online hospitality reputation management company.
"The answer is not to fine guests but to use feedback to make changes in your operations," he told CNN. "That leads to guests having happier experiences and sharing these reviews on these review sites."