'It was a joke': Hotel owner claims misunderstanding over fining guests for bad reviews

The owner of a US hotel that threatened to charge guests $US500 ($A537) if they wrote a bad review has taken to social media to explain that it was a gag gone wrong.

Chris Wagoner, owner of the Union Street Guest House, posted to the hotel's Facebook page explaining the policy was "originally intended as a joke" and something he never told employees to enforce.

Wagoner's explanation follows hundreds of angry posts made on social media sites and accommodation review sites slamming the $US500 ($A537) fee for every negative review a guest makes. While Wagoner says the hotel has not enforced the policy fee, Rabih Zahnan. who was a guest at the hotel, claimed he was threatened with a charge for a negative review he posted online.

Rabih Zahnan said in a November 2013 post on hotel review site Yelp: 

"The management of this hotel had the gall to email us twice to threaten us financially about the negative review! 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.'

Disgusting! Instead of taking responsibility and striving to improve their customer service, they instead resort to intimidation!"

The offending policy outlines that a couple looking to book a wedding at the hotel will have a fine deducted from their deposit for every negative review the hotel receives from any wedding guests. It also applies to guests who stay at the hotel to attend a wedding in the area who post a bad review.

Wagoner admits he was "embarrassed" the joke went "viral for all the wrong reasons" and accepts that posting the joke to the hotel's website meant "it did represent an official policy" of the hotel and that it was a "mistake" to do so. 


"I now realize this joke was made in poor taste and not at all funny. This is no longer a policy of Union Street Guest House and we have taken it off of our website," he explained in the Facebook post.

The unrelenting criticism the hotel has since received has been an eye-opener for Wagoner who states he is a "novice when it comes to the internet and digital communication".

Wagoner writes: "The internet, social media and review sites are very powerful platforms and this situation has taught me valuable lessons about them. 

"Feedback from our guests is very important to us. I admit that at times it can be tough to see a negative review and I could do a better job of taking that criticism in stride. 

"We value each and every one of you and want to hear about your experience with Union Street Guest House, even if it's a negative experience. Your reviews give us an opportunity to improve our service and make the Union Street Guest House experience better for everyone."

Wagoner concludes his "apology" by offering guests "a 10% discount on a visit to Union Street Guest House within the next three months" to make good the misunderstanding over the $US500 ($A537) fine joke.

"All of the team here at Union Street Guest House invites you to come visit us in Hudson, New York, and give us a chance to show you who we really are," he writes.

He signs off with: "And I encourage you to leave a review about your experience (positive or negative) after your stay."

Like the poor joke, Wagoner's post has not been well received with hundreds taking to the hotel's Facebook page to express their continuing disgust and outrage.

Andrew Davis, who was first to comment, says: "Here comes the trolls in 3..2..1..". Davis' post was then followed by 166 posts which, on the majority, slammed Wagoner's apology.

Cameron Misnick posted: "You cannot fix what you have done, Chris".

Shelley Miller Galbraith posted: "Have you read the refund policy and some of the other policies of this guest house? No thank you".

However some commenters are willing to give Wagoner and his hotel a second chance.

Sascha Coldcuts posted: "Name change? Not likely. No one will [care] by Friday and if he plays it right he'll have new customers. What's it gonna take for this guy to be forgiven? If he's honestly sorry he'll treat people with respect. If he's just saying all this b/c he's got egg on his face now he'll lose more customers. I say give the business a chance to make improvements. That is the whole point of Yelp".

Union Street Guest House responded to this comment with "thank you Sascha. We are using this as an opportunity to review all of our policies".

One commenter used the opportunity to poke a little fun at the situation, posting a picture of John Cleese from Fawlty Towers with the words "Under new management".