/ Travel & Leisure

Have you been penalised for writing a hotel review?

Man working on laptop on hotel bed

Here’s something new – a hotel in Blackpool charged a guest £100 for leaving a negative review on TripAdvisor. The money has since been refunded, but has anything similar happened to you?

Online reviews are becoming increasingly valuable for businesses in the tourism industry.

More and more tourists are frequenting websites like TripAdvisor to see what previous customers think of certain holiday accommodations before deciding where to stay. So, it makes sense that many hotels, hostels and B&Bs are doing all they can to ensure customers leave positive reviews. But at least one hotel has taken this concept to an unexpected extreme.

A £100 fine for your views

It’s emerged that The Broadway Hotel in Blackpool charged a couple an extra £100 for leaving a bad review online after their stay. This charge was reportedly listed in the hotel’s booking policy document.

The couple furiously campaigned to get their money back. Tony and Jan Jenkinson from Whitehaven sought a refund via their credit card company after they were fined for describing the hotel as a ‘rotten stinking hovel’ on TripAdvisor. The hotel has since refunded the £100.

The hotel has also removed the policy after Blackpool Trading Standards warned it could breach unfair trading practice regulations. I imagine all the media attention that has stemmed from this will do far more damage to the hotel than a bad review could ever do.

In a statement to the BBC, the hotel said:

‘We exercised this policy with Mr and Mrs Jenkinson as we felt extremely upset by their actions and insulting comments towards our staff.

‘We agree there is room for improvement at our establishment and we desperately want to turn things around.’

Fined for a bad review

Which? lawyers have said that any clause in terms and conditions giving a hotel the right to charge a customer for writing a bad review could be challenged as unfair. In addition, if the policy is not part of the T&Cs then it was not part of the contact, so a hotel would have no right to do it.

We’ll be looking at this issue more thoroughly in the January issue of Which? Travel magazine. In the meantime, we’re keen to discover if any other hotels or B&Bs are adopting similar practices. Have you ever felt pressured to keep your (re)views to yourself? How about being incentivised to leave a positive review?


The idea behind Trip Advisor is that you review the hotel BEFORE you book it. That way you never enter a bad hotel.

This couple obviously only went onto the site after the based experience. I always stay in the top B&Bs and hotels. Never had a bad experience.

I often send e-mails to hotels before I arrive. I ask for a nice quiet room on a high floor away from the lifts etc, and crucially I give a link to my Tripadvisor profile, where they can see all the (mostly good) reviews I’ve written for every hotel I’ve stayed at in the last few years. Consequently I’m often upgraded and receive excellent service, with the result that my subsequent review is truthfully favourable.

I think that sending the hotel the link to your trip advisor profile is really brilliant, and will do it in future. Many thanks.

I think the murky world of hotel review sites needs a bit more detailed examination. I have read allegations that establishments can ‘buy’ the positioning of reviews on the websites so that none of the unfavourable ones appear in the first few pages, or, at all even. Hotels and guest houses are now in competition for ‘rewards’ from the review websites that will lead to their premises being given greater prominence in the search facility so they press customers to leave top-rate reviews. I have to say that many guests also leave a lot to be desired by their trashing of establishments both physically and verbally; they expect the Ritz at a bog-standard back-street boarding-house and then moan on a website if they don’t get it.

I go along with NFH – prior contact often leads to a better experience. I would prefer it if there were a completely disinterested organisation along the lines of Which? doing hotel reviews – the commercial connexions between the existing websites and the establishments means they are are always compromised. We used to be able to trust the star rating system but that has fallen into disrepute because places can administer their own scheme and award themselves as many stars as they think fit. In the UK, unless it has an official AA, RAC or national tourist board sign up the rating is meaningless, and evn then I question the judgments – given that only a handful of top hotels can achieve five stars, how can there be so many four-star hotels? The four-star band is far too wide between the worst and the best to be much of a guide these days. We rarely leave reviews as we usually find we are fully satisfied and get exactly what we ordered and paid for. On a very few occasions, however, we have submitted adverse reviews when the hotel fell well below the standards we were expecting and which they were advertising [and which was not apparent from reading any reviews]. The manager of one particular hotel in Kensington, part of one of the better international hotel groups, did actually respond to my comments with promises of improvement but we went somewhere else on the next occasion and have found a better place, in the same area, and have gone back there several times since. That has also been advantageous in terms of accommodation and prices. I hope this comment is not a hostage to fortune – we’re going there again in a couple of weeks’ time.

