DialAFlight in legal wrangle with TripAdvisor and Microsoft

Top travel site DialAFlight is in discussions with TripAdvisor regarding a legal settlement for an alleged libellous comment that appeared on the review giant’s subsidiary HolidayWatchdog.

The move comes within days of initiating a bevy of defamation lawsuits in the UK and Germany against review sites – including one included in Microsoft’s new Bing brand – and a high profile consumer travel blog.

Peter Stephens, managing director of DialAFlight parent company, Lotus Group Ltd, said the company filed defamation actions against Microsoft-owned shopping site Ciao in Germany, as well as consumer forum Grumbletext and Darren Cronian of the Travel Rants Blog in the UK.

Lotus was in the process of issuing proceedings against HolidayWatchdog when they promised to take the pages off immediately, which they subsequently did.

Stephens said Lotus Group is taking part in an ongoing discussion with a TripAdvisor lawyer in the US, who represents TripAdvisor and HolidayWatchdog, about costs and damages.

Asked about the issue, TripAdvisor spokesman Brooke Ferencsik said: “We do not comment on legal matters.”

DialAFlights foray into the courts revolves around an identical comment, written under an apparent pseudonym, which was posted to the four sites and alleged improper conduct over a customer service issue.

DialAFlight argued in the legal action that the malicious and libellous comment was written by a competitor of the company.

The comment is believed to have appeared on three other sites but was removed immediately.

In the legal action against Cronian, filed May 20 in the High Court, Queen’s Bench Division, and seen by Travolution, the Lotus Group described the offensive comment as being understood to mean that the claimant employed dishonest and illegal business practices by improperly withholding money from customers.

The claim sought up to £50,000 in damages, £780 in court fees, and an injunction barring the defendant from continuing to publish the defamatory words.

Separately, Travel Rants and Grumbletext issued unreserved apologies to DialAFlight over the unfounded comment, conceded that they didn’t take any actions when contacted about the issue several times over the last few months, and deleted the comment.

Cronian wrote on his blog June 19 that the matter has caused him to take a time out from blogging. He has also withdrawn his recently shortlisted entry to the Travolution Awards 2009.

He would not comment further when contacted by Travolution this week although it is understood the matter is considered closed and damages are no longer being sought.

The comment is no longer available on Travel Rants, Grumbletext or HolidayWatchdog. Ciao’s UK website still includes the comment.

A Ciao spokeswoman in Germany failed to respond to an e-mail requesting comment.

Meanwhile, Stephens admitted in a written statement that DialAFlight had previously taken part in a programme to pay bloggers to write articles about the company, although he added: “We tried it briefly but it never worked particularly well for us.”

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