TripAdvisor hates gag clauses except the ones it imposes

TripAdvisor doesn’t want us to write about Morna McNulty.

In a desperate attempt to keep this case off this site, TripAdvisor told her flat-out that it wouldn’t help her with her complaint unless she promised not to tell us how her case was resolved, she says.

But you know me. I don’t like people telling me what to do — or what to write. So here we are, TripAdvisor. I’m writing about you.

There’s a reason for my refusal to acquiesce. McNulty isn’t the first case that a company has tried to quash with a settlement agreement that includes a non-disclosure clause. These agreements are bad for consumers and should be resisted, but they also let us have a little fun here at the Elliott ranch. I’ll get to that in a sec.

McNulty rented a home through FlipKey, a vacation rental company owned by TripAdvisor. It wasn’t what she expected.

“When we arrived we found it had only one bathroom instead of two,” she says. “The house was filled with expired, half-eaten foods and was filthy.”

She went through all the steps to resolve the rental with the property owner and FlipKey, but failed. It’s probably best to let her describe the extent of the problem.

A property on TripAdvisor was falsely advertised, in horrible condition. The owner refused to compensate us for his mistake. He lied to TripAdvisor to get out of it.

TripAdvisor keeps promising to address it but actually refuses to do so.

I submitted a property review which TripAdvisor will not post. They say they will follow up and address this mistreatment of us as customers but do nothing.

See the problem here? TripAdvisor owns the booking site (FlipKey) and the review site (TripAdvisor). Now it wants to extend its complete control to the blogosphere, where we live.

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After many more emails and phone calls, McNulty finally contacted me. And she didn’t just contact me, she also told TripAdvisor that she contacted me. We also got in touch with TripAdvisor. And, according to McNulty, that did it.

“I firmly believe that the reason they finally stopped ignoring me and offered any kind of resolution is because of advocates like you,” she says. “Without the extra support, they just go on ignoring customers because they can. So thank you for what you do.”

McNulty requested a 10 percent refund on the total cost of the rental plus a return of the cleaning fee, which came to $580.

“We think this is very fair and not an unreasonable request,” she adds.

Seemed fair and reasonable to our advocacy team, too. But when TripAdvisor contacted McNulty, it had good news and bad news. The good news: At long last, it would resolve her case to her satisfaction. The bad news? She would be sworn to secrecy.

“They told me that my settlement with them was defined as a ‘good faith gesture’ was contingent on my agreement to keep the settlement details confidential,” she says. “Sounds like something a company would do. But I just agreed because I was satisfied with their gesture. And just wanted be done with the mess.”

Well, fine.

It’s pretty clear that TripAdvisor wants to stop us from publishing anything about this case. Ironically, it just won a victory in Washington on a new law that would prevent business owners from imposing certain gag clauses on reviewers.

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But I see the twisted corporate logic here. If you don’t know the resolution, I don’t have a story, right?

Wrong. We not only have a great story, but an incredibly entertaining poll to run at the end of the post. I’m going to allow you to tell me how you think this one turned out. See if you can guess the resolution.

How did TripAdvisor resolve Morna McNulty's case?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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