No, Like tipping, I only write a review if the service is excellent. As regards hotels, I always stay at the highest price I can afford – like so many things in life, you only get what you pay for. Oh, an exception to the latter rule is in cosmetics/skin-care where the cheapest is usually the best if it contains glycerol. or other humectant. High prices are “necessary” in this area because, here, people think the price means quality and it doesn’t..
Sorry if I miss the main point but I.m a newby.

Why not also write a review if the hotel is bad? Why not warn others to avoid the hotel or to avoid specific problematic rooms or floors? If everyone followed your approach, then Tripadvisor would only contains good reviews, which would mean that potential customers would be unable to identify bad hotels.

Also write a review if the Hotel is mediocre or just okay.
TA and othe rreview sites tend to be populated with superb and terrible reviews not much help when looking for a good value 1 night stay anywhere as long as it is “okay” and “nothing special”.

I am always suspicious of peoples reviews when their profile shows nothing but 5* ratings or 2* reviews.

I just wonder whether my review would make a difference to people in these days of hardship. Anyway, I never book on-line from advisors and in these days of hardship people do or have to seek “cheapest ” deal they can get. Sorry but I don’t use Tripadvisor, never heard of it. I book a hotel direct to the hotel without trawling for “best deals”- I just seek hotels where I want to go and then contact my choices. As regards helping others, that boils down to “caveat emptor”: let the buyer beware.
I have no comments re: Tripadvisor so I cannot comment plus or minus as regards their service..
I repeat I am a newby and think I’m out of my depth here.
I’ll just add a general comment which I think was said by the late Bob Monkhouse: “It’s not a bargain if you don’t need it”.
I cannot quote “am I my brother’ keeper” ‘cos the answer would be “yes” but I don’t think it refers to hotel choice.
Sorry, that’s the best I can do on this topic.

No hotel has asked me to write a favourable review, but where an online retailer asks me to give them five stars or make favourable comments, I make a point of mentioning this, along with other comments.

In my above, I qoted “It’s not a bargain if you don’t need it”. I missed out reference to hotels. Are 3x hotel meals per day a bargain? In my opinion defo no! Use the local cafes or restaurants.
Good kuck to all on your hotel choices.

Not a hotel for me, but a tradesman on Rated People. I had some work done by a landscape gardener, and while we were pleased with some aspects of his service–and indeed rated him as excellent on these, such as the quality of workmanship–also felt I had to be truthful about other aspects which needed improvement such as shoddy commmunication. The trader sent me an email saying he was ‘disappointed’ by my review particularly in light of the extras he did for us. To be fair to him, he had, but due to space constraints I had been unable toq add as much a I would have liked. However, I did agree to put something else in as an addendum. Unfortunately, the trader has taken such umbrage and is still not molllified, to the extent he refused to respond to any further communications from me, and crucially withheld the receipt and guarantee for the work he performed, that he had promised in the post. I have a duty to be fair and not just mindlessly tick all the superlative boxes simply because he asks me to, but based on my experience with him. Having initially decided to recommend him to friends as having done an overall good job, I now have serious reservations about a man who throws all his toys out of the pram when he encounters constructive criticism, and have a good mind to not do so now. The whole point of a review like this is to give honest feedback to both trader and future customers to make an informed decision about whether to use somebody.

The problem is, these characters pay to be listed on the find-a-sparky type sites – they don’t expect any criticism. I suspect that you have a legal entitlement to receive a receipt for payment and to any guarantee that you have the right to invoke at a future date. I would be inclined to give Trading Standards a call – they might be able to bring about a satisfactory resolution since this landscape gardener is clearly in need of some guidance on the potential consequences of his conduct.

Dare I say (oh I’m going to anyway) do not use the internet for reviews. Use the word of mouth to recommend good services to all you know might need them. If they are good then ask for a number of cards for yourself and anyone who might benefit.
I really boobed when I asked a question on-line. I could not get rid of them for weeks ‘cos the person answering kept virtually spamming me for a rating until I gave a rating of “excellent”. Without that I seemed to be permanently locked to the site and its e-mails. Cost was ridiculously high.
I use the internet daily but only for what I know I want. Afterall, your high rating might be my low. It’s a jungle out there on the net and we should not see it as the only means of communication although many organisations are making it their only means of comms – pity the people who haven’t got a computer or know how to switch one on.
Time to bring the internet back to earth and use any alternative to slow down this once-great function which is now becoming a nightmare for the excluded. “Snail-mail” is a slanderous lie and is the telephone dead?

