Unlicensed Drivers and Tripadvisor Blackmailers
A week or so I received an e-mail from a gentleman named Zack Smith. I can use his real name because it was not his real name. Zack is a taxi driver in Greece and his e-mail said that if I did not remove another taxi driver from my website that he would destroy my name on the forums and turn me in to the IRS. Neither threat really bothered me as a tax-paying American citizen who does not read the forums but what it did make me realize is the way sites like
Tripadvisor and Cruise Critic have lost their value because of people like Zack who use it as a weapon because they can remain annonymous.
To be honest with you Zack had a point. The driver, who unlike Zack will remain un-named on the island which will also remain un-named, was using a vehicle which falls within the category of limousine which they don't issue licences for outside of Athens yet, which I discovered by asking a few local experts. But the question for me was whether or not his passengers were insured and that, not Zack's threats, would what my decision would be based on. If
his passengers are not covered then I really can't have him on the site no matter how much of a nice guy he is. If because he is not legal he can't get insurance then I would remove him entirely. In the meantime the Monday deadline Zack gave me to remove him or face the consequences has passed and Zack may or may not have begun his campaign to destroy my reputation on Tripadvisor. I could have taken the driver off before the deadline and waited to find out about the insurance and then put him back on if
his passengers were insured, but I figured that if I let Zack say a few nasty things about me on Tripadvisor it only proves my point that people do use the forums in destructive ways.
The incident really left me with a bad feeling and I have to be honest with you that it kept me up nights. Part of it was because the tour guide was a very nice fellow, so nice that even though he knew who had sent the e-mail he would not tell me the other driver's name (He is a born again Christian and believes in turning the other cheek). He had also agreed to give 15% of what he makes to a poor family on the island. So I had this battle going on in my mind
of good vs evil and would I defend the good guy against the bad guy despite the threats. I asked advice from everyone in the business, many who knew the person making the threats. Some said remove my driver and some asked why I would do something because a taxi driver threatened me. But really it came down to the insurance. So I waited until Zack's deadline had passed before asking that critical question. But in the meantime my mind was working overtime and the whole situation and its implications bothered me.
Some of it was about Zack and the fact that someone could use threats to make me change what was on my website. Does this mean one day some Mafioso will suggest I recommend his club or face the consequences? I suppose this is possible. Some of it was the whole can of worms this would open in terms of the legality of tours in Greece. But much of it was about Tripadvisor and the fact that something which was created as a helpful tool for travelers could
be corrupted into a weapon where taxi drivers and hotels complain about their competition: Where one person's negative opinion about a hotel will cause people to question booking at a place that otherwise has overwhelmingly positive reviews.
I guess it helps to let people know how business works in Greece. In the USA we have this sort of moral approach to business that to be successful you have to work harder than the other guy whether that means physical or coming up with new and better ideas. In Greece the approach is different. They way you are successful is not to work harder but to fuck the other guy. Whatever it takes. It is one of Greece's dirty little secrets, one that those of us
who can get by on kalimera and thenberasi are insulated from because we see Greece at face value, the beauty of the landscape, the smiles of the old people when you greet them on the street, the tables by the sea, the food and so on. But beneath it is a dog-eat-dog world where people blame their failure on other people's success and will do anything to bring them down because, well I guess because it is easier than making yourself better. Anyone successful in Greece is a target.
Andrea says I should stop answering e-mails. "Look at you!" she says. "It's spring and you are miserable because of one stupid taxi driver". I am actually not miserable and I did notice it is spring and I am happy for the birds and the plants. As for not answering e-mail my feeling is that my website generates a nice income for me mostly through the google ads and the hotel bookings so I really don't have to do much of anything so why
not answer questions by e-mail and help people with their trips. I don't know or care or ask if they are using travel agents on my site, I just try to be helpful and give them enough information so they don't have to write 20 more e-mails to me. So it is a public service that probably keeps me from writing more about Greece but it is a decision I made to be more accessible. That also makes me accessible to people like Zack but as long as he is one in a thousand I will keep answering everyone else.
By the way while I was writing this I did find out that the driver is not covered by insurance so I have removed him even though I would have preferred that Zack Smith sent me a nice e-mail telling me the driver was unlicensed, instead of threatening me. But what the heck? For those of you who have been waiting for me to write something in my blog you got your wish thanks to Zack. And maybe people will read the travel forums with a more critical eye if they
know that there are people who use them to further their own agendas. As for the insurance issue I can tell you that all legal drivers in Greece have insurance for their passengers. On my site that includes George the Famous Taxi Driver and his sons and the other drivers who work with them, as well as many of the drivers who started with George and broke away to start their own companies. On the islands it depends on the driver, the vehicle and the island. If you want to know you will have to ask them.
One Zack Smith is enough for me.