The guest from hell: The case raises serious questions about the use of international review sites for bullying and malicious activity as well as Thailand’s strict defamation laws which can be used by powerful groups to stifle free speech. However, the hotel, in this case, makes it clear that it was reacting not against a genuine negative review but a malicious campaign based on contrived and fabricated allegations. It was acting to preserve its reputation while also repeatedly reaching out to the disgruntled man, American expat teacher Wesley Barnes, who stayed at the hotel for just one night on June 27th last, to resolve the matter without success. In an extraordinary statement issued by Mr Barnes this weekend, he openly admits that the purpose of his reviews was to expose the hotel based on his negative assessment of its employee relations after consuming alcohol and following a fracas with a Czech manager on the night he stayed there. He admitted receiving messages and warnings from the hotel threatening to resort to legal action and while discounting these as ‘empty threats’.
An American teacher has found himself facing the serious prospect of jail time in Thailand and deportation from the kingdom after he launched a deliberate and concerted campaign of defamation and bullying against a hotel in Ko Chang using international review websites based on his personal assessment of employee relations at the hotel. The man, reported to be a teacher in Thailand, insisted on portraying the employment of staff at the hotel as slavery in a highly damaging and continuous online campaign from the end of June up until early August. The American was arrested on September the 11th, the day after he went to renew his visa at the Immigration Bureau. He had spend weeks ignoring pleas by the hotel owners to discuss his campaign with them while urging him to remove the highly offensive posts targeting the hotel and a Czech manager who worked there.
An international furore has blown up after an American expat, working in Thailand as a teacher, was arrested on September 11th last after he was accused by a popular and long-established hotel on Ko Chang of defamation causing damage to its business.
Wesley Gene Barnes who is reportedly a teacher working in Thailand, could be facing up to two years in prison and a fine of ฿200,000 after he vexatiously posted several reviews at the end of June in a deliberate attempt to tarnish the reputation of the successful hotel resort he stayed at with a friend, for one night, on June 27th last.
Successful hotel has operated in Ko Chang for over thirty years with an over 87% rate of positive reviews
The hotel has a preponderance of excellent reviews from online review websites.
Based on a sample from the Trip Advisor website with over 1,900 people, nearly 87% of reviews were either very good or excellent while over 56% of visitors described the experience as excellent.
The hotel, which has operated successfully on Ko Chang for the last 30 years, on Friday, was forced to issue a statement after the story was revealed by popular expat blogger Richard Barrow.
Mr Barrow claims that the teacher is an acquaintance of a friend of his and alerted his large following of over 165,000 people on Facebook and other social media accounts to the situation after Mr Barnes was arrested on Friday, September 11th and spent two nights of the following weekend in a Ko Chang jail cell while he waited to raise bail.
Arrested American gave a statement to expat blogger Richard Barrow explaining his campaign
Mr Barnes, it is understood, stayed at the Sea View Resort and Spa Hotel on Saturday the 27th of June last.
The teacher, who released a statement also over the weekend, to Mr Barrow’s social media account, claims that his stay at the hotel got off to a bad start from the beginning on the Saturday at the end of June when he went into the hotel with his friend to enquire about renting a room.
He was directed to apply online but he wished to view the room personally. It appears that this request was facilitated and he claims he later booked the room online at a price of ฿6,000 for one night.
Mr Barnes and his friend did not want to drink and drive so opted to have dinner at the hotel
It appears, according to Mr Barnes, that he and his friend then proceeded to drink alcohol near the beach.
The couple had brought their alcohol including a bottle of gin for this purpose. Mr Barnes explained that because he and his friend were loath to drink and drive, they instead decided to have dinner at the hotel restaurant.
On entering the dining area with their bottle of gin, Mr Barnes and his friend were informed by their waiter that a ฿500 hotel corkage fee would be applied to the bill as they were consuming their own alcohol at the table.
‘We had our gin and was told that it would cost an extra 500 baht to have it there. We were both shocked and complained a little to the server but my friend was willing to pay for it,’ Mr Barnes explained in his statement outlining the events that led to the international controversy this weekend.
US man complained of a manager ‘with an attitude’ and admitted to giving the same in return
In his statement, the foreign English teacher then revealed that a manager came over to the pair ‘with an attitude’ and because of what Mr Barnes considered was the high tariff he and his friend had paid for the room at the hotel, he decided to give ‘a little attitude back’ to the man in question.