Your suggestion to rely on word of mouth instead of reviews is absurd. If one is planning to stay in a hotel in a remote part of Greece for example, what are the chances of knowing someone who has stayed in one of the particular hotels in the area? I don’t think you’ve thought this through at all.

You seem to be criticising the internet in general. Being a “newbie” is no excuse for posting irrelevant rants. Your comments are not constructive, reasoned or helpful.

O.K. NFH I am not here to get into arguments. I agree to differ re recommendations although I understand your point.
As regards my “criticising the internet in general” defo no. I am concerned about non-computer owners and some blundering into expensive non-useful sites.
Will you be e-mailing your Christmas Cards? No answer needed.
I apologise for entering any submissions which you adjudge “not constructive, reasoned or helpful”.
I will try harder to meet your standards.
Thank you NFH.

You’ve missed the point; it’s not about my “standards”. This conversation is about bad reviews on Tripadvisor. However, you said in a post above “Sorry but I don’t use Tripadvisor, never heard of it” and you subsequently proceeded to rant about other topics. Please keep your posts on-topic. If you don’t understand the topic, then it’s best to post nothing rather than to misuse the conversation to rant about other topics.

Hi NFH and Ed. I’m stepping in here – as a regular commenter on here NFH I expect you to be welcoming to others. How else are we going to get more regulars than if we are kind to newbies?

Discussions about the value of leaving reviews on the internet, although on the outskirts, is still relevant to the topic at hand. Even though we like helpful comments, we’re very welcoming to rants. Rants can be very illuminating to a person’s POV and can lead to constructive comments form others.

If you ever think a comment is breaking our guidelines, report it. Do not proceed to break the guidelines yourself. Please lead by example.

Ed, here are our guidelines for your info: https://conversation.which.co.uk/commenting-guidelines

I trust this back and forth is at an end and we can carry on with the discussion.

Thanks Patrick. I am not at all discouraged from this very interesting site by anyone. I will avoid going off-track and am sorry for this (e.g. my comments on internet use in general). I did not intend to and will not continue on this topic except to say: if you want to know of a hotel in the middle-of-nowhere then just search “middle-of-nowhere” and up pops a list of hotels which can be contacted direct thus avoiding this problem of being sued for a bad review.That was my main point and I thought it valid although I should have left it at that. Oh, I do not think I was in serious breach of the conditions but did yap too much. As regards personal arguments I hate them as the proper way is good-mannered debate. Matter closed and over from me with no hard fellings towards anyone.

Ed F, thank you for bringing the discussion back on topic. However, I remain puzzled by your latest comment, “if you want to know of a hotel in the middle-of-nowhere then just search “middle-of-nowhere” and up pops a list of hotels which can be contacted direct thus avoiding this problem of being sued for a bad review“. Take the following scenario:

1. Search for hotel in an obscure part of Greece.
2. You find a hotel that meets your requirements, according to its web site, but which has very few or no useful reviews on Tripadvisor.
3. You book and subsequently stay in the hotel. It’s horrible and the hotel’s web site was misleading.
4. You write review on Tripadvisor in order to warn other travellers about the hotel’s shortcomings and misleading web site.
5. The hotel “fines” you for writing a bad review, as explained above.

How does your above approach avoid step 5? Am I missing something?

Polly says:
23 November 2014

I frequently write reviews on Trip Advisor and now have a status of senior reviewer or some such. I use the site when choosing a hotel in a location I don’t know and it just seems fair to add my own views to help others choose. I neither rave nor slate the places we stay at but try to give a view of what I liked and don’t like about the place. People don’t have the same taste so unless it was really dreadful (not happened so far) or outstandingly wonderful (we’ve found one) it seems best to describe what I found and let readers judge. I don’t tell hotels I do this – seems like cheating.

Thank you Polly for an honest and infomative post. My many thanks are for not insulting me for missing the “Tripadvisor” topic. You are a credit to your profession. and this site.

I like the idea suggested that Which run a trip advisor type service. We could be fairly confident that good ratings are true, and not distorted. If it made a bit of money for Which – why not?

Which could put in some added value for example that all the ‘terrible’ ratings were in 2013 for example, none this year. Again the ability of the author in terms of the number of favorable comments could be factored into the results.

