Thai hotel to drop charges against guest facing jail for bad reviews

American tourist who faced two years in a Thai jail for accusing a hotel of ‘modern day slavery’ in scathing TripAdvisor review has charges dropped in exchange for issuing a ‘sincere apology’

  • Wesley Barnes, an American teacher in Thailand, has publicly apologized to Sea View Resort Koh Chang in Thailand
  • Barnes wrote that ‘All of the statements that I made are completely untrue’ regarding a series of TripAdvisot reviews about the hotel 
  • One review accused the hotel of ‘modern day slavery’ and others disparaged employees
  • Authorities said Barnes ‘damage to the reputation of the hotel’ and allegedly quarreled with staff over not paying a corkage fee for alcohol 
  • Barnes was arrested by immigration police and returned to Koh Chang in September
  • If convicted, he could have been jailed for two years and pay a $200,000 fine

A hotel in Thailand agreed to drop charges against an American guest who faced up to two years in jail over negative reviews, including accusations of ‘modern day slavery,’ as long as he issues a public apology for his comments. 

Wesley Barnes, an American teacher in Thailand, gave a formal apology to Sea View Resort Koh Chang on Friday following his arrest and the international media coverage. 

Sea View Resort asked that Barnes make a ‘sincere apology’ for his reviews that mentioned ‘slave labor, xenophobic comments against hotel staff, and comparing the hotel to coronavirus on multiple occasions and website platforms.’

‘All of the statements that I made are completely untrue,’ wrote Barnes in a statement, per The New York Times. 

‘These reviews and comments were written out of anger and malice. Now, I, Mr. Barnes, have regretted my actions and would like to apologize to Sea View Koh Chang, and its staff.’

The Sea View Resort on Koh Chang Island have sued against Wesley Barnes over a number of ‘unfair reviews’ left on TripAdvisor

Pictured: a page from Sea View Resort Koh Chang’ statement, in which they included screenshots of reviews left by Barnes 

Pictured: additional pages from Sea View Resort Koh Chang’s stance against Barnes

As part of his settlement with Sea View Resort, Barnes also released a statement to news organizations who covered the story. 

He took responsibility for ‘for my repeatedly false and untrue statements/reviews made to maliciously defame Sea View Koh Chang.’  

The hotel also requested Barnes send similar recanting statements to the Tourism Authority of Thailand, the U.S. Embassy and the Tripadvisor by October 30 explaining that his poor reviews were written in anger.

‘After all conditions are met, the hotel will then withdraw the charges against the offender,’ Col. Kissana Phathanacharoen, deputy spokesman for the Royal Thai Police, told NYT.

The hotel filed a complaint against Barnes in August after he posted what the hotel said were false, defamatory and ‘unfair’ write-ups after a disagreement over a 500 baht ($16) corkage fee.

According documents shared online by Richard Barrow, a British expat travel blogger in Thailand, one TripAdvisor review by Barnes in July said he encountered ‘unfriendly staff’ who ‘act like they don’t want anyone here’. 

Reviews reportedly left by Barnes linked Sea View Resort to ‘modern day slavery’ and accssed staff of being unfriendly

‘Unfriendly staff, no one ever smiles. They act like they don’t want anyone there. The restaurant manager was the worst…There are other hotels with better-friendlier staff.’

A similiar reiteration of Barnes’ initial TripAdvisor review appeared in two additional Google Reviews linked to him. 

At least one review was posted in June on TripAdvisor accusing the hotel of ‘modern day slavery’ — which the site removed after a week for violating its guidelines.

‘Do not sleep here!’ a review said. ‘Don’t support modern day slavery of Thai people! The staff are unfriendly because of their management…’ part of the review read. 

He disparaged a staffer in the reviews, saying ‘not only does he treat the staff like slaves, he also acts like he is more important and better than the guests…Please, don’t support this modern day slavery.’

One review flagged by the hotel included Barnes writing to ‘avoid this place as if it was the coronavirus.’  

In a statement to Barrow, Barnes confirmed that the argument over the corkage fee is what led him to post the reviews.

Pictured: Barrow shared  statement made by Barnes on his Twitter count 

Pictured: a statement from Barnes shared with Richard Barrow 

‘The staff were unfriendly at every turn. The night progressed and we started drinking on the beach right outside the restaurant,’ the statement said.

‘To avoid drinking and driving, we decided to eat at the restaurant at the hotel. We had our bottle of gin and was told it would cost an extra 500 baht [$15.80] to have it there. 

‘We were shocked and complained a little to the server but my friend was willing to pay for it. The server told the manager we complained and he came over with an attitude. After having a little to drink and paying so much for the room, I got a little attitude back. 

Barnes said that after allegedly watching one hotel staffer belittle another, he decided the post the negative reviews.

‘That was when I said I will write a review about this place when I leave. With the manager, I felt there was some type of master/slave mentality going on,’ wrote Barnes.

Sea View Resort also released a statement to Barrow at the time and listed three specific reasons for the legal action.

Richard Barrow, a British expat travel blogger in Thailand , shared statements from both Barnes and Sea View Resort following news of the arrest

Pictured: part of a five-page statement from Sea View Resort to Richard Barrow in regards to the Barnes’ arrest

‘He left fabricated stories on his reviews on TripAdvisor and Google that included xenophobic connotations, accusations of slavery and even comments that could mislead readers to associate our property with the Coronavirus.

‘He had been posting reviews roughly 1-2 weeks apart with obvious defamatory intentions.

‘Despite out multiple efforts to contact him to resolve this in an amicable way for well over a month, he chose to ignore use completely. He only replied to emails, messages on reviews sites, etc. once he had been notified of our complaint by authorities.’ 

Barnes, who works in Thailand, was arrested by immigration police and returned to Koh Chang where he was briefly detained and then freed on bail. He was detained on criminal defamation and computer crime laws. 

The case brought new scrutiny to Thailand´s defamation and computer crime laws, which human rights activists say are too harsh and sweeping.

Barrow noted in a Twitter post that ‘In most cases, defamation laws are good as they are there to protect us. But it is sometimes abused.’

‘To have someone arrested at their workplace for posting a negative review is surely a step too far. Does this now mean none of us should post one star hotel reviews in Thailand?’

Pictured: An arrest report and a review from Barnes shared by Richard Barrow 

Such uncertainties could derail Thailand’s tourism industry, which has struggled to stay afloat amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

People online criticized the hotel for leveling Thailand’s harsh defamation laws at a guest who did not enjoy their stay. 

Travelers became alarmed after learning of Barnes’ detainment, and some questioned why Thai authorities would pursue this case while the country sought to revive tourism.

Tourism is one of Thailand’s largest sectors and accounts for a wide chucnk of its economy. 

Under the laws, Barnes could have been fined up to 100,000 baht ($3,200) and be jailed for up to two years.

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