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Hotel worker: TripAdvisor review cost me job

43 min.

Travelers may love TripAdvisor.com, but hotels often gripe that unverified bad reviews have cost them customers. Now a former hotel worker says a questionable review cost him his job.

“I’ve never heard of anyone being targeted specifically and actually being fired over a TripAdvisor review,” Fred Keeler told NBC News. “I want to prevent this from happening to anyone in the future.”

Keeler said he worked as a bartender at the Four Points by Sheraton Philadelphia Northeast hotel for almost 14 years. Then everything came to an abrupt end in the spring. On April 30, a harsh review of the hotel appeared on TripAdvisor.com. Titled “Bad, Bad, Bad… Did I Say Bad!” and posted by a user named “Angelo G,” the review gave the Sheraton one circle out of a possible five – or a “terrible” rating. The review has since been removed, but a screen shot provided by KwikChex, an online reputation company contacted by Keeler, shows the reviewer complaining about everything from a “crappy check-in” to clogged shower drains.

Then, the reviewer singles out an employee.

“Well wait there was one good thing,” the poster wrote. “The bartender, I think his name was Fred said for $20 tip he would give me open tap all night, he said ‘they count the good stuff.’”

Keeler suspects a disgruntled co-worker actually wrote the post – an employee with whom he had a fight on the day the review was published, he said.

Keeler said he was summoned to human resources on May 3 and shown a copy of the post, with the portion containing his name highlighted. He said he categorically denied the allegation.

“Whoever wrote this said I did something that I did not do. They said that I told him that if you give me a $20 tip, I’m going to give you free draft beer all night. I told them flat out, I did not say that,” he recalled.

Keeler was fired five days later, he said.

Four Points by Sheraton Philadelphia Northeast declined to discuss the case, saying it does not comment on employee matters as a matter of company policy.

TripAdvisor said it couldn’t comment specifically on threatened litigation.

“However our policy is that if anyone feels they’ve been subjected to an unfair review, we ask that they contact us immediately,” said spokesman Brooke Ferencsik.

“We have a team of content integrity specialists that review in detail every report of suspicious content. If a review is found to be in breach of our guidelines, it will be removed from the site.”

TripAdvisor allows hotel management to respond to reviews written about their property.

But as an employee, it appears Keeler’s options were limited. He wrote a rebuttal and tried to post it among the hotel’s reviews, but he said TripAdvisor told him it couldn’t be published because he wasn’t a guest. He asked TripAdvisor to take down the review, but no action was taken, he said.

Keeler then sought help from KwikChex, which used TripAdvisor’s private message system to contact the review author, said co-founder Chris Emmins. After warning of impending legal action, the review was removed in August, he added.

Keeler called his job loss “utterly devastating.” He lost his health insurance and has only been able to find part-time work that pays much less than his previous position. He was in the process of buying a home when he was fired, so that fell through when he became unemployed, he  said.

The effects of the review still sting.

“It was just humiliating,” Keeler said. “All my co-workers saw it, acquaintances, friends, relatives. Anyone in the country, in the world, could go on that site and look at the review of Four Points by Sheraton and it says right there, oh, Fred the bartender is stealing.”

TripAdvisor has become an online powerhouse, with more than 60 million unique monthly visitors.

Many hotel websites – like the recently redesigned home page for Best Western – prominently feature links to guest reviews of its properties posted on TripAdvisor.com.

But the company has also faced questions over the integrity of the user generated reviews and allegations that the content includes “false and malicious” posts.

Recent complaints against TripAdvisor have had mixed results.

In February, the Advertising Standards Authority in the United Kingdom told TripAdvisor’s UK version not to claim that the reviews on its website are from real travelers, or are honest, real or trusted. The action came after KwikChex and two hotels questioned whether those claims could be substantiated.

In August, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee dismissed a defamation lawsuit filed by the owner of the Grand Resort Hotel in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., against TripAdvisor after his property topped the site’s list of the “2011 Dirtiest Hotels” in the U.S.

“It does not appear to the Court that a reasonable person could believe that TripAdvisor’s article reflected anything more than the opinions of TripAdvisor’s millions of online users,” the judge wrote in his finding.

Meanwhile, Keeler is hoping to get his job back. It’s a longshot, he said.

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Tourists fined amid Rome’s ‘War on the Sandwich’

Andreas Solaro / AFP – Getty Images, file

Tourists seek shade from the sun on the steps of Piazza di Spagna in central Rome on July 30.

ROME — It’s one of the highlights of any trip to Rome: Sitting on the Spanish Steps eating a real Italian gelato. But on Oct. 1, it became a potentially costly vacation memory.

The mayor of the “eternal city” has made it illegal to eat snacks and junk food on or around its monuments.

Tourists will still be allowed to eat while they walk, but stop with a bag of chips in your hands or sit down while chewing on your panino, and you are eligible for a fine of 25 to 500 euros ($32 to $650). An Italian daily newspaper dubbed it the “War on the Sandwich.”

