Friday, June 10, 2011

Should Crappy Accommodation Be Regulated?

I was interested to read about a Kiwi expat family of four that checked into an Auckland airport property and checked-out in disgust soon after...

The synopsis of the story repeated in the New Zealand Herald this week was that a family paid $99.00 for a studio with a double bed and two singles and it quickly dawned on them that they had made a horrible mistake. While tolerating an hour at the hotel they accumulated a shopping list of alleged defects that included:
  • Rubbish on the balcony
  • A shelf black with grime and dirty glasses
  • Poor quality bedding
  • Only 2-small bath towels were provided
  • The floors had not been vacuumed.
  • Shower with no hot water
  • The hotel spa pool was out of order.
On the face of it, the hotel seems to have some serious quality issues, however we are conscious of the tendency for some guest's to lose relativity and context with complaints.

Right from the get-go the family seemed to be confused what a "Studio" unit constituted and were quoted: "Our room wasn't a studio; it was a small room crammed with double bed and two singles." Reading between the lines, we suspect the family may have had an expectation of a family style unit with multiple bedrooms. However a studio is a smaller unit with an open-plan configuration that sounds exactly what they booked and paid for.

We admit that in all probability the family may have had good cause for complaint as we note that previous guests have endured unsavoury experiences at the same airport hotel and have used websites such as TripAdvsor to broadcast their dissatisfaction.

It is unfortunate that the obscure website mentioned in the article, that aggregates various online travel agency sites is frozen in time and still lists the Auckland airport property at a lofty four-stars. While we agree that an accommodation provider needs to ensure that their property is correctly presented on the web and has a duty of care to ensure that they do not over state their offer, we can understand that it is sometimes difficult to control historical content that may be displayed by 3rd party websites. 

In spite of one website incorrectly advertising the hotel's star rating, we note that a casual internet browser should've become quickly informed that the hotel is what it is - a no-frills budget property with most mainstream websites pulling no punches about the spartan offer.

We hope that the family that initially wanted to save some dosh by seeking out the cheapest property in an area peppered with dodgy accommodation options have learned a valuable lesson that I can summarise for the benefit of bewildered travellers:
If you are looking for accommodation for a family of four for less than $100 that includes free breakfasts, free broadband, free local/national calls and a free airport shuttle service - then sadly you will be subjected to a harsh reality. The hotel that you will end up in will have the odd bit of rubbish blowing around the grounds, the quality of the bedding and amenities will be suspect, there will not be an endless supply of hot water available and sadly the room will not be cleaned to a high standard.
What is interesting to me is the inevitable inane debate that will follow this story. Newspapers are playing up to the over sensitive nature of Kiwis with the Rugby World Cup looming as we are all anxious to put on a good front.

Should budget accommodation properties be banned or restricted? Should we bypass an open market and regulate a minimum standard for all accommodation properties?

We didn't have to wait long and sure enough a stern letter to the editor followed in yesterday's New Zealand Herald:
"If New Zealand had legislation that made it illegal to operate an accommodation service, unless a basic 3 standard was issued by Qualmark, low grade places would not be able to open their doors..."
What amuses me is that the strongest advocates for compulsive centralist solutions to control accommodation businesses are those within the accommodation industry itself. 

Even the Motel Association of New Zealand (MANZ) has openly advocated introducing a new layer of bureaucracy and regulation for their members. In a briefing paper to the incoming National-lead government in 2009, MANZ promoted the notion of Local Authorities imposing a mandatory "licensing regime" of all properties that offer short term traveller accommodation.

We do not share the mistrust of an open market and believe that consumer demand should be allowed to determine the outcome of accommodation businesses that are offering a less than satisfactory product and service. As long as an accommodation provider is upfront with their offer, they should be allowed to operate to whatever level of quality they choose. In this digital age with the advent of consumer review sites, the customer has every opportunity to assess accommodation before they arrive and will receive the quality level that they deserve (ie: are willing to pay for).  

We hope that common sense will prevail and any talk of regulating the accommodation industry is thwarted. In the interim, the turkeys wishing for an early Christmas should be treated with the disdain that they deserve.

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