Sorry, but I did not order the late night snack or the earthquake

I’ve not had to argue hotel bills too often in my life. I avoid the ridiculous phone call rates by using my mobile, I won’t use the internet for much the same reason unless it’s included, I steer clear of the minibar and its stupidly overpriced contents, where possible I pay as I go for food and drinks, and it should go without saying that there’s no way I’m going to watch their ruinously expensive porn channels. That way when I’ve checked out I’ve not had to do much more than make sure the number of days I’m being billed for is right and that the room service bill is for what I ordered and nothing more. On one or two occasions I’ve had to argue that I didn’t get a paper or a club sandwich that they thought I’d had but generally I’ve been able to glance at hotel bills, pay and leave. Simple as.

I’ve never been stayed in an hotel when it got hit by an earthquake either, but it would never have occurred to me that that would be a reason not to pay even for things I did have.

A guest trapped in Christchurch’s earthquake-hit Hotel Grand Chancellor for nearly four hours feels “kicked in the guts” after being billed $NZ300 ($A232) (£155, US$247, €173, blahblahblah I’m not doing it in Harry Potter money, I’m just not – AE) for his stay.

Well, if the earthquake had prevented him from staying there then fair dos, but as we’ll soon see that’s not exactly how it was.

A New Zealand man and his wife, who declined to be named, were trapped on the central Christchurch hotel’s 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 it’s safe to say that they’d checked in. In fact they were very 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.
They had so much luggage because they were about to move to Australia.

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 that’s not the hotel’s fault. And if all that stuff is still in there then I think it’s safe to say that the couple were in the hotel and using its services – parking, TV entertainment (hopefully not some Roland Emmerich disaster porn – that’d be unreasonably cruel of life) and accommodation – at the time.

So what’s the problem with being billed for it? The earthquake trapped their possessions and their car, and presumably they didn’t see the end of the flick, but it didn’t erase time and 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 – they have a large and unusable building sitting there and the expense of demolition and reconstruction to look forward to, and their insurers are probably no more cuddly than that of the unnamed couple. The earthquake wasn’t the hotel’s fault and about the only thing you can criticise them for is the time it’s taken to send out the bill. Even then…

[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.

So they weren’t actually able to send out bills until recently. I’m finding it harder and harder to understand why it is that the hotel shouldn’t get paid for the services it provided up to the point the quake hit. Look, if I ordered a pizza and set it down on the table before something happened that meant we had to abandon it and get out of the house, can I ring up the pizza company and expect my thirty bucks back? Of course not – they’ve provided what I asked for and whatever happens after that isn’t their problem. Anything they do do is out of the goodness of their hearts and not because I have any kind of right to expect it. So how can this be different?

Even more confusingly the hotel group has caved in and waived some of the bills, including that of the anonymous couple, but not all of them. Whether they are billing guests or not now depends not on whether the guests used the hotel’s services but on whether they were inside or outside when the earthquake happened.

[Delli Cicchi said he] did not know how many trapped guest had been sent bills. Guests who were not in the hotel when the quake struck were still expected to pay their bills, he said.
“They legitimately incurred costs.”

And how did people who were in the hotel somehow not legitimately incur costs? How does whether a guest pops out for a stroll around Christchurch or kicks back and watches a film in their room alter whether they’d legitimately incurred costs? Do I have to lick a special kind of toad to make sense of this or something?

And above all, why are those who’ve been let off having to pay for goods and services they did in fact receive and consume still complaining?

After contacting New Zealand’s 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.
“I would never send something like that.”

I can’t think why not. If I’d done some work for someone and was about to send him an invoice when I heard that a tree had fallen on his car written it off I’d be sympathetic to the poor guy. I’d 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 shouldn’t get paid at all I’d say I hope his chooks turn into emus and kick his dunny down as well.* I’d feel for the guy and I’d try to help out if I could in his time of misfortune, but whatever had happened, even if he’d been in the car and narrowly escaped unharmed, it wouldn’t undo the work I’d done. Even if he’d been killed shouldn’t somebody still settle up with me? Estates still pay outstanding bills, after all.

Is it heartless of me to think that victims of bad luck and even quite serious natural disaster should still 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 large and luxurious hotels?

* An Australian curse I came across not long ago. You’ve got to love what Aussies do with the language.

Posted on July 6, 2011, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Sorry, but I did not order the late night snack or the earthquake.

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