National Post (Latest Edition)
Hotel gripe could land American in prison
A disgruntled American citizen and resort hotel patron in Thailand is facing serious legal consequences after leaving a negative review of his dining experience on TripAdvisor, the New York Times reports.
Wesley Barnes, who works in Thailand, became dissatisfied with his meal at the Sea View Koh Chang resort on the island of Koh Chang, when staff attempted to charge him a $15 corkage fee after Barnes brought his own bottle of alcohol to the table. After a verbal spat with a manager, Barnes took to the internet to complain about the experience — as North Americans are wont to do — detailing allegedly “unfriendly staff” who he claimed “act like they don’t want anyone here.”
But after Sea View staff got wind of the review, and subsequently failed to have it removed from Tripadvisor by the site or to make contact with Barnes himself, management made the decision to contact local authorities and file a complaint under Thailand’s strict defamation laws.
“The Sea View Resort owner filed a complaint that the defendant had posted unfair reviews on his hotel on the Tripadvisor website,” Koh Chang Police Colonel Thanapon Taemsara told AFP, noting that Barnes stood accused of causing “damage to the reputation of the hotel.”
Consequently, Barnes was arrested and spent a weekend in jail before being released on bail. If he is convicted of criminal defamation, he could be sentenced to up to two years in custody and fined up to 200,000 Baht (approximately C$8,486).
“We chose to file a complaint to serve as a deterrent, as we understood he may continue to write negative reviews week after week for the foreseeable future,” a rep for the hotel told CBS News.
But instead of preventing damage to the resort’s reputation, Barnes’ arrest has created a public- relations nightmare for the Sea View Koh Chang, garnering an explosion of negative online reviews, bad press, and even death threats, according to staff.
Thailand’s economy is largely fuelled by tourism, an industry hard- hit by the COVID-19 pandemic since the Thai government banned nearly all foreign nationals from entering the country until Oct. 1, with few exceptions.
The country’s defamation laws have long been criticized by human rights activists, who claim they are used to muzzle free speech in the country — and Barnes’ legal ordeal may make it challenging to attract foreigners when the country reopens.