When is an overbooked hotel not an overbooked hotel? Apparently when booking on hilton.com according to the hilarious responses from this small town Hampton Inn General Manager.
A Simple Reservation Gone Wrong
One of our travel agency (ScottandThomas.com) clients had an issue with a hotel, it was oversold and the guest was notified while at the airport, on the day they were due to arrive. The guest was calm, didn’t use foul language or escalated voice levels, just as any professional would operate especially in a public place. The guest was told a variety of things that were confirmed when we called shortly after to sort the situation out. It really was not a complex situation, the hotel was oversold and the General Manager continued to state that there were no hotel rooms available because Rural King had secured every room in the small town of Mattoon, Illinois.
Oh, the mighty Rural King – prepare the trumpets, clear the peasants. To be entirely clear, Rural King has nothing to do with the problems of the hotel management’s inability to manage their property’s reservations. However, invoking their name repeatedly is odd, and unwisely puts a corporate guest at odds with other guests.
I doubt that Rural King has any knowledge that they were used as a scapegoat by the General Manager of the hotel though that could have consequences for the brand with guests that have been walked or told about the situation, not due to any fault of the big box outlet.
This was a simple problem, with a simple solution conflated by a frustrated General Manager and a local hotel who failed to follow the procedure. Instead of a service recovery, the General Manager lashed out to both the client and then myself as I called to attempt and resolve the matter. I wasn’t recording the call, I had no reason to do so as this was just to re-accommodate the guest – but I wish I had. As such, these are paraphrased but similar comments made to the client, and I had a witness to the phone call (on speakerphone) at the time I spoke to the GM.
His hilarious responses will be included below, but his first should be addressed here: “A booking confirmation is not a confirmation.”
What Does A Confirmation Number Confirm?
Below is the booking confirmation the client received. As we made the booking, I can confirm it was made more than two weeks prior to arrival on Hilton.com. This is not the guest’s first time booking in a small town Hilton, and we are no stranger to booking with the brand.
For those in the back, I will repeat the critical data:
This reservation can be held until 4pm on the day of check-in, or guaranteed with a credit card for late
If you use a debit/credit card to check in, a hold may be placed on your card account for the full anticipated
amount to be owed to the hotel, including estimated incidentals, through your date of check-out and such
hold may not be released for 72 hours from the date of check-out or longer at the discretion of your card
The cancellation policy suggests that some reservations may be cancelled if fraud is suspected, a claim that neither the hotel General Manager nor Hilton Public Relations asserted.
As a matter of course, I reached out to the Hilton Public Relations team to clarify what confirmation entails, here’s what they said.
“Hilton properties work hard to accommodate all our guests at all times. In the rare event we are unable to accommodate a reservation, we make every effort to provide alternate accommodations at one of our nearby properties.” Hilton Spokesperson
Some of the Hilarious Responses
Once I reviewed the confirmation the client had received, I reached out to the hotel and the front desk staff claimed there was “no reservation” and connected me with the General Manager, Joshua Henne. What was so odd, is the language used because (as you can see above) there is very much a reservation.
During the exchange, I asked for his name as I had introduced myself, and defensively he said that I can “contact Hilton, whoever you want” and then spelled his email address: firstname.lastname@example.org for me to share as I stated I would and offered his cell phone number but then declined to provide it.
I will preface this by stating the following, Mr. Henne was likely on the receiving end of other callers (including our client) who may have been upset by finding themselves without a place to stay for the night on the day of check-in. He was defensive from the start, but escalated quickly making a number of outlandish statements and talking over me:
- Hilton.com is a third-party because “we are a franchised location.” FALSE
- He’s not walking the guest because there’s nowhere to walk the guest to. (but he’s also not honoring the reservation) FALSE
- The hotel doesn’t receive confirmations until the day of check-in. ABSOLUTELY FALSE
- The guest was offered a free future stay, but then was also not welcome at the hotel, then was threatened to be placed on a do-not-rent list. No, actually the guest is welcome at the hotel.
- He will not call other area hotels to [re-accommodate] VIOLATES STANDARD OVERSELL PROCEDURE
- He will call the guest’s client they are staying on behalf of to let them know the guest isn’t welcome at their hotel.
- He will tell the guest not to use our travel agency again.
- He invoked the name of a corporate guest several times as the reason for his failure to perform.
- The guest is just a [Hilton Honors] “blue” [no status guest] member.
- [We] are just protecting our 7% travel agency commission.
I’ve stayed over 500 nights with Hilton and almost all of them were at franchised locations. Nearly every reservation at the chain has been booked on Hilton.com which is not a third party. If it were a third party, my agency wouldn’t get a commission at all (a life-changing $20 on this stay) and neither the call nor my follow-up with the chain and this post would be worth my time. Our client needed a place to stay and, at that point, it was the Hampton Inn Mattoon’s duty to source that per their own terms. When Mr. Henne abandoned that duty, we filled the gap.
I have received calls many times from hotels (franchised mostly) well in advance of my stay about a change. The notion that the hotel only gets these on the day of check-in is laughable. We know that was a complete fabrication because Mr. Henne offered to comp the guest’s future stay at the same property, and stated the date and duration.
