Monday, May 27, 2013

Dear Hotel (Two Letters)

Dear Clarion Inn,

Our family recently went on a trip with several other families to Williamsburg, VA. Each family was in charge of arranging their own lodging. We spent months researching the best place to stay, originally hoping to stay in a rental home. We were unable to find an affordable rental home situation that suited our needs for this trip, so we we settled on a hotel stay and, being Choice Privileges Members, chose one of your hotels - the Clarion in Williamsburg. In the past, we have often stayed at hotels in the Choice Hotels family, usually having good experiences. Being members of your Choice Privileges program, we have been treated well in all the hotels we've used. Our experience in Virginia was quite different.

After driving all day, often in thick traffic, we were happy to arrive at our hotel for the night. There are four things we always look for in a hotel when we make our reservations: 1. non-smoking rooms, 2. complimentary breakfast, 3. free wifi, and 4. dog-friendly accommodations. We verified all of these things the previous week on the phone when we made our reservation with your establishment.

Since we travel with our small dog, we spent a lot of time looking for and contacting hotels to ensure we could bring her along with us. We quickly found out that not many hotels would accept pets, but according to your website the Clarion Inn did allow pets. We called and spoke to an employee at the hotel to confirm this and she assured us that not only were pets welcome at the hotel, she would make a note that we needed a pet-friendly room. She told us to complete our online reservation as she noted this. We did this.

Upon arriving and checking in, the clerk at the desk seemed genuinely surprised that we needed a dog-friendly room and informed us that all of their pet-friendly rooms were already booked. Now, we are absolutely positive that we verified that we'd have a dog-friendly room, because we know that when traveling with a dog, that is something you definitely want to confirm before just showing up. No one wants to risk having nowhere to stay when traveling with young kids and a small dog. And we're responsible people who know better than to not check beforehand. Plus, I'm pretty type-A that way.

We were then told there was no continental breakfast included, but that there was a restaurant that served breakfast for a fee. When we explained that we were told there would be breakfast included in the rate, the clerk said, "You shouldn't have been told that." That's fine, but the fact is that we were. Again, it is one of the things we look for when we make a reservation. Eating breakfast out daily as a family is time consuming as well as a pricey addition to travel expenses. Being able to eat breakfast at the hotel is a wonderful convenience that makes paying a bit more for a hotel worth it.

I know most families look for a pool when they travel with kids. While this is not a priority for us, because we are generally out and about most of the time except for sleeping and getting ready, it is a nice bonus. This particular hotel had a pool, so I took our kids to swim while my husband tried to work out our situation.

It was almost 9pm at this point. Since it was so late, we took all of our bags into the hotel and got settled for the night while my husband called other hotels. We figured we'd stay there for one night and find a different place to stay for the the rest of our trip. It was a huge inconvenience to have to figure out new breakfast plans as well as sleeping arrangements for the next several nights at a different place, since this hotel situation was not going to work for us for the duration of our trip. We were meeting 5 other families early the next morning at the visitor's center for Colonial Williamsburg. Having to add the time and expense of finding breakfast and checking out of a hotel to check in to yet another one for the following 3 days was very, very frustrating. Not a great way to start a vacation. Such a hassle.

Before this, we sat in our car discussing what to do, frustrated and tired and angry. We were exhausted and ready to get settled, wind down, and get some sleep. It was really late to find a new hotel and we were trying to figure out what to do for breakfast the next morning. The clerk had found us a room that was not technically pet friendly, but was at least available for the night. We walked into our room, a room I can only assume was some kind of extra storage facility, or perhaps a room awaiting some kind of eventual renovation. It was very much a "spare" room, in every sense of the word. We set our bags down and checked the clock to see how much time we'd have at the pool before retiring. It would give me and the kids something to do while my husband called hotels in the area to see if they had availability for us for the next 3 days. We were nervous, as we knew that many places were booked due to events in town and the fact that it was a spring weekend.

When we looked at the clock, it wasn't displaying the time. We looked to see if it was plugged in. It was. The clock was broken, so we picked up the phone to tell the front desk about the broken clock. That's when we discovered that the phone was broken, too. Sounds like a joke, but it wasn't. For kicks, I tried the lamp. It was missing a bulb.

