Personal Journeys


March 28, 2004|By Special to the Sun

A Memorable Place

When bad things happen at good hotels

By Judy Mandell


Bad things happen at hotels. The room isn't ready when you arrive, the TV is broken, the toilet doesn't stop flushing, a poolside party keeps you up all night, the room service is late. Or there's the horrible blunder like the one my husband and I experienced in New York City.

Jerry made reservations at our favorite hotel. This was to be our 30th anniversary celebration. We would arrive separately, since he'd be flying in from Atlanta and I from Charlottesville, N.C. His plane was to land at 11 a.m. and I wouldn't get there until 2.

When I arrived, the front desk agent told me my husband never checked in.

"Are you sure?" I asked. "Please look in the computer again." "No, madam, he's not here," he replied curtly.

I went to the room and immediately called the airline. His plane landed on schedule at 11. What happened? Where was he? I stayed in the room and called the front desk every half hour, then every 15 minutes. "No, sorry. He hasn't arrived," was the response I got each time.

I began to lose it. I envisioned the movie An Affair To Remember, when Deborah Kerr was struck by a taxi as she ran across Fifth Avenue to meet her lover, Cary Grant. I suddenly knew Jerry was dead, lying in a pool of blood on that very same avenue.

Then the phone rang. My heart was pounding. I hesitated to pick up the receiver, fearful that I would hear about my poor husband.

"Madam, we are so sorry," said the formerly indignant clerk. "We have made a dreadful mistake. Actually, your husband checked in at noon. He is in Room 1228" (I was in Room 632).

I rushed up to Room 1228. There was a note on the bed. "It's 12:30. I'm going out shopping for a surprise. I'll be back in time for dinner. Love, Me."

Although I was a wreck, we met our friends for dinner as planned. I described my ordeal.

"What an awful blunder," said my friend, who happened to be an expert in hotel management. "Judy, go back to the hotel and complain. Talk to the general manager -- not the front desk clerk or the resident manager." She explained that hotels want to make up for their mistakes. They don't want valued clients to leave unhappy. Customers tell 10 times as many people about bad experiences as good ones, so complainers can really hurt a company's image.

"Managers want to do something so you'll come back," she said.

I returned to the hotel, called the man-ager, and told him the story.

"Oh, I am so sorry. What can I do for you -- anything," he said. "A free room for a weekend, dinner -- please, name it," he begged.

As we spoke, there was a knock at the door. A gray-suited woman entered, carrying a vase of red roses in one hand, a tray of chocolate-covered strawberries in the other, and a bottle of champagne was tucked under her arm.

"From the general manager," she said. "We are so sorry."

Well, guess what. We got a free weekend at the hotel and dinner at its fanciest restaurant, beverages included.

In her book A Complaint Is a Gift, Janelle Barlow says complaining customers are the most loyal customers. "If a company takes a customer's complaint seriously and gives them a token of atonement beyond what they expected, they will likely reciprocate by continuing to do business and saying positive things about the company."

A sincere apology goes a long way, but this hotel did even more. So the marketing gurus are right.

I am that loyal customer. I still like that hotel -- better than ever.

I'm coming back.

Judy Mandell lives in North Garden, Va.

My Best Shot

Robert McLaren, Harwood

Getting chills

While visiting Iceland this past fall, we took a motor tour. One of the places we visited was the beautiful Gullfoss waterfalls (shown). There was a dusting of snow on that crisp day, and we witnessed the mighty falls descending into a deep gorge.

Readers Recommend

Xochimilco, Mexico

Barry A. Bass, Baltimore

The floating gardens of Xochimilco, the "Venice of Mexico," meander through 50 miles of canals, which are lined by many gaudily decorated boats. If a man hires a boat with the same name as his fiancee, brings along musicians and proposes during the ride, tradition says, few women can refuse.

Positano, Italy

Marylane Y. Soeffing, Severna Park

From a vantage point a few steps from Italy's Amalfi Drive, one can enjoy this panoramic view of Positano. Pastel-colored buildings on the mountainside descend in tiers to Spiaggia Grande beach on the tranquil Mediterranean Sea. Sparkling in the June sunshine is the green and yellow majolica-tiled dome of Santa Maria Assunta Church. For less than a euro, one can ride the town bus on a loop along the mountainside and across the valley, delighting in one beautiful view after another.

Let Us Hear From You

We want to know about your travels, your experiences, your pictures. Here's how to participate in this page:

* My Best Shot -- Send us a terrific travel photo with a description of when and where you took it. (Cash value: $50.)

* A Memorable Place -- In 500 words or less, tell us about a travel experience that changed you, about the nostalgia a certain place evokes, about the power of a favorite beach, the mountains, a city cafe. (Cash value: $150.)

* Readers Recommend -- Briefly tell us about places you've recently visited that you'd recommend to other readers. (50 words or less; photos are welcome.)

Because of the volume of responses, photos and manuscripts cannot be individually acknowledged or returned. Submissions from all categories may be used for Readers Recommend, and upon submission become the property of The Sun.

Send by fax to 410-783-2519, or write to: Travel Department, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, MD 21278, or e-mail to Be sure to include your name and phone number.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.