Diane Vece’s recent Dominican Republic getaway was “ruined,” she says.
When she tried to check in to her resort, Vece was unexpectedly walked to a different hotel, which had a long list of problems. It was run-down, noisy and in a remote location — not at all what she’d been promised.
“I want a full refund for this trip,” she says.
Ah, the full-refund request.
Next to the “first-class-ticket-anywhere-your-airline-flies” demand, asking for all your money back for a vacation already enjoyed — or not enjoyed — is one of the most common requests I get as an advocate.
It is very rarely honored, but that shouldn’t stop us from talking about it. First, though, let’s find out what happened to Vece.
Last November, she purchased two Groupon vacations at the Casa Marina Reef Resort, an all-inclusive hotel in Sosua.
When we arrived, we were told they had been trying to reach us since we were being “upgraded” to their “five-star property nearby.”
We questioned this, since it sounded too good to be true. They did not have a room for us at Casa Marina, so we got in the cab they called for us.
We were taken 45 minutes away to a resort which, at best, was 2.5 stars. Poor food, old shabby room over the pool (very noisy and they refused to move us), and far away from everything.
That’s the thing with Groupon offers. Businesses use them for distressed inventory, or rooms that would otherwise go unsold. A hotel like the Casa Marina would keep only a small percentage of the sales price.
I personally know merchants who work with Groupon, and they tell me that anyone who buys one of these coupons is unlikely to deserve five-star service. Chances are, they’re just looking for a deal and they’ll never come back.
It’s just a head in the bed. So why try to impress them?
The Casa Marina probably thought Vece wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between its flagship hotel and the property it “upgraded” her to. But she was not fooled.
“We had picked Casa Marina for the snorkeling and its proximity to town for shopping and sightseeing,” she says. “Ironically, when we paid for a bus to take us snorkeling, the best area was across the water from the Casa Marina.”
I think Vece stood an excellent chance of getting something from the hotel. After all, she’d been promised the Casa Marina but didn’t get it. She’d been walked to a lesser property. Either Groupon or the hotel should have fixed this with an apology and some kind of make-good offer.
But a full refund? I mean, we’re not just talking a refund for the hotel, but everything — food, activities, transportation.
That’s a tall order.
I understand how someone might make a demand like that, though. After all, you’re not buying a hotel, you’re booking a vacation. And when the vacation is ruined, as hers certainly was, isn’t it logical that you’d expect a refund? The product wasn’t what Groupon advertised. Come on.
I’ve only seen one or two “full-refund” requests like this honored, and only for the most extenuating circumstances. A shabby room and loud guests don’t rise to that level.
In order to change the way people think about this, businesses will need to shift their thinking. The Casa Marina isn’t in the hotel business, but in the vacation business. Same thing for Groupon. It’s an experience, not a product.
The travel industry already understands that, when it comes to the way it presents itself in its promotional material. Groupon doesn’t simply advertise hotel rooms in the Dominican Republic; it promotes fun. Then it conveniently shifts to just selling hotel rooms when there’s a problem.
Did it shift too far? Vece wanted $1,538 back. The hotel agreed to refund $100.