American who spent two nights in prison following his arrest for allegedly defaming a Thai hotel on international travel review websites in what he later admitted was a deliberate protest against the Sea View Resort and Spa on Ko Chang over its treatment of employees, has confirmed that he is meeting the hotel next week to resolve the matter. The initiative follows international media coverage of the incident which has highlighted Thailand’s unique legal system where what would be considered a civil matter in western countries is treated as a criminal one under the kingdom’s legal code.
It is understood that mediation between an American teacher, living in Thailand, arrested in September on defamation charges brought by a Thai hotel and the hotel’s management company, will take place next week. In recent days, a representative of the Thai hotel industry Marisa Sukosol Nunbhakdi, who is President of the Thai Hotels Association which includes the Sea View Resort and Spa Hotel on Ko Chang as one of its members, has underlined the importance of Thai hotels reaching out to aggrieved customers who post negative reviews but, significantly, differentiated between genuine constructive feedback and destructive criticism which seeks primarily to damage and cause loss.
It is being reported that a meeting has been organised between American teacher Wesley Barnes and the Sea View Resort and Spa Hotel on Ko Chang after the American was arrested in mid-September and spent two nights in jail following defamation charges brought by the hotel against him over an alleged malicious campaign against the establishment deliberately waged by Mr Barnes.
The furore over the affair has caused some concern for Thailand’s tourism industry after a hostile public reaction worldwide and scant sympathy for the impossible position the hotel’s owners found themselves in.
American waged a campaign against the Ko Chang hotel online after taking offence to a manager’s style
The hotel, one of the most significant employers on Ko Chang, found itself in July and August at the end of a campaign waged by the American who conducted a consciously malicious campaign against it because, as he explained in a statement last Sunday, he took a dislike to one of the restaurant managers at the hotel, a Czech national because of his treatment of staff employed there.
Please see our report into the incident:
Staying at the hotel at the end of June, an initial dispute, according to Mr Barnes, over a corkage charge for alcohol which was waived by the hotel, later morphed into a campaign against what Mr Barnes alleged was the bullying and intimidation of staff which was, by his own admission, the basis for the American’s devastating reviews of the hotel commencing on June 29th with a TripAdvisor post which attacked the Food and Beverage manager and accused the establishment of modern-day slavery.
Hotel tried to reach out to the American
The hotel thereafter had tried to reach out to the man for weeks by email, website forums and even phone contact requesting him to desist but Mr Barnes, again by his own admission in a recent statement, refused and discounted the hotel’s belated threat of legal proceedings as an ‘empty’ one that was not going to alter his determination to proceed with his activities online and ignore the hotel’s increasingly desperate placations to resolve the matter.
The American had stayed at the hotel for just one night on June 27th last with a friend.
Last weekend, Mr Barnes issued a statement saying his decision to write a negative review of the Sea View Resort and Spa was triggered by his observations of how the hotel treated its restaurant staff and the aggressive nature of one particular manager.
Hotel industry boss highlights the importance of online customer feedback for Thai hotels
This week, following the international furore and extensive coverage of Thailand as a holiday destination brought on by this, the President of the Thai Hotels Association, Marisa Sukosol Nunbhakdi, urged Thai members of the hotel group to try first of all to have unfair or malicious reviews removed by the relevant review sites while also communicating with the aggrieved parties.
‘It is always important for hotels to accept feedback, whether good or bad,’ Ms Marisa said while observing that the difference between what she termed genuine and constructive feedback as opposed to comments which are malicious or destructive in nature.
‘Guests have the right to speak their minds, and I encourage them to provide constructive feedback with positive intent to help hotels improve services and competitiveness,’ the hotel industry representative advised.
Case has drawn criticism of Thailand’s legal system where defamation is a criminal and not a civil matter
The case has drawn criticism of Thailand’s legal system which treats defamation proceedings as a criminal matter whereas, in most other countries, such proceedings are dealt with under civil law where an aggrieved party can file for an injunction and seek a trial against the accused in order to recover damages caused by unreasonable or unlawful behaviour.
Tourism Authority Governor foresees negative feedback internationally as ‘relatively minor’ and refused to intervene as the case is before the courts
Also commenting on the controversy, this week, the Governor of Thailand’s Tourism Authority, Yuthasak Supasorn, told reporters that his agency could not intervene in the affair as it was a legal matter between the two parties involved and subject to adjudication by the courts.
He did indicate that Thai officials were not unduly concerned about negative online commentary.
Mr Yuthasak indicated that, at this time, his agency was busy fielding calls from anxious tourists attempting to gain entry to Thailand and that ‘negative feedback is relatively minor’ in relation to the incident concerning the American’s one-night hotel stay on Ko Chang.
Teacher reached out to the hotel only after his arrest in mid-September to settle the dispute
On Tuesday, Mr Barnes confirmed that he was reaching out to the hotel to resolve the dispute which could, if brought to court, see him jailed for up to seven years if convicted on multiple counts. His reported change of heart came about only after his arrest in September.
He also faces a fine of ฿100,000 and deportation from Thailand where he reportedly works as an English teacher.
However, Pholkrit Ratanawong, the Managing Director of the Thai firm which manages the Sea View Resort and Spa on Ko Chang said on Wednesday that the hotel’s management had not heard from the American. This was before talks were scheduled for next week.
He pointed out that the hotel had used a wide array of channels to communicate with the US national since he began his campaign in late June.
Bullish Mr Barnes confirms efforts to resolve the matter on Thursday: ‘It seems like the hotel is ready to settle, I will meet them next week’
It was later reported, on Thursday, that there would be mediation between the American and the hotel on the matter. This was confirmed by both sides to the legal proceedings.
Mr Barnes appeared bullish when speaking with news agency Reuters and said: ‘It seems like the hotel is ready to settle, I will meet them next week to hopefully end this case once and for all. It would be wonderful to have this behind us.’
It is understood that a key condition for the hotel will be that Mr Barnes retracts his statements and online reviews in relation to it that fall outside his own personal experience as a hotel guest on the night of June 27th last.
US man was arrested by Immigration Bureau police on September 11th and spent two nights in Ko Chang prison before he made bail of ฿100,000
Mr Barnes was arrested by Immigration Bureau police on Friday, September 11th last, the day after he went to renew his visa at his local immigration office.
He was transferred to Ko Chang Police Station where he was formally charged with defamation and brought before the court. Unable to pay ฿100,000 bail until the following Monday, the US man was forced to spend two nights in an overcrowded Thai prison.
TripAdvisor, the US-based review site, which initially removed the original and most offensive post by Mr Barnes one week after it was posted on June 29th last for being in breach of its guidelines, has, since the controversy erupted, been in contact with the US embassy in Bangkok in relation to the matter.
‘TripAdvisor is opposed to the idea that a traveller can be prosecuted for expressing opinions,’ the site said this week in a statement to Reuters.