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Hotel owner apologizes for $500 negative review policy

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The Rip Van Winkle Bridge in the Hudson River Valley, New York. (iStock)

The owner of an upstate New York hotel that charged a $500 fine for negative reviews has apologized, saying his tongue-and-check "joke" was in poor taste. 

Chris Wagoner, the owner of Union Street Guest House in Hudson, New York posted an apology Tuesday on the the hotel's Facebook page addressed to "guests of Union Street Guest House" stating that the policy to charge guests $500 for bad online reviews was intended to be a joke and was something he never told staff to enforce. 

"It was originally intended as a joke and never something I told employees to enforce. However, since it was listed on our website it did represent an official policy. I now realize this joke was made in poor taste and not at all funny. This is no longer a policy of Union Street Guest House and we have taken it off of our website," he wrote.

At least one bad review posted on Yelp in 2013 states that Wagoner's staff did try to collect a fine.

"The management of this hotel had the gall to email us twice to threaten us financially about the negative review!" the user wrote. 

In his statement, Wagoner said that previous attempts by his staff to collect $500 from negative reviewers was a "breakdown" in communication, writing:

"I've also read the reviews from guests saying we tried to enforce the negative reviews policy on them and for that I apologize," Wagoner said in the letter. "It was never my intention for anyone to pay this fine. The instances where an attempt was made to collect the fees were a breakdown in communication between my staff and me, and for that I accept full responsibility."

Following media reports of the hotel's policy, thousands of angry posts were made on the guest house's Facebook page and on the review website Yelp blasting the move.  In fact, Yelp had to delete over 3000 posts about the hotel that violated its content guidelines.

The unrelenting criticism of the hotel has been an eye-opener for Wagoner who states he is a “novice when it comes to the Internet and digital communication.”

Wagoner writes: “The internet, social media and review sites are very powerful platforms and this situation has taught me valuable lessons about them."

Yet, following the apology, Facebook users voiced skepticism about his sincerity.

One user, Rain Spirit wrote:  “Embarrassed? Wrong..u just got caught...we don't put into policy what is "meant as a joke".”

Wagoner says he is reviewing all the hotel's policies and will offer guests a 10 percent discount on a visit to Union Street Guest House within the next three months to make good on the misunderstanding.