News for the Hospitality Executive
|Fight with hotel over missing clothes offers lesson
By Dave Lieber, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, TexasMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
October 10, 2008 - Air Force Sgt. Emily Kifer is a tough cookie. Although stationed in Colorado, sheís in Fort Worth for 90 days to train new soldiers on how to stay safe in convoys when they go to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Naval Air Station Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base at Carswell had no short-term housing for her, so she checked into The Cattle Baronís Quality Inn on South Cherry Lane in Fort Worth. The government pays the bill.
One day in late September, while she worked at the base, she says somebody removed a bag of her best civilian clothing from her room. The clothing was bundled in a special bag used for the hotel dry-cleaning service. A proper receipt was attached. She figured the maid took it to the front desk for her in an act of kindness.
After three days went by, she asked about her clothing. Hotel staff didnít know anything. She kept asking. Eventually, a manager said a housekeeper placed the bag in the lost and found. They gave Kifer the clothing, but when she opened the bag, it wasnít hers.
The soldier continued to seek a resolution with hotel supervisors. But there was fine print on the bottom of the dry-cleaning receipt, and hotel management was quick to point to it: losses must be reported within 24 hours.
General Manager Trina Taylor wrote her that if the items were reported missing the first night "we could have been of better assistance in finding out what happened to the clothing."
That first day, though, the sergeant assumed her clothes were at the dry cleaner.
Kifer complained to corporate headquarters, Choice Hotels International, where she was told her complaint would be forwarded back to the hotel. She returned, as told, to hotel management. A manager checked with the hotelís owner in California.
The owner offered her a $150 gift card for free nights in any Choice Hotel affiliate. She explained this wouldnít do much good since the government pays for her overnight stays. If she kept the refund, she could be charged with fraud.
See, all this soldier wanted were her best clothes; and short of that, $630 to pay for what was missing (she canít bring herself to use the word "stolen"). The sergeantís request was backed with strong ammo: She has original receipts for all the missing clothing.
Kifer joined the Air Force on her 18th birthday. Since then, sheís served eight years as a military police officer in the Air Force Security Forces. She serves, she says, in honor of her grandfather, who was a World War II sergeant and a Purple Heart recipient. "I felt a really strong heritage and legacy to pass on," she says.
Alone in a strange town, the soldier wrote The Watchdog: "I sincerely did not know where else to turn considering I am not from Texas and have very limited resources here ó which is part of what makes this situation so difficult. Without my clothing, I am really at a disadvantage for the next two months."
The Watchdog contacted two hotel managers. Neither responded. I called the office of hotel owner Gary Perez, but he didnít respond either. I contacted corporate headquarters, and according to Kifer and Choice spokesman David Peikin, hereís what happened next:
The hotel offered her a $250 gift card, but she turned it down because it wasnít even half the replacement value.
Meanwhile, she filed a missing-items report with Fort Worth police and also quickly filed a small-claims lawsuit in the Tarrant County Justice of the Peace Court No. 4. She leaves in six weeks.
This week, the company made another offer: a check for $723 to cover the old clothing and replacement items she bought, as shown by receipts.
Here is the statement from Peikin:
"Our normal process is to have the hotel work directly with the guest to resolve issues like these. To the extent the hotel, in our opinion, doesnít demonstrate the level of responsiveness that we think is appropriate, we will get involved."
The Watchdog called the hotel to speak with manager Taylor, but the staffer said, "She left the company." I asked Peikin why, and he said he didnít know.
Sgt. Kifer moved to a different hotel.
News researcher Cathy Belcher contributed to this report.
Negotiating with a hotel
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