I don’t think that a Tripadvisor-style service run by Which would be viable. When I look at a hotel on Tripadvisor, most of the reviews are not by UK residents, let alone Which members. Which members alone wouldn’t generate a sufficient number of reviews for the service to be useful, unlike Tripadvisor which enjoys worldwide coverage of hotels and global contributors. If Which sets up a worldwide hotel review system which becomes a global brand name like Tripadvisor, then fine, but if it’s UK-centric, then it’s not worth it.

Well I agree it might not be viable to undertake a worldwide review system and it probably would not be worthwhile for the freqquent international traveller considering multiple destinations every year. But it could be worthwhile in the UK, and by extension for a number of destinations popular with UK residents, including cruise ships, rail-based holidays, coach tours and certain package holidays. The present review and ratings systems are, to a greater or lesser extent, compromised and public confidence in them is waning. Perhaps, as a start, Which? could look at how wel-served we are by the present inland ratings system [AA, RAC, etc] used by a very large number of establishments; my feeling is that they are focussed too much on satisfying the proprietors [who pay for them] than on helping potential customers. As I mentioned previously, in my view the four-star category is far too broad to give good guidance. The fact that so many establishments award themselves their own star ratings, or with other hotels have set up a trade body to give an air of objectivity to a set of ratings in a town or district, is a concern. They are not misrepresenting anything, of course, but it can mislead people and brings the ‘official’ classification schemes into disrepute. Premises that do not subscribe to the ‘official’ ratings schemes are obviously not inspected by them and the only rough guide is the Trip Advisor type of website and occasional recommendations one might pick up in the media. An independent and totally disinterested inspection scheme covering places that are excluded from the AA, RAC, tourist board schemes would be very helpful to many holiday makers and people needing to stay somewhere for a short break [e.g. to attend a weddding or funeral] but want decent accommodation in a good location at a sensible price.

I don’t see the value in a UK-centric or UK-only review system. As a UK resident with a consequent home here, I have much less need for hotels in the UK than I have in other countries. For a review system to be as useful as Tripadvisor, it needs to be global, both in terms of coverage and contributors.

I was thinking that ‘Which Hotel?’ experts would do the inspections and write the reports just as they do for dishwashers.

With the number of hotels in existence, I don’t think this is viable or cost-effective. And how would tourist from outside the UK know about Which? For a review system to be effective, it has to be global.

Start simple in UK with Which Members for restaurants and hotels. I would be keen to see what other Which folks say. Later, allow non-members to join. Later still, allow places outside the UK to be added. Which can add value and do things that Trip Advisor (TA) does not like giving a statistical confidence figure, clearly if only one person has posted, the confidence will be low. Which could also rate the establishment and give a numeric score. So if all the local restaurants are poor, the number one might have a rating of less than 50%. With TA it has a rating of No 1, indicating wrongly it is good.

Eventually Which could award a white plaque, hugely more valuable than a TA window sticker. The establishment could pay for the plaque.

I have been trying to think of other ways of generating income to fund the project, but can’t as Which does not support advertising, it’s difficult

If at any time its not working. Cancel the whole thing.

There is the possibility of Which? teaming up with its counterparts worldwide to start a joint venture to do such hotel reviews. Even then, I still don’t think this would be feasible due to the fact that there will be so few reviewers for so many hotels. Take “Which? Local” as an example. I drive an Alfa Romeo and would only consider getting it serviced/repaired at an independent Italian car specialist. This type of garage is so specialised that no review exists on Which? Local for any such garage within a reasonable driving distance (i.e. anywhere in London and surrounding counties south of the river). There are instead, many reviews on other sites, simply because there are far more motorists who aren’t Which? members than are.

I have to stay in dozens of hotels every year and find the reviews on TA and the booking sites useful, but then, I use care in interpreting what is written. A little like above it is possible to get several well meaning people with different priorities attempting to offer judgement and seeming to differ widely in their assessments!

When I have stayed I leave a review and, guess what, as I have usually selected a hotel that suits my needs almost all of my reviews are positive.

As for star ratings I distrust them. Often I have found that a two or three star hotel with an enthusiastic and disciplined team will provide a better experience than a four or five star resting on its status.

I left a negative review for the ship inn at Fowey and I was charged 25 pounds the following day. When I followed it up they claimed I had broken a thermostat in the room (which obviously no one can prove now). I am not sure how if ever I can get the property to refund it.