My anger rising, I checked my watch for the time and took the kids to the pool while my husband went to the front desk to talk to the man there, you know, since our phone wasn't working. The man at the front desk said he'd send maintenance to fix it. Eventually, the handyman showed up and repaired whatever was wrong so that both the clock and phone were functioning again. My husband called numerous hotels in the area. Many were booked. Some didn't allow pets. One woman working the phones at her hotel job (a hotel that didn't allow dogs) gave a personal recommendation for La Quinta - said she personally travels with dogs and has always found La Quinta to be very pet friendly. He made some calls and found that La Quinta was not only dog-friendly, but also had availability that weekend. The plan was to stay the night at the Clarion and figure out both breakfast and check out in order to check in to yet another hotel the following day.

I got back from the pool with two soaking wet, cold kids. My son went to take a shower and discovered that there was no shower curtain. I walked in to the bathroom and looked - there was no tub/shower combination. The shower was simply on the side of the room against the wall. There was no curtain, but there was a drain and two shower heads, one on either side, facing each other. Underneath one of the shower heads was a chair. This was apparently a handicap-accessible room. I tried to figure out if this was some kind of fancy new shower that didn't need a shower curtain, but that didn't seem right. With the now-working phone, we called the front desk and the, by now, very embarrassed clerk said he'd send the handyman down again to install a shower curtain.

As we waited for him, our kids shivered wet and cold in their towels. I tried to distract them by turning on the TV. You guessed it. It didn't turn on. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry, so I sort of did both. My daughter grabbed her iPod to text her friend and tell her about this comedy of errors only to discover . . . wait for it . . . there was no wifi. We were told there was free wifi, but for whatever reason, it wasn't working in our room. It was par for the course - the room was like some kind of wormhole of broken and missing items and falsely advertised services. The handyman got the shower curtain installed and then left. Our son went in to use the shower but couldn't figure out how to get it to work properly. I went in to help him. The shower knob turned on and then just spun around and around and around. We could get either scalding hot water or freezing cold water. I could not believe this was happening. I tried the other shower head - the one above the chair for disabled people - and it was broken, too. The shower head wouldn't stay up. It just kept sliding down the pole and not turning on. Unbelievably, we talked to the hotel clerk again. He sheepishly and apologetically said he'd send the handyman yet again, this time to fix the shower. We waited, kids cold and wet, for the shower to be fixed. I tried to adjust the heating/cooling unit to heat the room. I got varied results.

The handyman worked on the shower knob for some time. He was unable to fix it, so he went to talk to the hotel clerk. The two of them returned to our room, the clerk at this point completely mortified by the domino events of the evening. He told us that they could not fix the shower and they would try to find us a new room, but that all he had was one room on the fourth floor that was a business room that did not allow dogs. He said we could stay there, but that we would probably get complaints from people on the floor, as dogs aren't generally allowed there. While we were desperate for a room (and a hot shower!), I did not revel in the idea of being uncomfortable due to being some place we didn't belong and surrounded by people who were unhappy about that.

My husband had had it by this point and told the hotel clerk that he had found a hotel for the next several nights and he would just call them back to see if they could take us tonight. It was already almost 11pm and we were exhausted and aggravated. The hotel clerk looked down at his papers that had our information and said, "Oh, sir, I'm so sorry. I see that you're also Choice Privileges Members. I am so so sorry. You won't be charged for this." Choice Privileges Members or not, I wouldn't think any hotel worker in his or her right mind would charge us for this! At this point, we should've been getting paid for our time, work, aggravation, and for troubleshooting all the broken and missing items in the room!

We packed up our things and loaded our car again. We left the hotel, wet, tired, cold, hungry, and frustrated beyond belief. It was 1am by the time we were checked in, showered, and settled in bed in our new hotel. The upside to this frustrating night's experience is that we found a new hotel chain that now has our loyalty. In fact, I will be writing them a letter next, only theirs will be a very different one - I have nothing but good to say about La Quinta Inns. Everyone was friendly; the hotel was clean; everything worked; it was bigger; it was pet-friendly; and it was more affordable! We got much nicer accommodations, free breakfast (a very nice spread, too!), free wifi . . . all at a better price. We had a fantastic experience there. Over the next several days, we talked with many other friendly hotel guests about La Quinta. Everyone had nothing but good to say. This place was FULL of dog lovers and apparently it's known among travelers with dogs as THE place to stay. What a happy discovery! We signed up with their rewards program, grabbed a book that listed every La Quinta in the country, and enjoyed the rest of our trip.

