Think there's nothing you can do about untrue, fraudulent or damaging reviews on websites? Victoria Symons outlines the options available to hospitality businesses and explains how to respond and seek redress
My hotel has received some reviews on websites that are untrue - and I have a pretty good idea where they have come from. Is there anything I can do to get them removed and is it possible to seek damages?
Turning to the position of the reviewer, in rare circumstances the posting may be so inappropriate as to warrant criminal investigation by the police. In other circumstances, it may be possible to bring a civil action for damages, but this would depend on being able to identify the reviewer, show that financial loss was suffered and that the loss was caused by the review.
Increasing concerns regarding the abuse of online reviews recently resulted in a group action being coordinated by more than 700 hoteliers and restaurateurs against one of the major website operators in the industry, claiming it should take more responsibility for the posting of fraudulent or defamatory reviews.
You mention you have an idea as to the source of the review. You should ask the operator to provide any details it may have to support your theory and, if you are clearly suffering financially as a result, it may be possible to seek an injunction forcing the operator to provide further information to trace the reviewer.
â- Contact the operator to ask for removal of the review, or the right to rebut.
â- Ask the operator for assistance in confirming the identity of the reviewer and consider action to force it to cooperate.
â- Consider contacting the reviewer, if there is sufficient evidence, with a letter before action and consider the basis of a claim.
As frustrating as the circumstances may be, it is essential to think before you act. Withdrawing your hotel from the website may result in a fall in business, and publishing falsified positive reviews to "drown out" the poor review is a dangerous strategy if they do not match the service provided.
In practice, the best way of minimising the impact of poor reviews is to encourage genuine guests to provide genuine reviews based on the excellent service provided.
Victoria Symons is a partner at Boodle Hatfield