By SHANNON KELLY
Our favourite avenger of travel scams and customer-service fails, Christopher Elliott, recently wrote about a trend in the vacation-rental industry of requiring renters to sign contracts with non-disparagement clauses prohibiting them from writing negative reviews of properties where they’ve stayed.
One couple was charged $500 to their credit card for writing an unfavourable online review of a property they’d rented.
This may sound unfair, but property owners say it’s protection, since one negative review can have massive economic impact on their business. They may have a point, given the concerns that online reviews aren’t 100 per-cent reliable—there’s no way of knowing whether the review is a valid criticism or overly harsh remarks (or even complete fabrications) from a guest who lost his or her deposit, a terminated employee seeking revenge or even a competitor interloper. Though the public is generally aware that reviews can’t be trusted, there’s evidence that they use the reviews anyway.
On the other hand, imposing an online-review “gag order” on guests reeks of censorship and casts some doubt on whether the property is a quality rental. (If they’re so worried about negative reviews, does that mean they have something to hide?) Carl Shepherd, the co-founder of HomeAway vacation rentals, actually recommends that renters avoid properties with these types of clauses. And the CEO of Gogobot, Travis Katz, called non-disparagement clauses a form of bullying.