Thai resort sues US man who left 1-star TripAdvisor review about 'unfriendly staff'

If found guilty of defamation, he could be jailed for two years, fined 200,000 baht, or both.

Jane Zhang | September 26, 2020, 09:02 PM

[Updated on Sunday, Sep. 27 at 6:15pm:

The resort said, in a statement to Mothership, that they did not file a complaint based only on one review, but on four reviews, as well as the intention of the reviews, which were written about a week or so apart.

They called Barnes' reviews a "premeditated attack" on the resort that continued "week after week" and said that they were unsure when it would end.

They also added that they wanted to clarify that all of their efforts to contact Barnes were ignored, and involved the authorities as a last resort.

They also wanted to make clear that they do not have any authority to request the arrest of any citizen. The arrest was a decision made by a judge.

Here is their full five-page statement.]

After feeling less than satisfied with the service provided a Thai island resort, an American residing in Thailand took to TripAdvisor to air his grievances through an unhappy one-star review.

He is now being sued by the resort and could face up to two years in prison if found guilty of defamation, reported AFP, and carried by Bangkok Post.

"Unfriendly staff" that "act like they don't want anyone there"

In July 2020, Wesley Barnes left a review on TripAdvisor about his visit to The Sea View Resort on Koh Chang Island.

In his review, the 37-year-old complained about "unfriendly staff" who did not smile and "act like they don't want anyone there."

He complained specifically about the restaurant manager, who he identified as being from the Czech Republic, who Barnes called "the worst", "extremely rude", and "impolite to guests."

Photo screenshot from TripAdvisor.

A manager of the resort, one Tom Storup, replied to Barnes' review saying that it was "very unfair" that he had "chosen to try to give a very negative image of our wonderful resort and our very friendly staff".

He shared more information about what had allegedly transpired on Barnes' visit.

Storup claimed that the issue had centred around the resort's policy around guests bringing their own bottles of liquor to the resort restaurant.

Guests who bring their own bottled drinks must pay a 500 baht (S$21.81) corkage fee.

However, Barnes allegedly did not respond well to being told about the corkage fee, and "used abusive language" toward the staff member who informed him.

Eventually, the restaurant decided to waive the corkage fee in order to avoid further commotion.

"It was to our surprise that even after all the disruption you caused and our gesture of allowing you to drink your own bottle of liquor at our restaurant you still decided to write negative reviews on all possible review sites," Storup's reply read.

Photo screenshot from TripAdvisor.

Resort sued Barnes for "unfair reviews"

According to Bangkok Post, Barnes was arrested by immigration police and returned to Koh Chang after the resort's owner filed a complaint that Barnes had posted "unfair reviews" about the resort on TripAdvisor.

British blogger Richard Barrows posted about the incident, stating that Barnes had been "escorted 250km away to Trad to face a complaint made against him by the resort owner".

He was arrested at the school he was teaching at.

According to Barrows, Barnes spent a couple of nights in jail before he was able to post a 100,000 Baht bail.

You can read the full Facebook post here:

In his post, he also attached a five-page statement by the resort explaining their side of the story.

In it, The Sea View Resort said that in his first TripAdvisor review, which has now been removed, Barnes claimed that the staff were being treated like "slaves" by the resort's Czech owner.

The resort said that claims like these were uncalled for. They also laid out the three reasons they were suing him.

Barnes, talking to journalist Andrew MacGregor Marshall, was shocked that a review could land him in court, but says he will fight the charges.

"I never thought a review could end in handcuffs. I will fight it in court. Hopefully no one else has to live the same nightmare."

Barnes also claimed he was pointing out what he thought was a "dysfunctional relationship among foreign and Thai staff at the resort, with foreign managers treating Thai employees with contempt".

Thailand's anti-defamation laws

Under Section 326 of the Thai Criminal Code, defamation is anything that represents another person in a manner that is likely to harm their reputation or expose them to the hatred or scorn of others.

The punishment for anyone found guilty of defamation faces imprisonment of up to two years, fined up to 200,000 baht (S$8722.89), or both.

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Top photo via Sea View Koh Chang website.