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When irate guests pounce:
Should hotels have a blacklist?
By Kitty Bean Yancey, USA TODAY
Ben Buckley recalls the night he was working at a hotel front desk when an irate guest "demanded that I climb into the restaurant dumpster to dig for scraps of meat for her dog. She was upset that her partner had told the waitress to take away the dinner plates ... and when she came back from the bathroom she was enraged that her plate was gone, and with it the scraps of meat she was going to save for her dog."
The woman yelled and slammed her fist on the counter when he refused, says Buckley, now a night auditor at a New Hampshire hotel. "I told her that if she did not leave the desk, then I would call the police. She gave me the serial-killer stare and skulked off."
Hotel staffers routinely take abuse. Guests scream at front-desk clerks when a reservation has gone astray or the upgrade they demand isn't available. They collar the general manager to wheedle extras or rudely try to get the bill reduced. They party so hard that those in nearby rooms can't sleep till cops are called.
In fact, many a hotel staffer has had to call police to deal with an unruly guest. Actor Russell Crowe was led out of Manhattan's The Mercer hotel in handcuffs in June 2005 after throwing a malfunctioning phone at a staffer in a wee-hours fit of pique. Crowe pleaded guilty but avoided jail time.
What to do?
Buckley and his friend Christopher Rodney, who also has worked as a front-desk staffer and currently programs custom accounting systems for hotels, favor the creation of a national database of abusive guests.
Unlike the government's no-fly list of suspected terrorists, the "reference database would be voluntary and would not have any enforceable powers, merely an advisory role," Buckley says. Hotels would be alerted to difficult guests and could decide whether or not to deal with them. The idea would be to protect hotel employees and guests from scammers, screamers, abusers, mean drunks and the like.
Rodney, who lives in Nashua, N.H., and has worked at a number of New England hotels, can recall many incidents where guests tried to bully him or threaten to get him thrown off the job. He'll never forget the woman who called down at 2:30 a.m. because her room hadn't been made up. "She had left the 'do not disturb' sign on her door. We keep track of these," he says.
"She started yelling about how that was none of her concern. ... A few moments later, her son came down telling me about how he knows all these rich and powerful people in California, and how he was going to make sure I never got a job again. He said, 'I will own your life.' "
'Playing the whole scam'
Tim Davis, a hotel vet who now works for a 1,000-room property in the Orlando area, has horror stories, too.
He recalls one Christmas when a mother who was checking out asked to have "$100 off her bill or something" because there weren't enough towels or soap in the room.
She got that. Then, Davis says, she came back to say a housekeeper had ignored a do-not-disturb sign and came into her room. "She piled on and demanded a free night, so I went to my boss and said, 'I don't know about this.' He said, 'Go ahead and give it to her.' She was yelling and crying and playing the whole scam."
Later, her two grown children (staying on separate floors) came down, one by one, with identical complaints. And the manager on duty directed him to give them what they wanted, Davis says.
That particular hotel chain "taught the management there was no such thing as bad guests," Davis says. "I said, 'Why should we give them anything if they're scamming the system?' "
Other hotel staffers say they're under pressure to keep guests happy, that managers fear complaints — especially ones that go to the corporate offices of the hotel chain and then have to be investigated.
Hotel companies have been known to "send out ultimatums that they need to minimize the number of complaints that go to the corporate office," Davis says. "So, many GMs (general managers) or managers will go overkill on compensation and then not be able to utilize a blacklist to keep the guest from scamming the next hotel, or even their own hotel."
Hotel policies on difficult guests currently are a patchwork.
Fairmont Hotels & Resorts has a system in which a former guest who has caused serious trouble or has skipped out on a bill is red-flagged when trying to book again via its global reservation system.
Such guests will be directed to a customer service rep "to discuss the issue," says Fairmont public-relations manager Mike Taylor. The number of people red-flagged "is very limited," he says. "It's for someone who has caused a major incident. We want to ensure a positive stay experience for all our guests."
Hilton Hotels, whose brands also include Hampton Inns and Doubletree, doesn't maintain a company-wide or brand-wide "do not rent" list, says Hilton spokeswoman Kendra Walker. "Hotels handle issues on a case-by-case basis."
At the InterContinental Hotels Group, whose properties include Holiday Inns and Staybridge Suites, "we don't have a corporate policy regarding keeping a list (of misbehaving guests)," says chain spokeswoman Francie Schulwolf. "We leave it up to the individual hotels."
The A-list favorite Hotel Bel-Air outside Beverly Hills does not have a list, says spokeswoman Erin Flannery. "They're in the service industry and they don't want to do that to their guests."
As for the idea of a do-not-rent list that could be shared among hotel chains — forget it, says Joe McInerney, president of the American Hotel & Lodging Association. "There couldn't be a national list because of liability" for lawsuits and other challenges, he says.
The idea could be "a potential disaster," agrees traveler Kent Sharrar of Ewa Beach, Hawaii. "Consider this scenario ... irate guest, indifferent, insolent desk clerk. Something goes horribly wrong, and the insolent clerk in question is unwilling to be of assistance."
The traveler loses it, and then, Sharrar says, "This hapless guest is now on the blacklist. ... Being a bellicose jerk is not illegal."
Globe trotter Cliff Pryor, a lifeguard and scuba instructor who lives in Houston, thinks travelers should take a good, long look at their behavior.
Politeness works wonders
"No business wants to blacklist customers. But there are customers that simply are not worth the time, money and hassle to deal with. Figure out what it is you are doing to create problems for yourself."
As a frequent traveler, "I understand the demands that all the worker bees have put on them," Pryor says. "Sure, there are slackers, but most people are good and want to do the best work they can.
"You will be surprised how much more attention you get from the person across the counter when you smile and genuinely try to make their job easier."
He once got to a Honolulu hotel late after a delayed flight to find that his room had been given away. Instead of pitching a fit, he "smiled big and said, 'Hey, it's late and we are all tired. How can I make your job easier to rectify this?' "
The front-desk agent smiled back, called the manager, and soon Pryor was ensconced in a suite at a hotel up the street.
Despite his bad experiences, Rodney says few hotel customers cause problems. And "the vast majority of people who complain are doing so to get something they want and not because the employee actually did something wrong."
Hotel guests have a right to complain, he adds. "And they should if they're not getting services they should be getting."
The idea of a blacklist is "about people who are abusive, people who are trying to get things they're not entitled to," Rodney emphasizes.
Buckley has thought long and hard about how a database of abusive guests would work, and realizes there are issues concerning the idea. "But I still think there should be one," he says, because hotel staffers take too much grief from bad guests.
"The only way things change," he says, "is when you start to do something about it."