Mark Grimm

 

Hotel Puts Price Tag on Free Speech

A Hudson, NY hotel has threaten to fine couples that get married there for any negative review posted about the hotel — from any wedding party guest.

What a way to start the honeymoon.

Here’s the policy (now removed) from the Union Street Guest House’s website:

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.

Amid an Internet firestorm, the hotel tried to defuse the situation by claiming the post was outdated and placed there tongue-in-cheek. However, someone claiming to be a former guest said he received this email from the hotel:

“please note that your recent on-line review of our Inn will cost the wedding party that left us a deposit $500.  This money be charged via  the deposit they have left us unless/until it is removed.  Any other or future reviews will also be charged to the wedding party (bride & groom) from the guarantee they have provided us.”

Doesn’t sound like tongue-in-cheek to me.

It’s unclear if the hotel actually ever kept a couple’s deposit, but the threat is damage enough.

The online reviews service, Yelp.com, compounded the problem by removing criticism of the hotel policy on its site. It insisted first-hand experience at the hotel qualified people to post. Really? You don’t need to visit the hotel to have an opinion about its policy.

Attempts at the manipulation of free speech are not only the work of politicians and government. The corporate world engages in it as well and the price and quality of products and services we buy are affected by it.

Keep vigilant. Any attempt to inhibit speech is a loss for all of us.

The writer is a longtime 1st Amendment advocate and former TV anchor/reporter.