When things go wrong: taking care of the business traveler

Anyone who travels even a modest amount has experienced things that went amiss. Responsible business people - whether hoteliers, restaurateurs, or others - will try to set things right. But it becomes a more challenging situation when the aggrieved party is traveling on business.

In the hospitality industry it is a common, if not standard, practice to offer some sort of compensation when things go amiss: either a round of drinks or a complimentary dessert when something is wrong with a meal, or discount when the bad experience involves a hotel room or hotel stay. Such gestures are fine when the person who suffered the wrong is paying their own way, but it is different when the person who is inconvenienced is a business traveler.

When a person is traveling on the company dollar, the gesture of a drink, dessert or even a complimentary dinner or free hotel room night may be a welcome expression of goodwill, but that is the only value to the traveler.

Why? Because any discount or other compensation offered ultimately benefits the traveler’s company, not the guest who had the bad experience.

Hotels, of course, have an easier time of determining who is there on business and who is a leisure traveler paying their own way, though a simple question like, “Are you traveling on business?” or “Are you here for business or pleasure?” can give any service provider a better idea of what ought to be done.

Hotels and restaurants need to identify something of value that will benefit the guest who was inconvenienced rather than benefiting their employer. After all, the guest is the one who either got cold scrambled eggs, the room with a noisy air conditioner, or endured another sort of inconvenience. The guest is the one who should be taken care of in a manner appropriate to the issue at hand.

If the issue occurs at a hotel, an offer to credit the guest with a certain number of hotel points would provide them with something of value that they could use. Perhaps unfortunately, I draw that suggestion from my own experiences.

A few years ago, I attended a conference at a major hotel in Portland, Ore. My room was badly in need of renovation, the air conditioner was loud, housekeeping was not on their game, and many of the hotel’s staff members seemed to wish they were somewhere else. To top it all off, because it was a large conference there wasn’t another room available, either at the conference hotel or anything near by. I know; the hotel was so bad I investigated moving to another hotel and was willing to pay any difference in the nightly rate just to stay somewhere I could actually get a good night’s sleep.

Upon returning home, I wrote the manager about my experience, and he was a consummate professional. After apologizing and explaining that the property was indeed overdue for a renovation, he offered to refund the entire amount of my stay. While I appreciated the gesture, however, it would not have been ethical for me to accept a refund because my company had paid for the trip.

He told me he understood, then offered to credit 100,000 hotel loyalty points to my account so that I, as the person who had to deal with the inconveniences, would have something of value to offset those mishaps. That was perfect, and most appreciated.

Of course, hotels can’t hand out 100,000 points for every inconvenience. If compensation is due at all, it must be in proportion to the seriousness of the offense. Alternatively, something else might be appropriate and welcome. Perhaps sending a bottle of wine to the room with a brief note of apology. In some cases, the company might pay for the wine, too, but I have worked for companies both large and small that do not reimburse for alcohol unless the employee is entertaining a customer or potential client. A bottle of wine for the guest to enjoy personally might be just the thing.

I've reached out to the Hilton, Hyatt (NYSE:H), Starwood Hotels and Resorts (NYSE:HOT) and Rosewood hotel chains, as well as the venerable Savoy Hotel in London to learn how they handle situations like those I've discussed. To date, none has been willing to go on the record about how, or even if, they handle such matters.

So I turn to you and ask a few questions.

First, what type of gesture might be offered that would be meaningful to the guest and be beneficial to them rather than their employer?

Second, have you been in a business situation where something went wrong? How did the hotel take care of you in a way that was meaningful?

Let me know, and I’ll share your ideas in a future post.

Visit my main page at TheTravelPro.us for more news, reviews, and personal observations on the world of upmarket travel.

Photo by Carl Dombek
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