Travelers rely not only on the kindness of strangers but on their honest opinions, especially in reviews of hotels and restaurants. I don’t know how many times I’ve been steered toward a good restaurant or hotel – or away from a bad one – by reviews in newspapers and comments posted on the Internet.
Now Arthur Frommer, who is always looking out for the common traveler, has identified a threat to this honest exchange of opinions, in whatever media. He blogged recently about a case in Australia where a jury found that a newspaper reviewer had defamed a restaurant simply by criticizing the food and service.
The Australian jury’s finding puts the entire idea of reviewing at risk in that country. The logical extension is that consumers will have to endure lousy movies, bad food and tourist-trap hotels because no one will dare write an honest review in a newspaper, guidebook, blog or Web posting.
It’s particularly bad news for travelers, who are especially vulnerable to rip-offs and just plain bad values in unfamiliar places. With no alternative to staying in hotels and eating in restaurants and no connections to local word-of-mouth, we have to rely on what other people write when we decide how to spend our money.
I like to think that it has gotten more difficult for unscrupulous businesses to rip off travelers because the Internet has provided a way for us to warn each other about them. Let’s hope that the law, at least in the United States, continues to back us up.