|By Wayne Risher, The Commercial Appeal,
Memphis, Tenn.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
May 22, 2013--No room at Westin on jam-packed weekend
The Westin hotel in Downtown Memphis is under fire from would-be guests for canceling reservations on short notice.
Chicagoan Regena Barker, 45, said her family and friends' Memorial Day Weekend plans came to a screeching halt with a Tuesday morning email that began:
"Greetings from The Westin Memphis Beale Street Hotel. I hope this email finds you having a delightful day. It is with regret that we must inform you that we will be unable to hold your reservations starting from May 25th, for the remainder of your stay."
The hotel email cited "the success of the Memphis Grizzlies and Memphis In May events" for overbooking, or selling too many rooms for a particular date. The Westin overlooks FedExForum and is team hotel for Grizzlies' opponents.
Westin general manager Patrick Jordan said his staff was working to find alternative accommodations and let customers know about them. "The most important thing to us is doing the right thing for the affected visitors to Memphis ... We want people to come to Memphis this weekend and have a good time, and we want them to come back and hopefully stay with us at the Westin in the future."
A check of negative reviews on Tripadvisor.com, an online travel review site, found a half dozen complaints about overbooking by the Westin dating to April 20, when the first round of playoffs was in progress. One reviewer claimed 60 would-be guests were "bumped" by an overbooking.
Barker, a call center supervisor, said 20 friends and family members from Chicago and Springfield, Ill., planned to drive to Memphis to renew a tradition: soaking up the blues on Beale Street, checking out attractions like the National Civil Rights Museum and chowing down on Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken.
They first visited the city accompanying their friends to a family reunion. "We love it there. We love Beale Street. It's something we started six years ago. We usually bring more people with us every year."
But the Westin's action put everything on hold.
"I guess they're going to bump the little people," Barker said. "They're going to un-accommodate us. It's really unfair. There's not a hotel room within 45 miles, and within two days of me leaving, they're going to tell me they're going to cancel my reservation?"
Barker, as well as anonymous reviewers on Tripadvisor.com, questioned the accessibility and responsiveness of the Westin staff.
Jordan said his staff was calling every hotel in the city and would get out the word to displaced customers Wednesday morning by phone, website, email and social media.
Downtown hotel operators said this weekend would be jam-packed because of the confluence of Memphis In May's Sunset Symphony, graduations and the Memphis-San Antonio games Saturday and Monday. Online travel booking sites also showed a full house.
"This is the result of several factors that are, fortunately for the city of Memphis, making Memphis the place to be this weekend. We do host visiting NBA teams, but this situation can't be chalked up exclusively to that partnership with the NBA," Jordan said.
"Our city is a smaller hotel market, and we at the Westin are a smaller property with 200 rooms. This weekend we've got Memphis In May, the long Memorial Day weekend, Paul McCartney, and the Grizzlies going farther in playoffs than they ever have before. It's great that these things are creating a lot of demand to be in Memphis, but it's also coming with the challenge of having less supply to go around."
At The Peabody hotel, spokeswoman Kelly Earnest said, "We are sold out Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. We're even pretty busy on Sunday."
Earnest said The Peabody took overflow guests from the Westin during the second round of NBA playoffs. "We did end up taking some families and some staff when the (Oklahoma City) Thunder was in town. We didn't have to bump anyone."
Barker said she had reserved five rooms at the Westin for this Saturday and Sunday night. She called the hotel directly last September, gave a credit-card number to hold the reservation, and received an email confirmation. She said the hotel as recently as last Saturday verbally confirmed that the reservations were still good.
Now she's wondering what she'll do with tickets to the Grizzlies-Spurs game Saturday night at the Forum. The family shelled out more than $500 so Barker's children and their friend could attend.
"I just think it's terrible," Barker said. "I know it's because of this basketball that's going to be there, that they're trying to accommodate, but they're forgetting about the people who are going to be there every year."
(c)2013 The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tenn.)
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