Iâve never had to argue a hotel bill. I avoid the ridiculous phone call rates and use my mobile, unless itâs included I wonât use the internet for much the same reason, I steer clear of the stupidly overpriced mini-bar and pay as I go for food and drinks where possible, and it should go without saying that thereâs no way Iâm going to watch their ruinously expensive porn channels. So when Iâve checked out Iâve not had to do much more than check the number of days Iâm being billed for and that room service is for what I ordered and nothing more.
Iâve never stayed in a hotel that got hit by an earthquake either, but it wouldnât have occurred to me that it would be a reason not to pay even for things I did have.
A guest trapped in Christchurchâs earthquake-hit Hotel Grand Chancellor for nearly four hours feels âkicked in the gutsâ after being billed $NZ300 for his stay.
Well, if the earthquake had prevented him from staying there then fair enough, but thatâs not how it was.
[The] man and his wife, who declined to be named, were trapped on the central Christchurch hotelâs 22nd floor and escaped hours later by braving collapsed staircases, smashing down doors and crawling on to the roof of an adjacent car park.
He received a $NZ300 bill from the hotel for his two-night stay, including an $NZ18 parking fee for a car that took more than two months to recover.
When the February 22 quake struck, the couple were watching a movie for which they were billed $NZ15.20, in their 25th-floor room.
Okay, so since they were in their room watching a movie and their car was parked downstairs I think itâs safe to say that theyâd checked in.
The couple have been unable to get an insurance payment for the $NZ15,000 worth of luggage stuck in the hotel because their insurer says the belongings could still be recovered.
Now it might be a bit shitty of their insurer to deny a claim for possessions that are stuck in a damaged building to which there is no public access and which has been scheduled for demolition, but thatâs not the hotelâs fault. The point is that the couple were in the hotel and using its services â parking, TV (hopefully not some Roland Emmerich disaster porn) and accommodation â at the time.
So whatâs the problem with being billed for it? The earthquake trapped their possessions and their car, and presumably they didnât see the whole film, but it didnât undo their use of the hotel facilities. It was desperately bad luck compounded by an unsympathetic insurance company (is there another kind?) but the hotel company was unlucky too â they now have a large and unusable building just sitting there plus the expense of demolition and reconstruction to look forward to, and their insurers are probably no better. The quake wasnât the hotelâs fault and about the only thing you can criticize them for is the time itâs taken to send out the bill. Even thenâ¦
[Grand Chancellor Australia and New Zealand group manager Frank Delli Cicchi] said many guests who checked into the hotel just before the quake had received their bills in the past few days because the company had only recently gained access to the accounts, which were trapped in another quake-damaged building in the city.
Iâm finding it harder and harder to understand why it is that the hotel shouldnât be paid for the services provided up to the point the quake hit. Even more confusingly the hotel company has caved in and waived some of the bills, including that of the anonymous couple, but not all of them. It now depends not on whether the guests used the hotelâs services but on whether they were inside or outside when it struck.
Guests who were not in the hotel when the quake struck were still expected to pay their bills, [Delli Cicchi] said.
âThey legitimately incurred costs.â
And how did people who were in the hotel not legitimately incur costs? How does whether a guest popped out for a stroll around Christchurch or kicked back to watch a film in their room alter whether they legitimately incurred costs? And what happens if one member of a couple was in the hotel but the other had gone out? Do I have to lick a special kind of toad to make sense of this or what?
Above all, why are those whoâve been let off having to pay for goods and services they did in fact receive still complaining?
After contacting New Zealandâs The Press, the man received a phone call from a Grand Chancellor accountant who said the bill would be waived.
The man said he was still upset.
âI would never send something like that.â
I canât think why not, I honestly canât. If Iâd done some work for someone and was about to send him an invoice when I heard that a tree had fallen on his car and written it off Iâd be sympathetic to the poor guy. Iâd probably phone him first and talk to him about it, maybe see if he needed a little flexibility on my part. But if he told me that he thought I shouldnât get paid at all Iâd say that I hope his chooks turn into emus and kick his dunny down as well.* Iâd feel for the guy and Iâd try to help out if I could in his time of misfortune, but whatever had happened, even if heâd been in the car and narrowly escaped unharmed, it wouldnât undo the work Iâd done for him.
Is it heartless of me to think that victims of bad luck should still expect to settle any debts they owe? And if not does it make a difference whether the bill comes from a small business or an international company with a dozen or so hotels?
* An Australian curse I came across not long ago. Youâve got to love what Aussies do with the language.