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Hotel Says $500 Fine on Negative Yelp Reviews Was a Joke

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Updated Monday, Aug. 4, at 12:20 p.m. ET

When online critics felt like Union Street Guest House was trying to censor negative reviews, Yelpers sprang into action to tear down the hotel.

The small hotel in the Catskill Mountains of New York wrote on its website that it would fine newlyweds $500 for every negative online review left by a wedding guest. The only way to keep your money? Convince your guest to take the review down, before your wedding expenses go through the roof.

"Please know that despite the fact that wedding couples love Hudson and our Inn, your friends and families may not," reads the company's website. "This is due to the fact that your guests may not understand what we offer - therefore we expect you to explain that to them."

However, the hotel claims the fine was never a real threat -- merely a joke that the New York Post took seriously in an article published on Monday morning.

"The policy regarding wedding fines was put on our site as a tongue-in-cheek response to a wedding many years ago," says a spokesperson. "It was meant to be taken down long ago and certainly was never enforced."

Related: Behind the Curtain of Yelp's Powerful Reviews

Whether or not the policy was enforced, the damage has been done. Since the Post reported on the hotel's policy, Union Street Guest House's Yelp page has exploded with negative, 1-star reviews.

Of the 387 reviews posted to the hotel's Yelp page as of 12:11 p.m. on Monday, only 14 were dated prior to Aug. 4, with mixed reviews of praise and complaints. In other words, since the Post reported on the hotel's policy of fining newlyweds for bad reviews, 373 people have penned negative reviews, driving the hotel's Yelp score down to 1 star.

"This place charges $500 per bad review and it comes out of the bride and groom's deposit," reads one typical review, posted by Dara P. on Monday. "That is extortion! I will never stay here plus I heard it's a very subpar hotel."

In response to the incident, Yelp reaffirmed its commitment to protecting freedom of speech. "Trying to prevent your customers from talking about their experiences is bad policy and, in this case, likely unenforceable anyway," the company said in a statement.

Yelp also said that reviews in response to the recent media attention, written by Yelpers who have never visited the hotel, will be removed from the site. 

Bad online reviews can kill a business. However, as this hotel found out the hard way, trying to force guests to shut up is never the best business solution -- even if it is only a joke.

Related: 6 Ways to Harness the Power of Review Sites

Kate Taylor

Written By

Kate Taylor is a reporter at Business Insider. She was previously a reporter at Entrepreneur. Get in touch with tips and feedback on Twitter at @Kate_H_Taylor.