After berating the guest for their status, use of a travel agency, and lack of calling to confirm their confirmation with the property directly (yes, he really said that, and yes, it’s one of the most arcane and stupid things I have heard from a hotel manager) he then threatened his own guest’s business.
The guest was staying in the property as a consultant on behalf of a large area business. To threaten that he would shame the guest to their client is beyond the pale and can’t possibly coincide with any Hilton, Hampton Inn, or even the franchisee’s desires. Should he choose to banish this “blue” member, from the property, that is his choice – but for someone that doesn’t have time to contact other area hotels to do his job, this seems like an egregious use of his time, and frankly, vindictive.
Lastly, this is a simple oversell situation but Mr. Henne told the client that they didn’t have a confirmation which I have included above. He failed to state whether he was or was not walking the guest to avoid the consequences of finding the guest a room per Hilton’s terms. He stated the Hampton Inn by Hilton Mattoon had no rooms and no place to put the guest because it’s not a genuine reservation which was partly true (they didn’t have any rooms) but partly false as it was a genuine reservation confirmed with Hilton.
For what it’s worth, my agency was able to book our client accommodation elsewhere within ten minutes of completing the call with Mr. Henne. We completed that booking online and our client didn’t need to confirm that their confirmation in fact confirmed they had a reservation for the night – revolutionary! While using a travel agency isn’t necessary for many travelers, in this instance, our client was able to end the call with us at TSA and had everything sorted by the time they got to the gate.
Other guests should be wary of a management staff who fails to simply acknowledge an unpleasant but common situation, de-escalate, and source a solution. Mr. Henne was belligerent, even cocky, with the guest and then with myself and refused to face the situation and solution as a consummate professional.
If staying at the Hampton Inn by Hilton Mattoon, Illinois remember that:
- Your reservation and confirmation are invalid unless you call the property direct
- If the property is oversold, they may opt to skirt Hilton’s policy
- Hampton Inn by Hilton Mattoon may offer you a free stay in the future, only to ban you, then potentially remove your ban, for which they will not notify the guest in any case.
- They may contact your employer as retaliation for asking them to follow their own procedure
- They do not like travel agencies and actively encourage the guest (confirmed to me by the guest and Mr. Henne himself) to not use them
- Blue members might as well be strangers to the brand (for what it’s worth, the guest is actually a Silver member)
- They reserve the right to berate their guests and representatives with catty statements like “the sky is still blue” while they fail to honor their commitments
- The 61-room hotel is undergoing a multi-million dollar renovation (nice non-sequitur he threw in)
I outlined a series of questions I submitted to Hilton PR in a prior post about their walk policy because I wanted to ensure that I had not been confused about the facts of what the hotel’s duties are in such a situation. Many of those questions are pertinent to his comments. I wouldn’t want to assume that Hilton.com is not a third party unless I at least asked, maybe franchised locations don’t have to follow Hilton policies. I’m happy to learn and report back.
As I mentioned in that post, I chased Hilton PR hard for the answers (4 emails, 2 phone calls in five days) and never got an answer to any of them. Here’s Hilton’s response on the matter.
Thank you for confirming the appropriate permissions. I appreciate your patience as we confirmed the details of [guest name redacted] case.
Hilton properties work hard to accommodate all our guests at all times. In the rare event we are unable to accommodate a reservation, we make every effort to provide alternate accommodations at one of our nearby properties.
We can confirm that an unfortunate technical error resulted in the confirmation of [guest name redacted] original reservation, despite the property’s available inventory. [guest name redacted] was immediately contacted by the property to make alternative arrangements at a later date.
In the spirit of hospitality, these alternative arrangements were complimentary on behalf of the management of the independently owned and operated Hampton Inn by Hilton Mattoon.
What’s more shocking to me than anything else, is that neither Hilton PR, nor the hotel itself contacted the guest until days after this response. “Confirm[ing] the details” of the guest’s case didn’t require contacting the guest at all prior to this response. Further, when Hilton PR finally did reach out to the guest, nearly a week had passed (Monday morning to Friday afternoon and six touchpoints in between), they promised an email confirming the correct compensation details but never delivered it; the Hampton Inn by Hilton Mattoon never called the guest after the initial denial of service.
Walking a guest is never fun. My brother was Night Audit for a large hotel chain. It’s a regrettable situation that nearly always fell on his shoulders as that chain prioritized by status and then check-in time – last to check-in without high status is staying somewhere else. A highly-educated guest, who travels 75% of the year, was one of (likely several) guests that needed to be walked. A professional management staff would empathize, offer a solution, and comport themselves in a professional manner. Mr. Henne of the Hampton Inn by Hilton Mattoon didn’t do that. He went far out of bounds and failed his duty. Hilton Public Relations made that problem worse by not contacting the customer before responding and failing to answer basic questions about a policy that should be public anyway.
My overall experience with Hilton outside of this matter has been excellent, but frankly, it will be hard to reset my expectations for the brand.
What do you think? Have you been walked from a hotel? Have you experienced Mr. Henne’s wrath at the Hampton Inn by Hilton Mattoon? How would you have responded if you were the guest?