Of course, this went viral, and by the end of the day, 900 people had posted their feelings on Yelp, most of them were 1-star reviews, and a number of them were 5-star reviews as jokes. I also posted a comment, basically blasting the hotel for their terrible social media policy and reminding them that if they wanted to get positive reviews, they should provide excellent service.
This morning I received this mail from Yelp:
We’re contacting you about your review of Union Street Guest House. Though we understand this business has recently received media attention and that users may have strong opinions, your reviews should be focused on your own everyday customer experience with a business. While you are welcome to post your comments on Yelp Talk, please note that at this time we will be removing any repostings from you to this business listing.
Please visit our Content Guidelines for more information (www.yelp.com/guidelines). We hope you’ll help us keep Yelp fun and useful for everyone!
Yelp User Support
San Francisco, California
I did not know that Yelp removes reviews it does not like. I checked this morning, and there are less than 100 reviews on Yelp, but the adverse ones are building up again, same as yesterday. People are pissed.
Yelp has just sunk in my estimation by quite a few notches. I don’t think Yelp should be censoring reviews. As a review site, they should let the market drive the ratings, not some censor.
If the Union Street Guest House wants business, it should clean up its act, treat its customers special, and the positive reviews will start rolling in.
With all the controversy, I am almost tempted to book myself there for a day and see what the hubbub is all about. I have a visit to the Catskill area planned to go to some art museums in the next month or so. Do I dare?
But then – I won’t be able to write an honest review if it’s adverse, for fear of losing $500 and being banished by Yelp.
I have never stayed there, thank goodness, and I definitely will never stay there. But I can’t help but write about here.
The Union Street Guest House seems to cater to weddings. It got my attention today when news about it went viral that it actually charges the bride and groom a $500 fee for every guest that posts an unfavorable review on Yelp or Facebook or any other review site.
How did they come up with this policy? Apparently the service sucks, the furniture and décor is old, the rooms smell musky and smoky, there are mouse droppings in all the corners, the list goes on. So when guests that stay there, courtesy of the wedding party, and they don’t “understand the ambiance” of the place, and post a lousy review, the bride and groom get dinged afterwards. The hotel reminds them before the stay that the guests might not “understand the value” of the hotel, and the newlyweds should brief them ahead of time.
Like: “We’re putting you up at this dump called the Union Street Guest House that thinks it’s something special. But since we’re paying a lot of money for it, please just think it’s quaint and put up with it while you’re there, ok?”
So the hotel, I presume, had trouble with bad reviews and started strong-arming its customers to be quiet about it. That alone shows you that they have no clue about business in 2014. If you want superior reviews, you have to provide superior service. If you provide lousy service, and you try to cheat your customers and treat them as idiots, you’re going to get bad reviews. Get it?
So here is the Yelp page for the place:
What a surprise. I one-star rating!
When I picked the summary, I found this:
I am sure they had 20 or 30 1-star ratings before it went viral that they bully guests into not writing or removing negative reviews. So now, people start writing reviews about the place that have never even stayed them, blasting them for their narcissism. It is hard for me to imagine how a business that must depend on customer reviews can survive after doing this to itself.
If you want some amusement, I invite you to go to their Yelp page and read some of the reviews. You’ll be amazed. Even the 5-star reviews all seem to be jokes.
Here is their cancellation policy that I just lifted off their website:
PLEASE read our CANCELLATION POLICY carefully. Due to our size, cancellations affect us greatly and we cannot make exceptions for any reason. This includes weather, family issues, personal issues, illness, or anything that is not something we can control. We do not trade reservations for other dates. We RESPECTFULLY request that you do not ask us to do so.
CANCEL AT YOUR OWN RISK! Cancellations must be made via email and you must receive a response from us for a cancellation to be accepted at all. firstname.lastname@example.org. There will be a $35 charge for any cancellation (per room). Cancellation of a reservation must be made at least 15 days prior to your arrival date for a non wedding reservation to receive any type of refund. Cancellations made within 15 days will be charged for the entire length of stay. 100% of your reserved stay will be billed to your credit card when we accept your online booking. Early departures and changes in arrival dates are considered cancellations. We reserve the right to refund at any time. Wedding guests are not refunded until after the event.
We do not give credits for future stays. If we have not worked out a mutual agreement for a credit within 29 days from the date or your reservation we will no longer honor any type of refund. We do not refund any fees that may have been added to your charge.
NOTE: If your stay is longer than 3 days we do not accept cancelations of any kind.
Holding more than one room or up to the entire Guest House for WEDDING guests requires a deposit. We reserve the right to hold deposit until we feel that all charges, taxes, fees, damages, or any other financial obligation has been resolved regarding you and anyone in your party. This includes credit card disputes, chargebacks, or any question regarding anything to do with billing with you or anyone in your party, or anyone of your guests. The deposit will not be refunded until we feel that everything is 100% resolved. If you hold the entire Inn you are responsible for every room. There are no “releasing” rooms prior. Any unused room charges will be deducted from the deposit.
Seriously, would you even dare make a reservation at a place that is so full of itself, it actually publishes this cancellation policy? That page starts out with “for MOST reservations we charge 100% of your stay when you make your reservation.” So it’s easy to get in, but there is no way to get out.
I read that after the controversy of the $500 penalty fee for bad reviews went viral, they took that off their website quickly. But I found what was supposedly there before:
If you have booked the Inn for a wedding or other type of event anywhere in the region and given us a deposit of any kind for guests to stay at USGH there will be a $500 fine that will be deducted from your deposit for every negative review of USGH placed on any internet site by anyone in your party and/or attending your wedding or event If you stay here to attend a wedding anywhere in the area and leave us a negative review on any internet site you agree to a $500. fine for each negative review. (Please NOTE we will not charge this fee &/or will refund this fee once the review is taken down). Also, please note that we only request this of wedding parties and for the reasons explained above.
I wish the Union Street Guest House good luck with their future endeavors going forward and particularly with their brilliant social media strategy.
As it turns out, last night there were over 900 Yelp reviews, mostly negative, and even the 5-star ones were jokes. Yelp appears to have removed 800 of those reviews.
I didn’t know Yelp did that. My estimation of Yelp as a valid review site has just sunk quite a bit. 800 people took the time to weigh in with their concerns, and those 800 people were just tossed out?
Does Yelp also have a death wish?
Second Addendum 8/5/2014:
So then they claimed that the $500 fine policy was “just a tongue in cheek joke.” Hmm. Now they are not just stupid and ruthless business people, now they are also lying. Here is a legitimate Yelp review I just lifted:
Notice that it is dated 11/21/2013. They were threatening a customer THEN when they posted a negative review. So the “joke” either went on for over nine months, or they are just deceitful.