The Customer is NOT Always Right

Although I get a lot of mail from travelers, I also get a fair share from folks in the hospitality industry. One in particular stands out this week. It’s from a vacation home owner who tried to rent out her cabin in peak season to a scooter-user. Her basic question to me was, “Did I do the right thing?” To which I enthusiastically replied, “Boy howdy, did you ever.”

So here’s her story, which presents an interesting look at an accessible lodging issue from the other side of the check-in counter.

I’ll just call my cabin owner Jane, because that’s the name I give to all my anonymous sources. Now Jane is an individual property owner, who voluntarily incorporated some access upgrades into her plans when she built her cabin. She’s the first to admit that it’s not “ADA compliant”, but then again, it’s not required to be accessible. Still it’s a very nice property with a roll-in shower, wide doorways, plenty of pathway access and even some lowered appliances. Furthermore, along with a detailed description of her access features, she also has tons of photos on her website. And although she doesn’t inquire about anyone’s specific disability, she always asks about the access features they need. In short, she’s doing everything right. And she’s had many satisfied customers.

But then along came Sara the scooter-user. She found Jane’s website, liked what she saw and booked the cabin for three nights. She didn’t ask any questions nor did she volunteer any information about her abilities or access needs. And although Jane called her once, to go over the access features of the cabin, she was quickly rebuffed with a “I’m sure it will be just fine” reply. In short, Sara didn’t really want to mess around asking questions about access, and she just assumed that every property had the exact same access features.

So Jane took her deposit, then charged her credit card for the full stay prior to her arrival. I should also note that this is a common practice among all the rental properties in this area, especially in peak season. And it was all spelled out in a contract.

On check-in day Jane received a call from Sara. She was on her way home. She told Jane that the bathroom wouldn’t work for her, and not to worry about it, that they run into this a lot. Jane tried to mitigate damages by offering her a commode chair, but Sara didn’t even want to talk about it. Like I said, she was on her way home, and her mind was made up.

Jane told Sara that she would try and rent the cabin for the other two days, but ultimately she was unable to find a replacement tenant. So she kept Sara’s money, per the rental contract. Sara of course was livid.

So who is right here?

My vote goes to Jane, as Sara made a series of costly mistakes.

  1. She failed to ask for specific access details about the bathroom before she booked the room.
  2. She rebuffed Jane when she called to discuss her access needs. She just didn’t have the time for it.
  3. She didn’t give Jane a chance to remedy the situation or even explain the problem to her. She called Jane after she left the cabin.
  4. She assumed that all properties have the same access features.
  5. She had problems with bathrooms before, so she should have been extra careful when choosing a place to stay.

Like I said, it turned out being a very costly mistake.

So keep this in mind next time you make reservations. Remember, different properties have different access features, so it’s important to ask a lot of questions in order to get a room that fits your needs. And if you arrive to find something isn’t what you expected, give the manager or owner an ample opportunity to remedy the situation. Don’t just scamper out the back door and call to complain on your way home. After all, there may be a very workable access solution, and you’re just shooting yourself in the foot if you don’t at least investigate the possibility.

Travel smart — make sure the property fits your access needs before you book it. You’ll have a much happier vacation that way!