The Union Street Guest House in New York has taken the interesting step of threatening to fine guests that write bad reviews online. Yes, you are reading that correctly.

It’s certainly a first for customer relations as far as I’m aware; punishing people financially for expressing an opinion on their experience of the service.

I can just imagine the meeting now: ‘Our online reviews are pretty bad, how can we turn this around?”

“Improve our service?”

“Reduce our rates?”

“Introduce new services?”

“No, all too obvious. Let’s fine people for bad reviews. That will stop it!”

My first reaction on reading this was; Wow! Then I couldn’t understand how exactly the hotel was planning to fine people. However, I then discovered that the fine was aimed specifically at wedding guests.

So, to be clear, the policy suggested 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 of their wedding guests.

The policy, which has now been removed from the hotel’s website, is reported to have read: “There will be a $500 dollar fine that will be deducted from your deposit for every negative review of USGH place on any internet site by anyone in your party and/or attending your wedding even if you stay here to attend a wedding anywhere in the area and leave us a negative review on any internet site you agree to a $500 fine for each negative review.” 

In an attempt to justify the move, the hotel apparently added: “Please know that despite the fact that wedding couples love Hudson and our Inn, your friends and families may not. This is due to the fact that your guests may not understand what we offer – therefore we expect you to explain that to them.”

Unsurprisingly the policy has encouraged a series of negative comments and of course international notoriety across various media.

guest house Google search

So, if the objective was to reduce negative reviews and improve public perception in one well considered move that reflects the nature of open conversation with target customers and the community-based structure of the web, it’s a backfire of epic proportions.