What do a diabetic episode and a hotel’s expensive taste in lamps have to do with consumer advocacy? A lot, if you’re Sharon Kimball.
Her misadventure at the Radisson Blu Style Hotel in Vienna City Center and the drama that followed underscore the importance of persistence, and the need for strategy, when something goes wrong on your trip. It also raises several troubling questions that are not easily answered.
Kimball and her husband recently checked into the Radisson Blu with their older son and his wife.
“I’m diabetic, and while we were watching a World Cup game at the hotel bar, I began to feel low blood sugar symptoms,” says Kimball. “I went upstairs to our room to check my glucose levels and drink some juice, but I had apparently waited too long and was a bit shaky. I went to sit down in the armchair in the room and sort of fell back into it, and it rocked back against a floor lamp.”
That lamp turned out to be an expensive accessory.
“The next morning I noticed that the lamp was damaged, so when we checked out I told the front desk people about it and apologized,” she says. “To my dismay, the hotel charged us $540 for breaking the lamp.”
Kimball asked the hotel to consider removing the charge. After all, it had been an accident, not a drunken rampage.
“But they said there was nothing they could do,” she says.
Next, she emailed Radisson corporate and explained the circumstances. The company replied that the damage was “her fault” and they declined to reverse the charge.
Reality check: The damage was her fault and she was responsible. But it was also an accident, and $540 seems like a lot to pay for a lamp.
When her son heard about Radisson’s intransigence, he posted negative reviews on TripAdvisor, Facebook and Twitter explaining the family’s disappointment.
“Soon afterwards, my son received an email from Radisson, chiding him for the negative reviews and complaining that I should have emailed them first and given them a chance to resolve the incident,” she says. “He replied by forwarding to them their email to me that declined any assistance.”
Shortly after that, Radisson agreed to refund the charge in exchange for her son deleting the negative reviews.
“I would never have thought to use social media in that way. I was quite intrigued at the power it gives consumers who have an unresolved grievance with a business,” she says, adding, “And who needs $540 lamps in a hotel room, anyway?”
To which I say: Spend 16 years in Vienna and you’ll understand why $540 lamps are necessary. But that’s a topic for another day.
I love this story because it’s a reminder that consumers have more power than they can imagine. I’m a little surprised that TripAdvisor was an accessory to this, since they take a dim view of guests who delete unflattering reviews in exchange for certain considerations. But I’m also happy that Kimball didn’t get stuck with a $540 bill.
Unfortunately, someone will pay that bill, and something tells me these costs are eventually passed onto other guests in the long run.
This case raises all sorts of related issues. Should guests be responsible for everything in their room? What about normal wear and tear? Is it ethical to leverage TripAdvisor or other user-generated review sites to get what you want, even if you don’t deserve it?
But by far the biggest takeaway is this: You, the consumer, have much more power than you realize. And I would also urge you to use that power wisely.