Tripadvisor warns users over Thai hotel that sued guest for bad review

Site adds notice to resort’s listing setting out details of dispute that led to defamation arrest

Koh Chang island
The coast of Koh Chang island in southern Thailand. Photograph: Phusit wirutthanatporn/AP
The coast of Koh Chang island in southern Thailand. Photograph: Phusit wirutthanatporn/AP
Agence France-Presse in Bangkok

Last modified on Thu 12 Nov 2020 07.15 EST

Tripadvisor has placed a warning on a Thai resort’s listing after the resort sued an American expat over a negative review, briefly landing him in police custody.

In July, Wesley Barnes wrote of encountering “unfriendly staff” and accused the Sea View hotel and spa on Koh Chang island of “modern-day slavery”, following a dispute over a corkage fee.

The resort sued Barnes and he was held for two days after being arrested and charged under Thailand’s strict defamation laws. Barnes and the resort reached a settlement after a mediation session last month.

The notice added to Sea View’s Tripadvisor listing on Wednesday warns would-be guests of what happened to Barnes. “The hotel may have been exercising its legal rights under local law, however, it is our role to inform you so you may take this into consideration when researching your travel plans,” it states.

Tripadvisor said it had taken the “extraordinary action” of posting the warning so that other travellers were aware of the incident.

“Tripadvisor believes in the right of every traveller to write about their first-hand travelling experiences – good or bad,” a spokeswoman said. “Tripadvisor strongly opposes any action where a business, like the Sea View hotel and spa in Koh Chang, uses local law to send someone to jail for expressing their opinion.”

The hotel said it was “deeply disappointed” with Tripadvisor’s move, which it said would “create further confusion and reinitiate a closed case”. AFP has sought comment from Barnes.

Thailand’s tough criminal defamation laws have long drawn scrutiny from human rights and press freedom groups, who say it is used as a weapon to stifle free expression. The maximum sentence is two years in prison and a 200,000 baht (£5,000) fine.

Human Rights Watch’s Asia deputy director, Phil Robertson, said Thailand’s defamation laws were a “time-tested tool” to suppress critical opinions, and some businesses were willing to “sue at the drop of a hat”. He said: “It’s so very, very easy to file these cases with almost no evidence whatsoever.”