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What to Do When Things Go Wrong in a Hotel


By Daniel Edward Craig , February 5,  2010

People often corner me at social functions to tell me about a problem they’ve had in a hotel. It doesn’t matter if I’ve never worked for the hotel or the incident occurred seventeen years ago; apparently, it’s my duty to listen. Sometimes I get the impression they think I’m somehow to blame. 

I don’t mind, though. Bad service stories are fascinating. But often, as I hear the teller describe how the entire hotel staff conspired to ruin her stay, I see a different side. I see employees trying to help, and I see guests getting in the way. And I can’t help but think that if travelers had a bit more insight into how hotels worked, they’d have more time to enjoy their trips. And I’d have more fun at cocktail parties. 

To that end, I thought I’d share a few insider tips on what to do when things go wrong in a hotel. 

Should you complain? Probably. Hotels need to know if you’re dissatisfied; it gives us a chance to turn things around for you and to fix things for future guests. But if you set expectations the hotel can’t meet, such as a harbor view in a prairie hotel, resist the temptation to shift the blame. The best way to avoid unpleasant surprises is to check out online reviews before you book. They’ll give you the real story, warts and all. 

Talk to someone who can fix the problem. Yes, it feels good to unload on friends, colleagues and random strangers, but repetition heightens feelings of victimization, and chances are they’re not listening anyway. If the issue is minor, speak to the front desk. If it’s significant, ask for the duty manager. If tears and family heirlooms are involved, contact the general manager. If there’s blood, call 911.

No more drama. Hotels will go to great lengths to appease guests, but it’s kind of hard if you’re throwing furniture or lunging at our throat. Ladies are discouraged from standing sullenly aside while their husband complains, uttering little huffs to convey feelings about their husband (wimp) and the manager (moron). Gentlemen, no need to inform us of your net worth, shoe size or number of Twitter followers. By virtue of being dissatisfied, you’re important enough.

The maid didn’t steal your tiara. Hotel managers receive frequent calls from frantic guests who have misplaced a valuable item and immediately blame the nearest employee. Invariably, the item turns up. When a guest accused one of my staff members of stealing her iPod, I ran a key report and viewed security camera footage, then called her back to ask if she had checked with the stream of visitors to her room late that night. I didn’t hear back. Store your valuables in the safe. 

An eye for an eye. In today’s economy, hotels aren’t particularly enthusiastic about doling out freebies if we’re not at fault. If we messed up, however, the matter should be resolved to your satisfaction. If you feel you deserve compensation, be candid—otherwise you might get a fruit basket. But be reasonable. If you want a large cash payout, you’d better be missing a limb. If you invent or exaggerate a story to get free stuff, you might get it, but you’ll probably end up in hell. 

Complain up. If the issue arises after checkout, send an email to the manager, who can copy it to other departments and, theoretically at least, resolve the matter quickly. If you’re not satisfied, forward the message to hotel ownership or the management company; these individuals loathe complaints and will get to the bottom of things fast. You can also dispute erroneous charges with your credit card company.

Bad things happen, even at the best hotels. The true test lies in how staff members respond. If an issue is expertly handled, a little praise goes a long way. At times it may seem otherwise, but we’re in this business because we love to please. Enjoy your stay. 

Daniel Edward Craig is a hotel consultant and the author of the hotel-based Five-Star Mystery series. He is the former vice president and general manager of Opus Hotels in Vancouver and Montreal and its current blogger-at-large. For more information visit or email

Daniel Edward Craig


Also See: Why Everyone Gets a Hotel Room Upgrade... But You / Daniel Edward Craig / April 2008
Are You Hoping Guests Won't Notice the Jack-hammering in the Lobby? A Case Study for Hotels/ Daniel Edward Craig / May 2009
Don't Eat in Bed: Tips for Making the Most of Room Service, the Costliest Way to Enjoy a Meal / Daniel Craig / February 2009


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