06 Sep Dealing with Damage in Hotels
It is a fact of life that every hotel at some point has a room ‘trashed’. I am not talking about someone just accidentally smashing a glass, or leaving a stain on the bedsheets (I just heard you ‘eewwww’!); I am talking about damage that causes you to have to close the room or whip out the industrial machinery to scrub and detoxify the room!
Damage is not something you come across daily, and is usually restricted to the unscrupulous few partygoers or guests with minimal respect for the property — yes, such people do exist; but when it occurs, just how are you going to handle it? The truth here is that many guests who accidentally damage items, will tell you and be willing to pay for damage — it is the guests who walk away as though destroying the room is perfectly acceptable that can be tricky to handle! The most important thing to do once you have decided to proceed with reclaiming money from the guest for damages is to ensure you do things properly (as not every case will need pursuing but only you can decide this — charging for being rather amorous and breaking the wheel on the bed is a bit untoward, but if the broke the bed into several pieces, than charging may be necessary)
Firstly, treat the room like a crime scene — get the camera out and get statements taken from staff to prove beyond doubt that the damage was done by the guest. If you have electronic keys, get a report of all access to the room — evidence that only the guests key was in and out of the room between housekeeping’s cleaning inspection before the room was let, and the guests departure. If there are any other keys used, find out when and why and if they are staff keys, get statements to confirm the reason for their access to the room and to confirm the state of the room when they were in there. Get the phone records too to prove if any calls were made from the room to reception to report any accidental damage or similar.
Next you need to calculate the cost of repair. If an item needs replacing, obtain and document a quote for it (i.e. copy of catalog page, screen print of online shop, faxed quote etc). Repairs can generally be carried out by in-house maintenance and the cost for this should be no more than the cost of materials and manpower (i.e. £5 for wall-filler and £5 for 30 minutes of repair work). If you have loss of income, this can be incorporated (i.e. lost revenue for the night) — you may also include cost of compensating another guest who had booked that room (but only if this is genuine and can be proven). If it unlikely you will have sold that room, then is it worthwhile charging — remember that lost revenue is only genuinely lost of it is likely you would have been able to receive that revenue in the first place. Room costs that are charged as lost revenue, should only be for the cost of that room for that night, not a standard rate or similar, but the actual selling rate you would have achieved — if the hotel had to turn away a guest as the room was unavailable, then charge the full selling rate for that night; otherwise consider charging a maximum of 50% of the selling rate. In general, the prices should be realistic and never be over-inflated.
Finally, collate all this evidence and contact the guest. Generally this is best in writing. Remember that it is best to send by post as in many courts the ‘postal rule’ applies — basically the day you send a letter is legally classed as the date the recipient was informed — emails and faxes are generally (and oddly) not acceptable proof of informing someone on a specific date, although they are gradually becoming more acceptable in civil courts. Outline all of the evidence you have in a logical manner — generally start with advising them damage was discovered to the room, followed by details of the damage, finished with confirmation of your statements etc to prove no-one else had access to the room.
This process of contact may result in lots of to-and-fro between you and the guest and a lot of negotiation, but always try to come to an arrangement that suits both parties — simply standing firm and refusing to negotiate may lead to the situation being further drawn out that necessary.
Always remember your final weapons in your arsenal — legal action, both civil and criminal. I have before had a guest charged with criminal damage (also known as wilful destruction of property) after pulling an antique radiator from a wall, smashing almost every bathroom tile and causing over £10,000 worth of damage to 3 floors of the hotel due to the water pouring from the central heating and causing 3 ceilings to collapse, 2 floors needing replacing and countless water damage to fixtures and fittings — this is quite scary to have to do, but sometimes necessary if the damage is severe. Obviously this is a last resort and only should be done if you have unequivocal proof it was them.
Now for the don’t… Never charge a guests credit card without their authority — this is a big no-no! Banks can reverse the transaction if the guest disputes it and you could end up being out-of-pocket when the bank decides to stop allowing you taking card payments because of unauthorised payments being taken… so be warned!
Damage can be debilitating to a hotel, but never should you just assume it is part and parcel of hotel life; remember that you have a right for your property to be respected, along with a right to recompense should you be left out of pocket my malicious acts of damage. In many cases, your contracts of accommodation will allow for charging guests. Most hotels have contracts for groups saying the organiser or booker is responsible for paying for damage. In these cases, contact the guest who caused the adage first, and inform the booker or organiser. This way, if the guest does not pay, it will not be a sudden shock to the booker when they get the bill.
As with any scenario, utilise all your customer care skills to ride through the arguments over the charges, and just like every day in hotels, pick yourself up, dust yourself down and keep on smiling!