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Hotel Policy (Living too Close to the Hotel) Leaves Customer Seething

By Jonathon Braden, Columbia Daily Tribune, Mo.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Jul. 5, 2007 - With the wood floors of his Moberly home wet from a coat of polyurethane, Don Larimer tried to rent a room at the Best Western Moberly Inn but was surprised to learn the hotel doesn't rent to locals.

Frustrated and confused, he peeled out of the parking in his minivan and drove to Moberly's Holiday Inn Express, where he got the same answer: Guests have to live at least 30 miles away to rent a room.

Still upset, the 52-year-old drove all the way to Columbia at around 9:30 p.m., pulled into the Days Inn and asked the desk attendant whether her hotel rents to locals. "She gave me the funniest look," Larimer recalled, "like, That's a stupid question.' "

Although Larimer was surprised by the practice, local refusal policies are a common way for hotels to deter drug use, prostitution and other criminal activity, said Columbia police Officer Tim Thomason, who works with local hotels on crime prevention.

Thomason said he's unaware of any hotels in Columbia that practice the policy, but he said hotels can refuse service to local residents if they can establish a pattern of local guests causing problems. He added that most crime at hotels is local crime.

Best Western Moberly Inn General Manager Dianne Griffith declined to comment to the Tribune about her hotel's policy, but she explained the reason in an e-mail to Larimer.

"We had a problem with locals renting rooms, having parties and destroying them. They have also conducted illegal activity in them, such as drug use and distribution," Griffith wrote. "In order for us to maintain our property for our out-of-town guests, I had no choice but to implement this policy."

Thomason, who has taught the crime-free hotel program offered by the Columbia Police Department for almost eight years, said criminals might choose hotels for their activity for various reasons. For example, they know that for some crimes, their property can be seized if they're caught, he said.

"People don't want to have their property taken away, so they move their illegal activities to" hotels, Thomason said. "Typically in drugs and prostitution, you don't want clients to know where you live, so you run your business from those types of places."

Thomason added that some criminals choose hotels because they can move quickly if they feel law enforcement is onto them, and some hotels have a reputation for being lax in calling law enforcement about illegal activity.

As a result, Thomason said, he teaches hotels to ask for items at check-in such as vehicle registration, ID or a credit card. He also encourages hotels to post rules for its guests, such as how late guests can stay in an occupant's room. In turn, he said, those deterrence methods can be used as a marketing tool for legitimate guests.

Once someone is arrested in a Columbia hotel, Thomason e-mails all the hotels in the city so they can put the offender on their no-rent lists.

Still, crime in Columbia hotels continues to be a problem. Thomason said he could come across prostitution in Columbia at "any hotel, any time of the day."

He added that drug transactions and usage are found at hotels a few times a month but probably happen more often than that.

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To see more of the Columbia Daily Tribune, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.columbiatribune.com/.

Copyright (c) 2007, Columbia Daily Tribune, Mo.

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