The Union Street Guest House in Hudson, New York has a strange policy. It charges guests who book weddings $500 for any negative reviews left on websites like Yelp by the wedding parties' guests.
On the hotel's Events & Weddings page, there's a section called "Reviews," which says:
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. USGH & Hudson are historic. The buildings here are old (but restored). Our bathrooms and kitchens are designed to look old in an artistic "vintage" way. Our furniture is mostly hip, period furniture that you would see in many design magazines. (although comfortable and functional - obviously all beds are brand new) If your guests are looking for a Marriott type hotel they may not like it here.
Therefore: If you have booked the Inn for a wedding or other type of event anywhere in the region and given us a deposit of any kind for guests to stay at USGH there will be a $500 fine that will be deducted from your deposit for every negative review of USGH placed on any internet site by anyone in your party and/or attending your wedding or event 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. (Please NOTE we will not charge this fee &/or will refund this fee once the review is taken down). Also, please note that we only request this of wedding parties and for the reasons explained above.
It's unclear how long this policy has been in effect, but it was brought to the world's attention on Monday thanks to a piece from The New York Post's Page Six, which says:
For any bad reviews that do make it online, the innkeepers aggressively post “mean spirited nonsense,” and “she made all of this up.”
In response to a review complaining of rude treatment over a bucket of ice, the proprietors shot back: “I know you guys wanted to hang out and get drunk for 2 days and that is fine. I was really really sorry that you showed up in the summer when it was 105 degrees . . . I was so so so sorry that our ice maker and fridge were not working and not accessible.”
Union Street Guest House currently has a one-star rating on Yelp. This is likely attributable to a slew o freshf one-star reviews slamming the establishment for its policy. A few samples:
This Guest House follows despicable practices of charging $500 for a negative review on Yelp. Shameful.
...Oh, and the proprietors are mentally disabled. They'll blame you (and even charge YOU $500) for every thing that goes wrong with other guests stays. Seriously, spend your money elsewhere.
...Think about it this way; forget the bad service, etc. why would you want to stay at a place that has a policy of fining a guest $500 for any bad review about their experience? Do you like having your freedom of speech censored?
There are many, many more where those came from. Among them, a Jonathan S. of Hudson, provides the following five-star review:
That's funny. Yelp doesn't publish real reviews I've gotten that are positive but they'll publish all these negative reviews from people that have never been to the establishment.
It looks like it's gotten quite a few one-star ratings on Facebook too:
The real question is how could this business expect something like this not to happen with such a ridiculous policy in place?
Yelp's policy makes it clear that users can't always withdraw the content they create, meaning that once those negative reviews are up, they can't always be eliminated, so anyone fined by Union Street Guest House could have a hard time getting their money back. Something tells me this policy will soon go away after this though. For the hotel, however, it might be too late to recover any semblance of a positive rating, unless Yelp gets rid of all the recent slams.
The hotel isn't commenting to any media outlets so far. We've reached out to Yelp for clarity on its own policy on this type of business behavior, and will update accordingly. We know they restrict compensating people for reviews. It seems like that should include negative compensation.
Either way, the policy has done plenty to quickly ruin the business' online reputation. In addition to all the new negative reviews, they also get the added benefit of all the articles about the policy showing up in search results. I wonder if all the money they've collected from negative reviews has been enough to offset the irreparable damage they've caused themselves. I'm guessing not.
Update: Here's the statement we got from Yelp: "For 10 years, Yelp has existed as a platform to alert consumers of bad business behavior such as this. Reviews that are found to be in violation of Yelp's Terms of Service or Content Guidelines, including those that are not based on a first-hand experience, may be removed from the site."
Update 2: Yelp sent us a second statement:
For ten years (this month), Yelp has provided a platform for people to exercise free speech and warn consumers about bad business behavior such as this. Yelp fights to protect free speech for consumers and against efforts to intimidate or stifle it. Trying to prevent your customers from talking about their experiences is bad policy and, in this case, likely unenforceable anyway.
We encourage people to share their first-hand experiences; reviews that are contributed as a result of media attention and do not reflect first-hand experiences run counter to Yelp's Terms of Service and will be removed from the site.
So it sounds like all the fresh reviews knocking the hotel's policy won't be sticking around. So far, they're still up, as is this new, glowing five-star review:
5/5 stars, came here to enjoy a nice wedding. I came expecting a modern high end hotel. instead it was "historic" which is a synonym for "old and overpriced." They claim their furniture is "hip and would be found in many design magazines." I think i spotted a nice chair in the lobby that I had seen at a flea market before. Luckily my stay was paid for so as they say, free is five stars!
apparently this hotel fines 500 dollars for negative reviews. I'm not quite sure how Union Street Guest House plans to enforce this policy, but it seems fair that 5 star reviews should receive some sort of compensation.
If you are reading this USGH management, please send 500 dollars as a reward. You can message me for the payment terms. I accept cash or bitcoin
Another five-star review says:
I'll give you guys 5 dumb stars, for being SO dumb.
Hope you've figured out by now how the internet works.
Best of luck.
Please send me $500 for writting a positive review.