A hurricane closure

by Christopher Elliott on October 27, 2005

Q: We had reservations to stay at the Days Inn Island Beach Resort in Fort Myers Beach, Fla., for the Fort Myers Beach Shrimp Festival. Because a hurricane had recently hit the area, I called the Days Inn toll-free number several times to reconfirm my reservation. The reservations agents never indicated that there was a problem.

But when we got to Fort Myers Beach, the hotel was closed. The Ramada right next door, which is part of the same hotel family, was able to take our reservation for the first night, but not for the remaining four nights. Days Inn offered to find me another hotel but couldn’t guarantee that it would be on the beach. I told them I was there to be on the beach and not elsewhere.

The front desk at the Ramada offered us a better room at a discount, but we still had to pay the difference between our original rate at Days Inn and the new one at Ramada, which came to an extra $125.81 for our stay. Shouldn’t the hotel have just moved us up to a better room and not charged us?

– Kim Kolberg, Forest Lake, Minn.

A: Yes, it should have — but only to the extent that the hotels’ parent company, Cendant, is able to control the room inventory. Unfortunately, in this case, it wasn’t simply a matter of moving you to a different room at a company-owned hotel.

The Days Inn in Fort Myers Beach is a franchise-owned hotel, according to Stacey Kennedy, a Cendant spokeswoman. In other words, the property is independently owned and operated. So the Ramada was under no obligation to take your reservation or to offer you a discounted room on the beach.

How did Cendant screw up? I think its operators in the reservations center should have known the Days Inn hotel was closed. Kennedy speculated that you were connected to an offshore reservations center when you phoned, which somehow didn’t get the memo that the property was out of commission.

But that explains only part of the meltdown. There should also be a procedure in place to notify guests when their room won’t be available. Indeed, it is the property’s responsibility to find substitute accommodations when a natural disaster strikes. There’s no law that requires this, of course — it’s just the right thing to do. They don’t call it the “hospitality” business for nothing.

Could you have done anything different?

“You have to be specific when you’re asking about a hotel,” Kennedy said. “Ms. Kolberg should have said, ‘I understand there’s a hurricane in the area. Can you tell me if the hotel is still open?’”

The hotel chain admits that there were some problems getting the word out about closed properties, and that these problems were exacerbated during the latest round of storms. Kennedy said Cendant is making changes to the way in which it handles hurricane-related closures.

Cendant refunded the additional $125.81 that you had to pay to stay at the Ramada.

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