A statement by the hotel issued by Mr Tom Storup, Room Division Manager of the resort, however, has a different emphasis from that of Mr Barnes. The hotel described the situation as a ‘commotion’ in the restaurant.
Mr Storup said that the incident drew the attention of the hotel’s Director of Food and Beverage, a Czech national, who approached the pair to diffuse the situation.
Corkage charge waived and friend of Mr Barnes shook hands with the hotel manager on the spot
The Czech manager negotiated with Mr Barnes and latterly with his friend. The outcome of the matter was that no corkage charge was applied.
Mr Storup, for the hotel, in a July 12th reply, while still reaching out to Mr Barnes, explained how the initial matter was resolved: ‘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.’
Friend again revived the issue with the manager as they were leaving the restaurant after dinner
In Mr Barnes’ version of events, his friend then decided, as they both were leaving the restaurant, to let the manager know that he had still not handled the situation correctly.
‘Eventually we was not charged. Before we left, my friend, the peaceful one, wanted to tell the manager that he handled the situation wrong. The manager got upset and tried to argue with my friend. My friend brushed it off and didn’t argue with him,’ the statement issued by Mr Barnes, this weekend, said.
He went on, even this weekend, to make outlandish observations on the demeanour of the staff at the restaurant in relation to the manager suggesting that the staff were intimidated.
Outrageous review on Trip Advisor on June 29th alleged slavery and also referenced the Covid 19 virus
The American later posted a highly offensive Trip Advisor review on the 29th of June which was removed by the site after one week. This was on the basis that it breached its guidelines.
This weekend, Mr Barnes asserted that this review was never published which is incorrect.
The review made wild and highly damaging allegations of ‘slavery’ which, this Friday, Mr Storup for the hotel, strongly refuted.
Mr Storup explained that the staff at the hotel had all been retained in employment even after the Covid 19 virus closed the establishment for an extended period.
He said that the hotel had provided food and shelter to its staff during this difficult time free of charge.
Hotel defended the Czech manager disparaged by Mr Barnes as an employee who loves his team
The hotel’s statement also observed that the offensive and highly damaging post, published by Mr Barnes on Trip Advisor which was removed, had targeted the Czech manager at the hotel.
He defended the manager in question.
‘Mr. J is an exceptional employee who loves his team,’ the Ko Chang resort boss stated.
Hotel said Mr Barnes’ review and ongoing campaign was created and driven by malicious intent
The hotel described the review left by Mr Barnes as being created ‘with malice’ and noted that the guest and his companion had departed the hotel on the 28th June without raising any further objections or indicating that there was an issue.
It was clearly a vexatious review designed to inflict damage on the hotel.
This view is supported by the statement issued by Mr Barnes this weekend and published on Mr Barrow’s Facebook account.
Ultimately, however, the matter will be for a court to decide unless the case is resolved by some other means.
Statement issued this weekend explains, in his own words, why Mr Barnes decided to publish such a negative review of the hotel and launch a campaign
Mr Barnes explained that following the episode in the restaurant on the evening of June 27th, he and his companion had retired and were sitting on the balcony of their suite when they observed an interaction between the manager in question and some staff below.
Mr Barnes, in his statement, makes it clear that he adjudged for himself, that the manager had been too aggressive with his staff and decided there and then, that he would take action.
‘That is when I said that I will write a review about this place when I leave,’ the expat teacher in Thailand said in his statement this weekend.
He again referred to a ‘master/slave’ mentality but claims that his initial review on Trip Advisor talking about ‘modern slavery’ was never, in fact, published.
Hotel defends its action saying it had to protect itself against highly damaging and ‘fabricated’ stories published by Wesley Barnes
For its part, the hotel has strongly defended its action in the controversy stating clearly that the action it took was not because of a negative review.
The hotel said it was forced to act as the nature of the review was outrageous and involved ‘fabricated stories’ creating a xenophobic narrative and likening the hotel’s relationship with its employees to slavery.
It also pointed to unjustified and untrue comments made by the guest concerning the Covid 19 virus which could be equally devastating for the hotel if left unchallenged.
Hotel further alarmed when Mr Barnes extended his campaign with new reviews and on other sites
The hotel was further prompted to act when another wave of reviews by Mr Barnes arrived within a week or so of the first which indicated to management that the reviews formed part of a malicious campaign directed against the hotel.
