Hotels should be honest about re-bookings . .

. . . otherwise they have to host cardboard boxes!

I’m a great admirer of the way hotels run their businesses. On the surface everyone you meet is as nice as pie and always enthusiastic to show you their latest improvement or upgrade. When it comes to the size of rooms and their current availability, they can be charmingly vague and relaxed. But don’t let this fool you.

Hotels and venues know their business statistics inside out. It is no accident that hotel insiders speak in a jargon which is barely comprehensible to ordinary mortals. From ADR and ALOS to RevPAR and RevPOR a good hotel is always acutely aware of the ‘wasting asset’ represented by a room night. The clock is constantly ticking on unused bedroom stock. Once the check-in time has passed a room becomes as ugly as tarnished gold…only to be magically revived the next day when it becomes shiny and new again. So, it comes as a bit of a surprise for a group organiser to discover that trying to claim back the cost of rooms booked under the hotel’s attrition policy is harder than pulling teeth.

Here’s an actual example.
Last year we booked 50 rooms in a European city on a specific night to coincide with a major football match. The event was the culmination of an incentive, so the number of winners was unpredictable. As it turned out only 35 people qualified, so we invoked the attrition clause - only to be told that it was too late and that we would have to pay for all the rooms, even though 15 of them would be empty.

As is normal in such a case, the hotel promised to refund most of the booking cost IF the rooms were resold. The city in question was bursting at the seams because of this important football match…there was not a room to be had anywhere. So we were pretty confident that the rooms would be snapped up and we would get our money back.

As match day approached we expected the hotel to contact us to give us the good news. But no news came. The sales office said that the rooms had not been resold, so no rebate was due. We then went on the Internet to see if this was true. The hotel in question was showing as ‘fully booked’. We tried several sites which all showed that the hotel was completely full for that night.

Eventually, the day before the night in question, we tracked down the General Manager who confirmed that the rooms had indeed been re-sold and he could not understand why we had been told a different story.

It turns out, of course, that sales were down and the opportunity to increase the overall revenue for the month by having two bookings for the same room nights proved too attractive to turn down.

Honesty aside, it should not be so difficult to chase refunds or even get accurate information about what has been sold and when, if you consider the forensic detail most hotels have about their properties for any given day. Hotels openly share their room rates with comparison websites, so consumers can make a choice about the best deal available. Why don’t corporate buyers get given the same courtesy?

We have recently started a new policy in situations where we think a hotel has sold our rooms on, but where they insist we still pay for them. We despatch large boxes of polystyrene to the hotel and ask for one to be placed in each of the rooms in a prominent place by the bed for the disputed night.

It is not long before the porters, housekeeping, the front desk and other hotel employees start to wonder what is going on, especially as these rooms do not appear to have any guest names appearing in the booking documents. It soon becomes clear that we are just blocking the rooms. When the hotel realises that cardboard boxes do not eat in the restaurant or buy drinks at the bar, they soon do a deal and re-let the rooms to proper paying customers.

One of the great benefits of the Internet in the hospitality business has been the transparency about detail, prices and numbers. If this could be extended to group bookings attrition, it would all make for a more level playing field and less boxes being left in empty hotel rooms on a night when the room could have been sold three times over.

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