Reviews on Tripadvisor, a travel and tourism website which had more than 450 million unique visitors a month in 2019, are often a way for travellers to draw on experiences of those who have visited a place, dined at an eatery or stayed at a hotel.
For this reason, they are immensely popular with frequent travellers who turn to reviews to find out if a hotel or a restaurant, or indeed other tourism related activity, will meet their expectations.
For the same reason, favourable reviews are much sought after by hoteliers and restaurateurs and there have been innumerable cases of critical comments leading to improvements in the facility under scrutiny.
All that may change at least as far as the tourism industry in Thailand is concerned, with the owner of a resort in Koh Chang island choosing to prosecute an American tourist who wrote an unflattering Tripadvisor review.
According to the review posted in July for his stay at a time when the tourism industry was gasping for survival, the tourist described the staff of the Sea View resort as “unfriendly” and said they “act like they don’t want anyone here.”
The resort complained to police that he had posted an unfair review which had caused damage to its reputation.
The complaint filed under Thailand’s harsh antidefamation laws, which have often been termed as a weapon to curb free expression, led to the tourist, an expatriate settled in Thailand, to be arrested by immigration police before his eventual release on bail.
Before the Covid epidemic shattered tourism around the world, Thailand depended hugely on its earnings from this sector. Including indirect receipts, tourism was said to contribute almost a fifth to the country’s Gross Domestic Product last year and was estimated to grow to 30 per cent by 2030.
The country last year attracted nearly 40 million tourists and in the World Economic Forum’s Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report a few years ago, it was ranked 35th out of 141 countries while another survey ranked Bangkok as the world’s second most visited city after London. In a world where most tourists make their bookings online, and where they often base their choices on the opinions of other travellers, reviews on travel sites are a useful aid to decision-making.
It is axiomatic for a review to be sometimes harsh, and to perhaps even be prejudiced by factors that the reviewer does not admit to.
But that is a part of the unwritten contract a service provider must accept. If Thailand, a country which is already working hard to reopen itself to tourism, gains a reputation for coercing favourable reviews from travellers on threat of prosecution, it will ultimately pay a price.
The country’s tourism authority would do well to discourage complaints of the sort preferred by the resort in Koh Chang.