Venting your frustration over a particularly bad holiday by writing a website review could cost you dear.
Legal experts are now giving advice on how critical your comments on the internet can be before they turn libellous.
Love it or loathe it, the American-based TripAdvisor website is very popular with holidaymakers.
They are increasingly choosing to ignore the glossy holiday brochure blurb, and are instead turning to the seemingly more honest review sites such as TripAdvisor when choosing a holiday.
Typical comments are: “Worst hotel in UK, possibly world”, “bathroom smelled like rotten eggs” and “going here is likely to give you nightmares if not food poisioning”.
There have already been some legal wranglings over postings on TripAdvisor, founded in February, 2000.
Richard Gollin, 64, who has a tiny B&B in the Outer Hebrides, launched a small claims action at Stornoway Sheriff Court over what he said were false and malicious criticisms of his guesthouse. He maintained the website lost him valuable bookings of around £2,000 by refusing to remove ‘untrue’ comments. He eventually decided to drop the action, however, as he could not afford to pursue the case in a higher court.
In another incident, a Blackpool Hotel charged a couple £100 after they posted a critical review on the site.
A guest house in New York also charged guests $500 for putting negative reviews online. But this backfired spectacularly. When the news broke, hundreds of mocking reviews appeared on the hotel’s TripAdvisor listing, including comments such as: “I sneezed once in the lobby and was charged a $250 cleaning fee.”
The guest house and the Blackpool hotel quickly changed their policies over charging for bad reviews, following a discussion with Trading Standards.
Sometimes the reviews are less than honest and are being used as a form of blackmail. Television’s Dragons’ Den panellist and hotel owner Duncan Bannatyne said: “People are coming to our hotels and threatening to write bad reviews to get money off their bills.”
In 2011 it emerged that TripAdvisor had blacklisted around 30 properties around the world for offering discounts to guests in exchange for a glowing endorsement.
The furore over travel reviews is not going away anytime soon. DAS Law says a business pursuing a claim for libel without a just cause could prove costly as they could face huge legal fees if they are unsuccessful.
“However, if a business is successful in a defamation case against you, they would generally be able to recover compensation, legal costs and get a court order instructing you to remove your review from the website and publish an apology,” said the company.
Holly Heath, a solicitor at DAS Law, said: “Like many aspects of law, common sense and truth are the watchwords. Whilst you’re entitled to express your views and post your opinions, be aware of the potential impact this may have on the hotel or business you stayed at. If your review is not truthful and has a negative financial impact, then your review could be considered libellous in a court.”