By now, you’ve probably heard about the Union Street Guest House’s big online review controversy. The Hudson, NY hotel is getting slammed on social media for its reported policy of charging wedding parties $500 if a guest posts a negative review online. Since the New York Post reported on the policy, the hotel’s Yelp page has been flooded with complaints (the Union Street Guest house is claiming the “policy” was a joke).
Joke or not, Union Street’s reported policy doesn’t have everyone shaking their fists in anger. There are small hoteliers everywhere nodding approval, even if only among ourselves.
I’m a travel writer and a small lodging business owner. I work both sides of the check-in desk. I can’t speak for the Union Street Guest House, but I can tell you generally that when a small hotel has a whopping fee, it is its way of saying it doesn’t want your business if you plan on doing the thing it charges for. Hotels that charge fees for pets or smoking don’t want the fees; they sincerely don’t want pets or smoking in their facility.
Lobby at the Union Street Guesthouse in Hudson, New York (Photo: unionstreetguesthouse.com)
A fee for bad reviews isn’t about the money either. It’s about one hotel not wanting the headache of dealing with reviews that may not even be accurate or are written by someone who should have better aligned his expectations with his reservation. You may not know it, but most review sites censor management responses. We are not allowed to be nearly as negative as our reviewers are.
Union Street’s policies are proof that it has fought a battle with wedding guests that found the facility lacking. Think about this for a minute. You’re invited to your niece’s wedding at a hotel that she chose. She’s been there and seen the rooms and the grounds. She dealt with the proprietors. And she CHOSE them. You go to the wedding but find the hotel not to your liking, so you go home and write a nasty review about the very quirkiness that your niece fell in love with when she decided to have the most important day of her life take place there.
Yelp reviews for Union Street Guest House (Courtesy: Yelp.com)
It’s enough to make innkeepers grind their teeth at night! So they dream up fees and new policies.
The flurry of social media posts surrounding this hotel’s policy includes discussions of freedom of speech. No hotel can take away your rights at any price, but guess what? The freedom gate swings both ways. Businesses have the right to set their policies, and you have the right to stay elsewhere if you don’t like them.
There’s this hamburger joint in Dallas with Guy Fieri’s signature scrawled on the wall because he featured the place on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives. They have rules. And — gasp! — they don’t have highchairs. If you go there and don’t like the burger, that’s a reasonable review. But if you go there, read the rules on the door, including the one about crying children, go inside anyway and enjoy the best burger of your life, then go home and write a nasty review about the rules, that’s just whining.
Know the hotel policies before checking in (Photo: Thinkstock)
Review sites are designed to provide helpful information — emphasis on “helpful.” So in my dual rule of hotel owner and travel writer, here’s the helpful information you need to know about small hotels:
- We aren’t cookie-cutter chain hotels. We are all a little quirky. We do things our way; it’s our right as business owners. We can do silly things such as serve peas for breakfast if we want. (Or charge fees for things we don’t like.)
- It’s on you to know what you are renting. Read our website, including the policies page. Read reviews. If you don’t like peas for breakfast, then for crying out loud stay somewhere else, even if your niece loves the place. It would be far more civilized to stay down the road at a hotel that suits you and drive back and forth to the wedding events than to rip the place apart online when you get home.
- We really want to provide you with good service. It’s why we work 90 hours a week. It’s how we get good reviews. But you have to give us the chance. If something is wrong, give us the opportunity to fix it before you go home and write us up.
- Be accurate. If the time comes and you really feel the need to write a review, resist the temptation to exaggerate. Was your niece’s wedding really the worst weekend of your life?
And my advice to fellow innkeepers?
Embrace your quirkiness. Proclaim it loudly on your website. Give your nearest unquirky competitor a link on your site so Aunt Jane has options. And learn to write really good management responses.