It is important to note that the hotel only reluctantly brought legal action against Barnes who, by his own admission, was not just leaving a review but was out to ‘make his point’ and to portray the employment conditions of workers at the hotel as ‘slavery’ based on his own determination from his one-night stay on June 27th last and by his own admission, based on one interaction which he viewed from a distance between a restaurant manager and his staff. It was clearly an outrageous situation for which he later submitted an apology in writing as part of a legal deal to end the proceedings against him. This also led the Tripadvisor website to give a written undertaking to the hotel, which it accepted in good faith, to remove a damaging online notice to end the controversy.
Wesley Gene Barnes, the American who waged a deliberate, ongoing and malicious online smear campaign using Tripadvisor reviews against a Thai hotel, with a previously impeccable reputation and which is one of the most important employers on the island of Ko Chang in Trat province, for three months from the end of June to the end of September this year has been unmasked as a dangerous, delusional and violent man. He is also a convicted criminal who spent nearly four years in prison in the US state of Missouri.
US citizen Wesley Barnes quietly left Thailand last week after arriving in the kingdom this February on a tourist visa. In his wake, he left two hotels inundated with negative reviews stemming from the international review website Tripadvisor which is reported to have assisted his legal efforts in Thailand to have a substantial case for malicious defamation against him, which could have seen the American jailed in the kingdom, settled by a negotiated agreement.
The review site also acted in bad faith by promising the hotel owners, in writing, as a condition of the legal agreement, that a label identifying the controversy would be removed from the site.
Mr Barnes and a friend stayed at the hotel for one night on June 27th and became embroiled in an altercation with a Czech restaurant manager over a corkage fee which the hotel’s manager waved politely as a gesture of goodwill.
Now, we know that the American, who waged a malicious campaign over three months against the Sea View Resort Hotel on Ko Chang, in Trat province, is a convicted criminal in the United States who has served years in prison in Kansas, Missouri.
Barnes himself admitted campaign was malicious
Wesley Gene Barnes, originally from the US state of Arkansas, came to media attention in the kingdom in late September when the hotel, after months of pleading with the American to desist in his malicious campaign of reviews, which he admitted were part of a personal vendetta against the hotel, was arrested by immigration police after applying for a new visa.
After being transferred to Ko Chang to face defamation proceedings in court issued by the local police station, he later spent two nights in the island’s prison when he was unable to post bail.
Assisted by the giant US website Tripadvisor who reportedly paid his legal bills, the American signed an agreement with the hotel in late September or early October to have the charges against him dropped in which he fully admitted his culpability, issued an unreserved apology for his actions and promised to act sincerely to remedy the damage done to the hotel’s reputation.
The Ko Chang hotel, like all tourism sector enterprises in the kingdom, is suffering because of the closure of Thailand to mass tourism since the beginning of April. Despite this, the hotel has tried to keep its staff in employment as it seeks to weather the storm.
Key aspect of the agreement with Barnes was that Tripadvisor would remove all references to the spat
Part of the agreement was that Tripadvisor would withdraw an information panel alerting users to the controversy caused by Mr Barnes’s malicious campaign.
However, after issuing a letter to the hotel to comply with the agreement and after Mr Barnes had left Thailand, the Tripadvisor site placed a new and even more damaging notice on the hotel’s listing.
This has left it reeling with a barrage of negative reviews and commentary that have also impacted a second hotel on the island of Ko Mak, in the same province, which has a similar name.
Following the deal finalised in early October, the hotel expressed satisfaction with the outcome explaining clearly that the circumstances that forced it to take action did not include displeasure at a negative review but the malicious and ongoing nature of the campaign waged against it.
‘Under conditions that Mr Barnes shows his sincerity and takes full responsibility for what has happened and remedy the situation, the hotel will be delighted to drop the charge,’ a statement by the hotel owners said.
The hotel has responded, in recent days, after the latest developments, with disappointment pointing out that it had considered that the well-known travel website was acting in a capacity as an honest third party interested in ending the affair for the good of all concerned.
It has always pointed out that it was only forced to take legal action because of the malicious nature of the ongoing reviews written by the American accusing it of being involved in ‘slavery’ and highly damaging personal attacks aimed at a valued Czech member of staff.
This was the restaurant manager who initially attempted to impose a corkage fee on Barnes and a friend after they brought a bottle of alcohol into the hotel on the night they stayed there.
Popular expat blogger highlighted the American’s arrest and incarceration at the end of September
An online post by the well known and popular blogger, Richard Barrow, highlighted the plight of Wesley Barnes, then reported as an expat teacher living in Thailand, when he was first arrested and found himself incarcerated on Ko Chang for two nights.
Barnes, in a later statement, following media attention, admitted that his online campaign was a contrived attempt to sabotage the hotel.
Please read our earlier reports on this story:
This is how he described his actions against the hotel and what turned into months of a constant salvo of negative reviews on the site Tripadvisor and other review sites that had nothing to do with the quality of his stay at the resort and everything to do with him ‘making his point’ based on his perception of the establishment’s relationship with its staff, which he termed as ‘slavery’.
‘Later, on our balcony trying to enjoy the rest of our night, we see that manager with another employee, picking up room service dishes I think. He was yelling and acting very aggressive. That was when I said I will write a review about this place when I leave. With that manager, I felt there was some type of master/slave mentality going on. So in my original post (that never got posted) I used the phrase modern slavery. It was not nice by any means but it made my point and how I felt about the situation there.’
Barnes later apologised for his online campaign against the resort saying that he ‘got carried away’ in an official statement issued in early October.
Hotel reluctantly forced to pursue legal action
The hotel’s management spent nearly three months reaching out politely to Barnes asking him to cease his smear campaign and warning him of the consequences. They contacted him directly by message app, email and by phone after which he hung up.
Barnes dismissed the warnings of legal action from the hotel about defamation proceedings as an empty one. He candidly admitted this in a public statement.
‘Coming from the west, I felt it was an empty threat,’ he wrote.
Barnes was arrested by US police in May 2004 and spent nearly four years in a Kansas prison
Now we have learned that Barnes was arrested by police in Kansas, Missouri in early May 2004.
He was imprisoned by a court in August that year and spent nearly three and a half years behind bars on charges after he was arrested by police for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
He was released from prison in February 2009. It is not clear on what charges he was sentenced.
Arrested again in 2017 for the unlawful use of a gun, armed criminal action and delusional behaviour
Nine years later, in October 2017, he was arrested again by police in Kansas and charged with the unlawful use of a firearm and armed criminal actions.
The charges brought by Jackson County prosecutor Jean Peters Baker came on October 19th 2017.
They related to his behaviour at two bars and a QuickTrip convenience store in the city on the night of October 17th 2017 and the early hours of October 18th 2017 when he opened fire on two occasions while in two different bars.
On one occasion, Barnes told customers that he was a federal agent.
Arrived in Thailand in February 2020 and appears to have worked illegally as a teacher, if claims are true
It is understood that Mr Barnes entered Thailand in February 2020 on a tourist visa and availed of amnesties granted by the Thai government for tourist visa holders because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
It is unclear how he managed to secure a job as a teacher in Thailand if the reports and claims made about him are true. Any foreigner working in Thailand requires a work permit which is not available on this sort of visa.
The story raises serious questions about how the power of these review sites is used by people with criminal and delusional proclivities and what legal recourse or remedy there is for victimised small businesses not just in Thailand but worldwide.