Quick—In today’s social media environment what is your worst nightmare? You might have picked being rated No. 1 on TripAdvisor’s annual list of the dirtiest hotels in America. And TripAdvisor promotes itself as having the world’s “most trusted travel advice.” Further, the list made the rounds not only on the referenced website but also on CNN, ABC, NBC and others. Yikes!
The hapless hotel was The Grand Resort and Convention Center in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. Its response? Hell no, that ain’t so! It sued for defamation. The Grand Resort claimed TripAdvisor relied on “unsubstantiated rumors and grossly distorted ratings.” Also, the resort alleged that the website used a flawed rating system and “overstates the level of trust that can be placed in defendant’s reviews.” Indeed, the readers of this column would probably all agree that an anonymous and unscientific rating system should never be the basis for destroying a facility’s business and reputation.
So how DOES TripAdvisor make its selections? The site relies solely on customer reviews; it does not conduct any investigations, it does not inquire about customer assessments, and considers for the dirtiest list only those hotels that receive comments on its site.
Sounds like The Grand Resort ought to have fared well in court, no? No. The law is not on its side.
A starting point when considering defamation cases is the First Amendment Right of Free Speech. It gives people the right to speak their mind. The Amendment jealously protects opinions, even those that, in the words of the court, “deeply offend the target.” To constitute defamation requires more than someone’s personal view. Rather, a false or misleading statement of fact is needed. The court gave this simplistic example. The phrase “It is hot” is opinion; the statement “It is one hundred degrees” is an objective fact. In every defamation case, an issue for the court to decide is whether the offending commentary would be understood by a reasonable person as a statement of fact, or as merely “hyperbolic opinion or rhetorical exaggeration.”
Plaintiff argued that the dirtiest hotels list was not mere opinion or exaggeration, noting that it contains numeral rankings and supporting comments. Such a comment that accompanied Grand Resort’s ranking was, “There was dirt at least one-half-inch thick in the bathtub which was filled with lots of dark hair.” Ouch!
The court however refused to find that these circumstances convert the opinions on TripAdvisor’s website to objective statements of fact.
So here’s the lesson. Given the power of social media, customer service is more important than ever. Even one slip-up can result in headline-making, horrible reviews heard around the world. Ongoing training and ever-vigilant management have to be very high priorities. As I have repeatedly noted, hotel management is not for the faint of heart.
Topic : Grand Resort and Convention Center, Pigeon Forge, Tenn, TripAdvisor
External Source : Hotel Management