Since getting home, I have done some research online and what I read there confirms what we experienced - people love La Quinta. I wouldn't have discovered that had it not been for our miserable experience at The Clarion, so for that I thank you. Otherwise, I'm stymied as to how we were not compensated in some way for the time, aggravation, and hassle we spent at your establishment. I would think that a reputable hotel chain like yours would work in some way to get us back and convince us to not give up on your accommodations and service. When we travel, we have almost always stayed at your hotels and, in general, have had positive experiences. As Choice Privileges Members, we have participated in the "Stay Two, Get One" program. We have sought out your hotels while traveling. We haven't ever had a problem before this trip, but this particular situation was beyond the pale and we thought you should know about it.

An extremely frustrated, former loyal patron


Dear La Quinta Inns,

We are THRILLED to have discovered what a great hotel chain you have! After a very frustrating experience at one of your competitor's establishments (see attached letter), we checked in to your hotel for our family vacation and had a wonderful time. The hotel was clean, big, and affordable! We have long been rewards members of another hotel chain, but our loyalties have most certainly shifted to La Quinta! Your rooms were great. You include free wifi. You include a lovely spread of breakfast (your Colonial Williamsburg location even had biscuits and gravy!). You are affordable. Your entire building is non-smoking (how have other chains not figured out to do that?!?). And you're gloriously pet-friendly!

Every morning, while eating a nice variety of foods for breakfast, we talked with other guests and all of them told us that they won't stay anywhere but a La Quinta Inn when they travel. All it took was one person praising your chain for another person, overhearing the conversation, to join in and add their own praise and compliments. Dog owners especially spoke of how wonderful it is to have such a great dog-friendly hotel chain to count on. And because so many guests are dog owners, all of us enjoyed talking with one another and sharing our love for our furry, four-legged friends. It was such a comfortable, community-like place to be.

Apparently, it is known among dog lovers that La Quinta accepts, welcomes, and appreciates us! Thank you for that. It's great to be able to take our pets on vacation and know there is such a comfortable, welcoming place to be together. Add to that all the amenities you offer at an affordable price . . . well, there is no question in our minds what our first choice of hotel is. We are now signed up with your rewards program and have a book of all of your locations. I only wish there were more of them (especially in the northeast part of the country)!

You have new, loyal customers in us. We are thrilled.

A very happy new, loyal patron


Emily Foley said...

Oh my gosh!! I can't even imagine how awful that must have been. We had to change rooms once because our shower wouldn't drain but to not have a curtain at all?! Holy moly. I wold love to hear if they respond.

Emily Foley said...


The Magic Violinist said...

Yes, if they respond you should post THEIR letter on here! :D They'd better respond after all that trouble we went through.

The Magic Violinist said...

Also, the wifi not working when I was texting Kirsten to tell her EVERYTHING in our hotel was broken? Hilarious! XD

seventytwofishes said...

Erg, traveling can be such a pain in the tush! I'm glad it all worked out for you!

I have my business writers write complaint letters and resolution letters. Yours are great examples!

Dave Johnson said...

P.S (to the Clarion letter):

"To make matters worse, this annoying friend of ours kept texting us every five minutes in the midst of this comedy of errors to see if his stupid dog could stay in our backyard. This further irritated us to the point of nearly changing our phone number and pretending we never met the guy."

What a crappy night. I wish there were more La Quinta's in this part of the country - they're all over the place in the south and mid-west. We've found that some/but not all Hampton Inns are dog-friendly. Breakfast is a bit pedestrian, but they're super clean and friendly.

Boquinha said...

No offense to our readers from the South, but there are very few of ANYTHING from the South that I wish we had more of up here, but La Quinta hotels would be one of them!!

Boquinha said...

Thanks for the comments, all.