Published Articles

Taking Big Brother On Vacation

Next time you stay in a hotel, you may be surprised to find that Big Brother has tagged along: not yours, everyone’s. That’s because hotels are solving a problem with fraud that reportedly costs them $100 million each year. Strictly speaking, of course, it doesn’t cost them anything…they pass the cost on to you. So in effect, there’s a trade-off: Big Brother is invited on your vacation and you save some money.

This invitation follows the publication in hospitality trade magazines of three articles written by Steven Ferry, Chairman of the International Institute of Modern Butlers ( drawing attention to the excesses of the “Guest from Hell.”

As he tells it, “Guests from Hell complain about everything and when it comes to checking out, they complain some more and loudly enough for an alarmed duty manager to comp them (cancel their bill). Such guests travel from hotel to hotel repeating the same MO. Sometimes, Guests from Hell set up employees to fail, such as happened once when a guest ordered breakfast from the butlers I was training at a newly opened hotel, and also from room service. This gentleman (if he deserves such a title) requested different items for different times. When the butlers and room service independently delivered the requested items at the requested time, the guest complained they were early/late and had forgotten/brought unnecessary items. This upset the employees but worse, at checkout, the guest listed these and many similar “failings” and demanded the entire week’s stay for himself and entourage in the Presidential Suite be comped. It was. This incident first alerted me to this violation of fair play.”

One hotel manager reported a couple had complained the toilet flushed all night and they couldn’t sleep. He complained the cooling didn’t work and she complained it was too cold. Afterwards, maintenance found the toilet flapper had been moved off by 90 degrees and the A/C thermocouple had been bent out of shape and was unusable. The couple filed an official complaint that counted against the hotel, and yes, their bill was cancelled. The manager’s final words: “This database of Guests from Hell means we won’t lose so many good people to less stressful jobs, like bomb squads and hostage negotiations.”

Ferry’s articles called for an international database to be established to flag and put an end to criminally inclined guests. When one magazine editor offered his organization to run the program, Ferry provided them with the template and the Sales and Marketing director, who was tasked with establishing the identity and web site, was off and running, bringing in investors and setting up what was to become HotelSafeguard. It is testament to the need for such an organization that within half a year of launch, 14,000 hotels, motels, and resorts globally had subscribed to the database and submitted no less than 60,000 guest compensation reports.

It’s unlikely you will see a credit in your check:

“Guest from Hell program deduction, $5”

But rest assured, the bill would be higher without this program. What you may well see, if your hotel is a member, and if you look in the compendium (hotel information pack), is a small disclaimer stating that the hotel is a member of HotelSafeguard. That should be warning enough to the criminals (hopefully they are paying attention) and for the rest of us, it has no real impact.

Putting an end to the free ride for Guests from Hell is a laudable goal. It’s hardly a Big Brother intrusion when compared to the highly intimate scans one can be subjected to at airport security lines, for instance. But the tendency to expand the reporting brief to include behavior—whether rude, angry, complaining, jocular, or anything that some little Hitler may take exception to or use as a smoke screen for his own failure to serve—is palpable. Such would obviously throw cold water over the very concept of hospitality. In the early stages of setting up HotelSafeguard, bad guest behavior was one of the things hotels would be expected to report on, but this was later removed and the Web site currently mentions only guest comp histories being maintained.

Making sure it stays that way is a job consumers have, as well as hotel managements; for bureaucracies have a tendency to grow (the IRS was founded in 1913, taxing 1% of the US populace).

The program definitely deserves support for the peace of mind of the hoteliers who are hardly motivated when Guests from Hell are allowed free reign. So next time you see Big Brother on your vacation, just smile, because those serving you will be more inclined to.


Maureen Herron