Guests expect that when they book a hotel reservation or buy a plane ticket, it’s a done deal regardless of any legal terms and conditions. Hoteliers should do whatever possible to uphold that expectation.
In covering the hotel industry, I’ve heard people talk about lessons hoteliers can learn from the major airlines. Right now, I’m wondering if people working for any of the major airlines are talking about lessons they can learn from the hotel industry.
I don’t know who let out a bigger groan: shareholders of United Airlines after the widespread backlash against the company torpedoed stock values, or all the public relations and crisis communications experts who read the initial comments from Oscar Muñoz, CEO of United. Muñoz not only referred to a passenger being forcibly removed from his seat as being “re-accommodated” but then doubled-down on this position by blaming the man before finally giving out what everyone realizes was a forced apology.
In this particular situation, the story changed from problems with overbooking to needing airline crewmembers to get onboard. Either way, someone who paid for a ticket and had just as great a need to arrive at his destination as anyone else on that plane was forced off.
Hotels are not immune from this sort of thing, though thankfully without this kind of violence. My colleagues and I were talking about some hotels in news that canceled guests’ reservations because they booked before the revenue-management team realized they could raise rates for a solar eclipse event this August. Those guests could still book a room, but at higher rates than they originally booked.
That bad public image for those hotels was likely only temporary, but it should have lasting lessons for everyone. Firstly, that’s a reminder to revenue managers to look for opportunities to grow rates well in advance of properties’ booking windows. Secondly, I might be new to the industry, but canceling guests’ perfectly legitimate and fairly booked reservations to increase the rates on previously reserved rooms seems to go against this culture of hospitality I keep hearing about.
Although consumer confidence is higher and wages are increasing, that doesn’t mean everyone suddenly has an endless amount of disposable income. Wages are only increasing now after decades of stagnation. People are still working their way out of debt. While they might be in a better position than they were years ago, they’re not all millionaires now.
When people book flights and reserve rooms at hotels, they expect that to mean something. Even if money hasn’t been exchanged yet, they still believe something is being held in their name and will be available to them at the appointed time. Sure, there are terms and conditions that apply, and guests agree to them when they book, but honestly think about how many people actually read and understand the fine print.
Guests can cancel their reservation up until a certain point without incurring a fee (and there’s talk about that window disappearing eventually), so why shouldn’t hotels be allowed to do the same? That sounds fair on paper, I suppose, but again, does that sound like hospitality? While it might come across as both sides get to do it, don’t think for a second the public considers both sides equal. Any person put in a position (or even just imagining it) where they have to give up a seat on a flight or give up their hotel reservation so someone else can take it doesn’t see themselves on equal footing with the company forcing this on them. They become one person against an overpowering corporation, and it’s a situation they have come to know all too well.
Everyone has been there, feeling powerless because the company providing a good or service wrote the rules in their favor, such as requiring arbitration to solve any dispute and limiting what’s covered by a warranty.
Every company needs to earn money to operate, but don’t let potential short-term profit blind you to what it’s like to feel like being the little guy all the time. As the outrage over the United Airlines situation has shown us, there are a lot of people out there who feel like the little guy, and put together, they can have a pretty big impact.
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