A Koh Chang resort has defended its decision to sue an American resident of Thailand for defamation over a negative review, saying it had tried in vain to negotiate with him but he continued to post comments that were completely untrue.
The Sea View Resort released a five-page statement on Saturday after news of its legal action against Wesley Barnes attracted widespread attention. The statement was posted on the Twitter account of Richard Barrow, a British expat travel blogger with 167,000 followers.
Under Thailand’s tough criminal defamation laws, Mr Barnes could face up to two years in prison if found guilty.
A recent visit to the resort on the island in Trat province landed Mr Barnes in trouble after he posted an unflattering review on Tripadvisor, one of the world’s most popular vacation review portals.
“The Sea View Resort owner filed a complaint that the defendant had posted unfair reviews on his hotel on the Tripadvisor website,” Pol Col Thanapon Taemsara of the Koh Chang police told AFP.
He said Mr Barnes was accused of causing “damage to the reputation of the hotel”, and of quarrelling with staff over not paying a corkage fee for alcohol he had brought to the hotel.
Mr Barnes, who works in Thailand, was arrested by immigration police and returned to Koh Chang where he was detained in jail for two nights before being freed on bail.
According to the Tripadvisor review that Mr Barnes posted in July, he encountered “unfriendly staff” who “act like they don’t want anyone here”.
Tom Storup, the rooms division manager at the resort, replied to Mr Barnes in a post dated July 20. He said that guests bringing their own liquor “goes against our rules, as it does in any hotel or resort I have worked or visited around the globe”. He said Mr Barnes used “abusive language” toward a staff member who explained the 500-baht corkage charge to him.
The resort’s food and beverage manager intervened “for the safety and comfort of our staff and guests who were having a peaceful dinner”, Mr Storup wrote. “It was then when another guest at your table took over the conversation with our F&B manager and he apologised profusely and shook hands after a short chat.
“The F&B manager then decided that, in order to avoid further disturbance, to allow you to have that liquor without charging you for the corkage fee.”
The Sea View Resort told AFP on Saturday that legal action was only taken because Mr Barnes had written multiple reviews on different sites over the past few weeks.
At least one was posted in June on Tripadvisor accusing the hotel of “modern day slavery” — which the site removed after a week for violating its guidelines.
“We chose to file a complaint to serve as a deterrent, as we understood he may continue to write negative reviews week after week for the foreseeable future,” the hotel said, adding that staff had made “multiple attempts” to contact Mr Barnes but they were ignored, leading the business to resort to a legal complaint.
Mr Barnes did not immediately respond to requests from AFP for comment.
“We agree that the defamation law may be viewed as excessive for this situation,” the resort said in its statement, but it said the guest had included “fabricated stories” in reviews posted on both Tripadvisor and Google.
“The guest refused to respond to our attempts at communication and instead continued to persistently post negative and untrue reviews of our business. We simply want to ensure that these untrue reviews are stopped, and we had no way of negotiating the matter with the guest until after our filing the complaint with the authorities.”
Sea View, a 156-room resort on Kai Bae Beach was founded in 1989 and is ranked 10th out of 85 properties on Koh Chang that have been reviewed on TripAdvisor. It has received 1,922 reviews, with 1,090 of them rating the resort excellent, 580 very good, 170 average, 48 poor and 32 terrible.
Defamation laws in Thailand have long been seen as problematic, as they are frequently used by businesses and influential figures to intimidate critics.
The maximum sentence under the law is two years in prison, along with a 200,000-baht fine.
One example that stands out in Thailand involves the Lop Buri poultry farm Thammakaset Co Ltd, a former supplier to the agribusiness giant Betagro. A complaint filed in 2016 with the National Human Rights Commission alleged that migrant workers at the farm were forced to work up to 20 hours a day, were paid less than the minimum wage and had their identity documents confiscated.
The Department of Labour Protection and Welfare in August 2016 ordered Thammakaset to pay the workers 1.7 million baht in compensation and damages, but the money was not handed over until 2019.
The retribution has been incessant. Thammakaset over the past four years has filed 39 criminal and civil complaints against 22 individuals including migrant workers, journalists, human rights defenders and one media company.
In December 2019, a court in Lop Buri sentenced Suchanee Cloitre, then working for Voice TV, to two years in prison for criminal libel for a comment she tweeted about the grievances against the company. She is free on bail pending an appeal.
Her conviction stemmed from her use of the words “slave labour” in a report on the compensation order.