The hotel has also made it clear that its actions were designed to resolve the matter amicably with their disgruntled guest but he refused to respond to their overtures.
This included an email on the 21st July as more reviews emerged which received no response.
Mr Barnes had, by then, extended his campaign against the hotel to Google Reviews as well as Trip Advisor.
The hotel made contact by telephone with Mr Barnes on the 3rd September as they still implored him to desist in his malicious campaign but he refused to speak on the line with the hotel.
Barnes was arrested on September 11th after discounting repeated approaches from the hotel as an ‘empty threat’ and refusing to talk
Mr Barnes was arrested by Thailand’s Immigration Bureau on the 11th of September.
In his statement, this weekend, Mr Barnes acknowledged that he was aware of the threat to take criminal action against him but said this: ‘Coming from the West, I felt that it was an empty threat.’
He refused to discuss the matter with hotel management even after they contacted him by phone on September 3rd last in a last-ditch effort to avoid his arrest.
Accepts that reviews were ‘not nice’ but felt justified that he had made his point about how he felt
Mr Barnes accepts that his comments about hotel and slavery were ‘not nice by any means’ but felt justified in his campaign nevertheless because he felt he had made his point about his feelings.
‘I made my point about how I felt about the situation there,’ the American man stated over the weekend in a clear admission that his highly damaging reviews on a widely read travel website about a popular hotel labouring under the present challenging economic conditions, while trying to maintain employment, were both malicious and vexatious based on the writer’s own conclusions and agenda with regard to employment conditions at the hotel.
Arrest came the day after applying for his visa
Mr Barnes explained that when he went to renew his visa on September 10th last, immigration officers turned up at his place of work on September 11th and arrested him in relation to the complaint made by the hotel on Ko Chang which he appears to have had ignored.
This week, the hotel explained that it was reluctantly forced into taking such a drastic course of action.
‘We agree that using a defamation law may be viewed as excessive for this situation. However, the guest refused to respond to our attempts at communication and instead continued to persistently post negative and untrue reviews of our business,’ said the hotel in its statement.
Hotel had been waiting for Mr Barnes to respond to the police as requested, he failed to show up
It indicated that it had been told that Mr Barnes would be brought to the station on Ko Chang and an opportunity would be afforded for the parties to make a settlement but once the police took on the complaint and Mr Barnes failed to show up, as requested, on two occasions, the matter was then taken out of their hands.
American put the hotel in an impossible position
The hotel claims that Mr Barnes put them in an impossible position despite their efforts to resolve the affair with him even up to eight days before he was arrested when he refused to talk on the phone after he answered a call from management.
‘We simply want to ensure that these untrue reviews are stopped,’ said the hotel.
The hotel, also this week, was at pains to emphasise that the business on the island, which is one of its leading employers, is not owned by any large corporation nor has it links to elite families in Thailand as growing media speculation on the story has diverged into the political sphere given the tenor and nature of Mr Barnes outlandish statements.
The 156 room resort on Kai Bae Beach on Ko Chang was opened in 1989.
Controversy coming in a week when the Thai government has proceeded to lodge criminal complaints against social media sites
‘The Sea View Resort owner filed a complaint that the defendant had posted unfair reviews on his hotel on the Trip Advisor website,’ Police Colonel Thanapon Taemsara of the Ko Chang police said in a statement this week to the international news agency, AFP.
The story is coming at a time when the Thai government is also taking a number of US-based social media sites to court for their failure to comply with Thailand’s laws on political coverage and on the treatment of the Thai monarchy.
US man facing imprisonment and deportation if convicted when the case comes before the court
On a personal basis, Mr Barnes explained this weekend that after he was arrested on Friday 11th September by Immigration Police, reportedly at his place of work, he was taken to Ko Chang where legal proceedings were processed against him.
Mr Barnes said that he was only given 10 minutes before the court closed on Saturday 12th September to pay ฿100,000 bail and when he could not pay, he was whisked off to a prison which housed over 1,150 inmates.
He said he spent Saturday and Sunday night in prison before he was bailed out on Monday the 14th September in the evening.
Mr Barnes must now face a criminal trial for defamation and if convicted, he could be given a prison sentence of up to two years but less if he admits his guilt.
This will also result in his visa being rescinded and Mr Barnes being incarcerated again before his deportation back to the United States.
Mr Barnes, it is reported, reached out to the hotel after he was arrested on September 11th to see how the matter could be resolved although their response, at this point, is unclear.