Canada-based Hotel Quebec is suing a former guest for $95,000. The reason? The guest wrote a negative review on TripAdvisor exposing the bed bugs in his room and refused to remove the review.
Laurent Azoulay from Montreal stayed at the hotel in April this year, having booked a two-night stay at the hotel due to its proximity to a hockey tournament for his his eight-year-old son.
According to Azoulay, he woke up at 3am in his room to discover bed bugs were biting his legs. Azoulay approached the hotel staff regarding this incident, but since it was early in the morning and a weekend, all other rooms in the hotel were full. The hotel offered to move him to a nearby hotel.
But the guest didn't want to disturb his sleeping son, so remained in the room for the rest of the night.
Azoulay says in an audio interview with CBC:
"Not only did I see them (bed bugs), I videotaped them, I kept them in a glass and showed it to the front desk."
After the hockey game, Azoulay was offered a different room in the hotel, and he moved into it. The hotel also offered him a discount of $40 as compensation for the incident.
"This (offering $40 compensation) is insulting."
When Azoulay returned home, he wrote a negative review (with a one star rating) on TripAdvisor explaining the incident.
Hotel Quebec approached Azoulay to try and resolve the situation. But nothing materialised so the hotel has taken unusual step of suing Azoulay for $95,000.
A lawyer representing the hotel says in the CBC interview:
"We believe that the comments on TripAdvisor were put there not to warn or advice people of the problem, but because Mr Azoulay was not compensated the way he had requested the hotel to do so."
"For some reason, there was no bed bug in any other room in the hotel except for his room. It would seem that there were bed bugs in his room that night.
"Mr Azoulay sent a demand letter asking for three different things: 1) Compensation for $500 2) Excuses from the hotel 3) An interdiction to use any video or audio tape that was taken.
"Come and see us, we will show you how serious we are, we will show you what we are doing for bed bug, but never heard from him."
Tnooz approached Azoulay (via TripAdvisor and other social networks) to get his view on this incident, but he has not responded to requests for comment.
Amongst the 114 reviews for Hotel Quebec on TripAdvisor, apart for the review by Azoulay, the other 113 reviews do not mention any problems relating to bed bugs.
An official from Hotel Quebec says:
"Since this is a court case, I'm not allowed to speak about this situation."
TripAdvisor spokesperson James Key admits the company rarely hears about such measures being taken by hoteliers against guests who post negative reviews. However, it will not comment further on the case.
Tnooz spoke to Ravish Jhala, CTO of Leela Hotels and founder of the Indian HATT travel event, about the incident:
What you would have done if the same incident happened at your hotel? How you would have address this situation?
If I was the guest, I would not have gone so much overboard as the hotel understood the mistake and offered me one more chance to prove their service level, I would have given them a chance.
If I was the hotelier, I would have made sure that the guest is satisfied before he leaves the hotel.
This incident was mainly due to communication gap between guest and hotel staff, and secondly, not taking guest complaints seriously. It is all about common sense, I would have offered a complete room cleanup service in ten minutes and made sure that hygiene is taken care in front of the guest. I would have also helped guest to understand that there is no alternate room arrangement and the only option is to service the room and make it fresh for the night. On the second day, I would have transferred the guest to an alternate room or a higher category room.
Hotelier should make sure that communication channel flows from top-down and down-top to make sure most guests leave the hotel with good service memories.
It is not about the brand, but people make a difference in service industry. You need to have the right people to handle such situations.
Who is right in the above incident, Laurant or the hotel?
At first instance, Laurant is right because he has full rights to demand good hospitality for what he paid for. On an another note, the hotel was reactive and offered all best possible options to Laurant as service recovery, but it was too late.
Nowadays, are travellers scared to voice their (genuine) negative opinion about their hotel stays?
Social media should have rules and laws so that legal case on traveller reviews can be supported by those platforms. When failing to do so, those platforms can be closed to avoid such instances in future.
Nagesh Pathak, a senior level employee at a global hospitality brand adds:
"As per human psychology, there are four kinds of complaining-guest identified,
Guest needs recognition: When guest talks about reference. Example: Owners friend, GM friend, Leadership Committee Member friend etcGuest needs value for money: Does not want extra or free, but a good productGuest needs complimentary benefits: Guest looks for something extraGuest needs perfection/clear process: Guest is expecting what he has ordered with clear/proper process or perfection
We need to understand in which category the guest belongs to, and accordingly decide an action plan:
Guest can be offered a room change. If he does not agree, then the bed and mattress can be changed immediately, also someone from senior management needs to talk to the guest at the same time and let him realize that he is important and taken care by hotel.After posting on website: Someone senior from the management team needs to talk to him and request him to remove the post from TripAdvisor immediately."
This is clearly an interesting case and it triggers a number of questions around online review management:
- Under what circumstances can a hotel ask guests to remove reviews from sites such as TripAdvisor?
- When a customer has evidence (video tape, pictures) to prove his/her review, can a hotel still go ahead and sue the guest because of potential loss in business for the hotel?
- Assume a hotel sues a guest and wins the case to remove the review from the web - wouldn't this be seen as an example for all other hoteliers to sue guests who write negative reviews?
- Will such a case set a precedent that will put off guests from writing negative reviews?
Meanwhile, in another development, a hotel that topped TripAdvisor's "America's dirtiest hotel - 2011" list filed a $10 million lawsuit
against the travel website operator for defamation.
However, the 6th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati said:
"Travellers could not reasonably interpret the ranking as a statement that Grand Resort was in fact 'America's dirtiest hotel', and that website operators get broad protection from lawsuits over reader-generated reviews."
NB:Bed bug bite image via Shutterstock.