Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

You'd think hotels might be panicking these days.

After all, Airbnb has cut into their monopoly a little. And they have hopped onto the airlines' nickel-and-diming frenzy with glee. 

Yet, to hear Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson, there's nothing to worry about

It's as if many hotel owners believe that nothing will ever truly change and hotels will always be in control. 

Yes, just like many of them control the temperature in your room.

Yet here's a tale of a hotel that may have taken the control thing a little too far.

Katrina Arthur from Greene County, Indiana say that a hotel slapped her and her husband with a $350 surcharge.

Had they gone rock star on their room? It doesn't seem so. 

Had they tossed bread rolls at their fellow guests during dinner? I can find no evidence of this.

Instead, as RTV-6 reports, the Arthurs weren't very happy with the Abbey Inn & Suites in Brown County, Indiana. 

So Katrina Arthur posted a negative online review.

Restaurants, hotels and store owners -- all business owners, indeed -- are aware of how damaging an online review can be. 

Then again, Katrina Arthur said of her experience: "The room was unkempt, and it looked like it hadn't been cleaned since the last people stayed there. We checked the sheets and I found hairs and dirt."

That sounds less than ideal.

She said she failed to get a response from the hotel, so she had to clean the room herself.

This doesn't sound quite like the relaxing getaway the Arthurs might have expected.

But wait. Where did the $350 charge come from?

The allegation is that, in its policies, the hotel actually had a little clause that allowed it to charge that amount in the event of a negative review that had been posted without first complaining to the management of the hotel.

Oddly, it seems that the hotel had initially emailed the Arthurs to ask them to post a review.

Of her review, Katrina Arthur said: "I was honest. I wanted people to know not to waste their money, because I know people save their money for special occasions."

The Arthurs stayed at the Abbey Inn in March 2016. 

However, they subsequently discovered they weren't alone in their complaints.

Now, the Indiana Attorney General's Office has filed a lawsuit against the hotel's management company, Abbey Management.

This wasn't the only suspicious charge of which the Abbey is accused of levying.

There was allegedly a $100 extra if you used the hotel's overnight phone number -- there appear not to have been staff available overnight -- and it turned out not to have been an emergency.

The hotel, which may have been taken over by new management, didn't respond to RTV-6's revelations.

But there's a wider issue here.

Hotels, just like airlines, want to levy power over customers. 

If the Arthur's review was severe but truthful, would $350 really have covered the potential loss of business to the hotel and the potential dive in its reputation? 

I suspect not.

It was more likely a simple threat to deter guests, one that Arthur said was hidden online, rather than put on paper.

Arthur said she didn't merely get charged, but also received a nasty letter from a lawyer.

With many businesses, if the service is consistently good, it's likely to be rewarded with consistently positive reviews.

Unless, that is, subterfuge of some sort is involved. 

Still, review sites aren't always the apogees of goodness. 

TripAdvisor, for example, recently apologized for removing a rape victim's warning about a Mexican resort.

Ultimately, you have to stay close to your customers and the experiences you're giving them.

Look at the more measured companies and you'll see that they police review sites and try to respond constructively to criticisms.

No one ever said that being in a service business was easy.

Published on: Dec 20, 2017
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.