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Hotel horrors and the travel agent disclaimer

What should we be telling our clients about their upcoming hotel stay? In this litigious age, it is perhaps wise to have a boilerplate brochure or perhaps just a one-page PDF, a sort of subtle disclosure statement, that covers basic safety tips while traveling – always double lock your hotel room door, never open it without confirming the identity of the person on the other side, and so forth.

And, of course, there should be some sort of “paper trail,” even if it is electronic, to document the fact that the client has received it.

But is that enough?

I started mulling that question after reading a lengthy thread on FlyerTalk.com about the kind of horror story that, thankfully, I have never experienced; neither to my knowledge has anyone whom I have ever booked into a hotel.

In brief, a traveler who goes by the nom de forum HK47 checked out of an upscale hotel and was later socked with a $500 charge for damage to the room that included extensive wine stains and an obscene message scrawled on the bathroom mirror.

HK47 maintains he wasn’t responsible and, for the sake of discussion, let’s stipulate that he’s telling the truth. The hotel doesn’t think so and has refused to reverse the charge.

The lengthy discussion on the FlyerTalk forum stretches to 11 pages (so far) and is far too lengthy to summarize, but the suggestions, conspiracy theories, and solutions were mind-boggling—bad enough to make me question if I ever wanted to stay (or sell) in a hotel again!

Never use the flip-lock to prop the door open when you leave. I have done this in the past to alert housekeeping that the room is vacant, but my wife has broken me of the habit. Doing so signals not just housekeeping but thieves.

Unfortunately, housekeeping often uses the flip-lock to mark rooms ready for cleaning, giving thieves an opening. One thread participant reported having to use an out-of-town credit card receipt to prove he wasn’t the one who had emptied the mini bar!

Another person said he takes smartphone videos on arrival and departure, using the television tuned to CNN to document the date and time. Apparently, this came in handy on three occasions, when he was accused of emptying the mini bar, damaging the bathroom, and damaging a television that was damaged on arrival.

Some people questioned whether the “evidence” photos sent by the hotel were of the right room. HK47 replied that they were since he had left half-filled glasses on the bathroom counter and some trash on the bedside table and both were visible in the photos. This led to the suggestion that we should tidy up a bit before checking out.

Another theme was “Always tip the maid” on the theory that the damage might have been done by a vengeful maid. Others advised against allowing the maid into a room you are about to vacate; instead you should close the door behind you and let the maid use her key to gain access, since most hotels have key logs that record when and by whom doors are opened.

One suggestion that wasn’t made was “sue your travel agent!” But rest assured, if a travel agent made the booking and this situation wound up in the hands of an attorney, the agent would be targeted.

It all made for depressing reading.

Now the idea of sending clients off on a trip, especially one that’s supposed to be a vacation, with a long list of all the horrible things that might, just might go wrong and the cumbersome methods (before and after videos? Really?) they can use to cover their backsides is not a prospect I relish. And yet… we probably ought to acknowledge and be aware that we may become involved.

What do you do? What steps should the prudent travel agent take? I look forward to reading your comments.

Kelly Monaghan, CTC, is a writer and publisher who has been covering the home-based travel agent scene since 1994. Prior to his entry into the travel industry he was a sales trainer for major companies such as AT&T, Arrow Electronics, and Brinks and wrote widely on sales and marketing for a number of professional publications. HisHome-Based Travel Agent Success Course  has been endorsed by OSSN and The Travel Institute. His publishing company, The Intrepid Traveler  specializes in Orlando area attractions and offers discounts to travel agents who wish to use its guides as gifts or premiums.

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