Dressed in their white and blue uniforms, local police officers Alessio Valentini and Magdi Adib were on patrol Thursday looking for anyone daring to flout the new law.

They shoved away a group of young Dutch tourists who sat next to the Colosseum to enjoy their pizzas. “Go, go,” Adib told the bemused boys, who didn’t know which crime they had committed.

‘Out of control’
The officers told NBC News they had fined seven tourists — all foreigners — since the morning. The standard penalty was 50 euros ($65).

“We could have given tickets to many more, but you have to apply some reason,” Adib said. “If they drink a bottle of water it’s OK, but if they camp out, we fine them.”

“Eating on monuments can really get out of control,” he added. “Once I caught a group of tourists who set a table on the Spanish Steps, with table cloth and cutlery! This has to stop.”

Andreas Solaro / AFP – Getty Images, file

Tourists enjoy ice cream in central Rome on July 30, before the new decree came into force.

Valentini agreed with his partner. “I once caught a tourist chopping a watermelon in the fountain at Piazza Navona,” he told NBC News. “Now we have a way to stop them.”

Rome’s leaning Colosseum has experts worried

A young German tourist, who was sitting nearby and eating a sandwich, couldn’t believe it at first when told about the decree.

“What? It’s full of food carts around here … where am I supposed to eat?” he said.

Tourists sitting on the Spanish Steps shared his bewilderment.

Both a Chinese tourist eating ice cream from a cup and a Romanian digging from a bag of chips while admiring the sunset over Via Condotti pointed out that there were no signs explaining the new law and asked how were they supposed to know about the rule.

When asked about this complaint, three local policemen patrolling the area told NBC News that there was no need for a sign.

“It’s common sense,” one officer said. “You can’t dirty such a beautiful and historical monument with ice cream and bread crumbs just because you can sit on it.”

They too had handed out many fines, but worried that in the end the penalty would not be paid.

“Most of them are foreigners, so I doubt they will pay the ticket before they go back to their countries,” the officer said. “It’s more likely they’ll keep it as a souvenir.”

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Israeli cops kill US gunman in hotel shoot-out

Eliraz Getah / AP

Israeli soldiers secure the area near the site of a shooting incident at a hotel in the Red Sea resort town of Eilat, Israel, on Friday.

Updated at 6:21 a.m. ET: JERUSALEM — Israeli forces killed an American man Friday who had earlier shot dead one person when he opened fire in a seaside hotel packed with tourists, police said. 

Police surrounded the hotel in the Red Sea resort city of Eilat after the man “grabbed a weapon from a security guard and shot a hotel worker,” police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said. The hotel employee later died.

The gunman barricaded himself in the hotel kitchen, shooting back at law enforcement officers. He was shot dead by members of a military counter-terrorism squad, a military source told Reuters.

Police later confirmed to NBC News that the American had been shot dead.

The AFP news agency quoted police spokeswoman Luba Samri as saying police asked the man to turn himself in, but that he opened fire at them during the negotiations. “They fired back and killed him,” Samri told the AFP.

The Associated Press reported that the incident occurred at the Leonardo Club hotel.

Speaking to Isreal’s Haaretz newspaper, one hotel guest said:

“We were in the dining room, and suddenly we heard shots fired. Both guests and hotel workers were very frightened. No one understood what was going on. Ten seconds later the dining room was blocked off and we were asked to go to our rooms and stay inside.”

Rosenfeld said the motive for the attack was unclear, but suggested a criminal — rather than political — reason seemed possible as the gunman had formerly been employed at the hotel.

Eilat, on the border with Egypt and Jordan, has been a target of militant attacks in the past, and has come under rocket fire from Egypt’s Sinai in the past several months. The city is currently crowded with both foreign tourists and Israelis on a seven-day Jewish religious holiday. 

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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JetBlue: Free flights for disgruntled voters in presidential election

1 hr.

In a marketing gimmick that piggybacks on next month’s presidential election, JetBlue is offering a way for Americans to make good on threats to leave the country if “the other guy” wins.

The New York airline said Wednesday that it will give away 2012 seats, or 1,006 round-trip flights, for customers that come out on the losing end of the battle between President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney.

Travelers who visit jetblue.com/electionprotection and pick their choice for President will be entered into the contest to win a (temporary) escape outside the U.S. JetBlue’s international routes include Mexico and the Caribbean.

The free flight would not include taxes, fees or a hotel.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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JetBlue: Free flights for disgruntled voters in presidential election

1 hr.

In a marketing gimmick that piggybacks on next month’s presidential election, JetBlue is offering a way for Americans to make good on threats to leave the country if “the other guy” wins.

The New York airline said Wednesday that it will give away 2012 seats, or 1,006 round-trip flights, for customers that come out on the losing end of the battle between President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney.

Travelers who visit jetblue.com/electionprotection and pick their choice for President will be entered into the contest to win a (temporary) escape outside the U.S. JetBlue’s international routes include Mexico and the Caribbean.

The free flight would not include taxes, fees or a hotel.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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