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DEALING WITH COMPLAINTS
Wherever people travel, they look forward to smooth and trouble-free journey, including a comfortable stay at a hotel. When your booking is accepted by the hotel, a legally binding contract is made between you and the company providing the accommodation. They are under a legal obligation to do their job with reasonable skill and care, and you will have a claim if they do not.
Things very often go wrong, though. The descriptions in theadvertising brochure may not be accurate, the accommodation may not be of the standard you expected or you may not get the room with the view that you requested.
This text explains your rights in dealing with hotels and answers the questions most frequently asked by guests.
Question 1We picked what the tour operators described in
their brochure as a "3-star" hotel. But it was shabby and dilapidated and had no restaurant. We complained to the tour operators but they said they had rated it as 3-star, and that was the end of the matter. Can they get away with this?
AnswerThe problem with star ratings is that they vary between countries, even within the European Community. Therefore many tour operators choose to use their own rating system to assess the accommodation they offer. This means that a claim against the tour operator based on the star rating system alone is difficult to argue, unless you can prove that it failed to meet even its own criteria in assessing the accommodation.
However, you may still have a viable claim for compensation, based on the fact that the accommodation was not of a reasonable standard in view of the price paid and/or the description given in the brochure.
Question 2When I arrived at the hotel where I'd booked a weekend break, I was told that they had made a mistake and the hotel was full. The only other hotel j in the area that had room for me was a more expensive one in the next town, so I'm out of pocket. What are my rights?
AnswerThe hotel accepted your booking and was obliged to keep a room available for you. It is in breach of contract and liable to compensate you for the additional expenses arising out of that breach — the difference in cost between what you were expecting to pay and what you ended up having to pay in the more expensive hotel, plus any extra travelling costs. You should write first to the hotel manager explaining what happened, and enclosing copies of receipts for your additional expenditure.
Question 3While I was staying at a hotel my video camera was stolen from my room. Is the hotel liable?
AnswerHotel owners owe you a duty of care and must look after your property while it is on their premises. They are liable for any loss and damage as long as it was not your fault (your claim would be unlikely to succeed if you left the camera clearly visible in a ground-floor room with the door and window unlocked).
However, providing the hotel owners display a notice at reception they can limit their liability to £50 per item or £100 in total. They cannot rely on this limit if the loss was caused by the negligence of their staff, although you will have to prove such negligence to make a higher claim.
Question 4After booking a room in a Brighton hotel I had to cancel. I told the hotelier immediately, but he kept my deposit and wrote asking for extra compensation. Is he entitled to this?
AnswerIf a hotel accepts your booking (whether it is made by phone, letter or in person), you have made a binding contract whereby the hotel agrees to provide the accommodation for the specified dates at the agreed price, and you agree to pay for it. If you later back out, or fail to turn up, the hotel can keep your deposit to cover its administrative costs. The hotel must try to re-let your room, but if it cannot it may claim the profit it has lost from you, and this is likely to be a high proportion of the total price.
Question 5Our hotel in Tunisia was very pleasant, with good food and facilities, but our holiday was marred by the building work going on across the road — a massive new apartment complex was under construction. The work started at 5 a.m. every day and we could not sit on our balcony due to the noise and dust. The tour operator is refusing to compensate us for this, claiming that it is not responsible for circumstances outside its direct control. What can we do?
AnswerThe tour operator may be right. But you would certainly be entitled to compensation for the loss of enjoyment (and sleep) if:
a) the building work was going on within the hotel itself, in which case you could reasonably have expected to have been warned in advance and to have been offered an alternative hotel if the disruption to your holiday would be great;
b) this new complex had been under construction for some considerable time before your holiday, in which case you could argue that the tour operator, via its rep, ought to have known about the proximity of the work and should at least have warned you.
Question 6While I was in bed in my hotel room a section of the ceiling caved in. I was shaken and slightly injured, but it could have been worse. Can I claim for the shock and injuries?
AnswerHotel owners are responsible for the physical safety of their guests. You have a claim for compensation and would be wise to seek legal advice to have it properly assessed.
Question7 When I called to book a room the hotel told me it would cost more if I wanted to pay by credit card. Is this legal? .
AnswerYes. Dual pricing has been legal in the UK since 1991, and some hoteliers have increased their charges to guests who pay by credit card in order to recover the commission they pay to the card company. But to be entitled to the increased charge hoteliers must draw it to your attention when you book and indicate it on the tariff displayed in the reception.
If you were not informed — contact the Trading Standards Department at the council offices local to the hotel.
Question 8My hotel room was shabby and dirty with soiled towels and grubby sheets. I refused to pay the whole bill, but then the hotel refused to let me remove by luggage until I settled up in full. Was the hotel within its rights to hold my luggage hostage like this?
AnswerAny hotel room, whatever its price, should be clean and safe and offer a reasonable standard of accommodation for the price paid. As yours failed to do so it is reasonable to seek a reduction in the bill. However, the hotel does have a right to hold on to your luggage until the bill is paid.
It is probably easier to pay up in full but give written notice that you are paying under protest and are reserving your right to seek compensation in the courts.