Lessons From The Union Street Guest House


If you haven’t heard about it already, the Union Street Guest House is a hotel in Hudson, N.Y. They have become famous for their amazing policy stating: “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.Plenty of lessons have come form the debacle of the Union Street Guest House policy.

You read that correctly. The hotel would fine individuals $500 for every negative review.

It is obvious the hotel owners and operators care very much about their online image. Here is the thing though…

Lesson 1. If you care about your online image enough to threaten reviewers, you are caring too much…and in the wrong way.

The proper thing would be to listen to reviewers’ negative statements and impact your business with positive change.

Remember this, if you want to hear positive things about what you are doing, you should call your mother. Positive change comes from feedback, and sometimes feedback is negative. Inflicting punishment on those who are sharing negative feedback only creates more negativity around your business and ultimately effects your bottom line.

Lesson 2. Everything and everyone is on social media.

This hotel is a pretty small venue in a fairly small town in a random part of New York. And yet, a lot of people have heard about it. It has been posted online, shown on major news outlets and talked about by many, many people.

And for all the wrong reasons.

This is one of the things we instill in our clients. All business is social, no matter the size, no matter the industry.

Just because your business doesn’t exist in the realm of social media, that does not mean other people are not out there, online reviewing your product, service or performance.

Lesson 3. Learn when it is the right time to acknowledge the mistake, apologize and display a resolution.

This is a PR staple, which is usually broken into three separate parts but needs to be one point here. The issue with this entire debacle is the Union Street Guest House has not acknowledged this, and the new copy (as of today) on their site reads: “Please know that despite the fact that wedding couples love Hudson and our Inn, your friends and families may not. This is due to the fact that your guests may not understand what we offer – therefore we expect you to explain that to them. USGH & Hudson are historic. The buildings here are old (but restored). Our bathrooms and kitchens are designed to look old in an artistic ‘vintage’ way. Our furniture is mostly hip, period furniture that you would see in many design magazines (although comfortable and functional – obviously all beds are brand new). If your guests are looking for a Marriott type hotel they may not like it here.”

They have stripped out the $500 fine gibberish in hopes no one would notice. The Internet, fortunately and unfortunately, notices everything.

What they should do is acknowledge the issue, apologize and attempt to rectify it in some manner.

This day and age you cannot own a business and expect to sweep an issue under the rug, especially an issue that receives this much attention.

So, if you are running a small business, or any business for that matter, get social, get thicker skin, grow from criticism and learn from mistakes. Authenticity and transparency are highly valued commodities and, when harnessed correctly, can make your business grow.


Magnani is an experience design and strategy firm that crafts transformational digital experiences to delight users and deliver sustainable competitive market advantages for our clients.


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