• Bill Petrie

A Parent's Weekend Parable

When brands deliberately fail on their promises

Ever since we knew we would be sending our twin boys – and only children – to different colleges, my wife and I have been plotting and planning when we would be able to see them again. When we looked at the fall term calendars, we immediately circled “Parent’s Weekend” as the best opportunity to see them in their new environments and began counting the days. Knowing that hotel rooms would likely be scarce, we made reservations as soon as possible. In the case of our son Mitch and the University of Alabama, that was April 4 – almost six months before the festivities began on September 24.

Since we were a bit late in booking by Parent’s Weekend standards, we attempted to balance cost with comfort and made a reservation at the Wingate by Wyndham in Tuscaloosa directly through their website at the rate of $160.00 per night vs. their “normal” rate of $79.00. While certainly more than we would ever pay for that brand of hotel, we also understand that event weekends in any college town will result in an unusually high rate – simple supply vs. demand.

Then, on September 2, my phone rang and indicated that it was the aforementioned Wingate in Tuscaloosa. Here is a transcript of the conversation:

Wingate: “Is this Mr. Petrie?”

Me: “Yes, it is.”

Wingate: “I’ve been putting off this call for as long as possible, but I need to inform you that we will have to cancel your room for the weekend of September 24 due to a fire at the hotel.”

Me: “Yikes, I’m sorry to hear that. When did the fire happen, and how many rooms were affected?”

Wingate: “I’m not at liberty to share that.”

Me (stunned): “You can’t tell me when the fire happened?”

Wingate: “No, I cannot.”

Me (still stunned): “Were all the rooms impacted?”

Wingate: “No, only a few.”

Me (still stunned): “Can you explain to me why my room was canceled? I travel quite a bit, and hotels usually don’t allocate rooms until the day of arrival, so I find it odd my room was chosen as one of the canceled ones.”

Wingate: “No, I was just told to cancel your room.”

Me (stunned and irritated): “So, you’re telling me I don’t have a room for Parent’s Weekend.”

Wingate: “Yes, sir, I am.”

Me (really irritated): “That’s three weeks away – can you help me find a room at one of your sister properties in Tuscaloosa?”

Wingate: “I can google available hotel rooms in the area.”

Me (done): “No, that’s okay. I am sure I can find available hotel rooms on my own.”

As you might imagine, it was beyond frustrating and resulted in calls to Wyndham corporate and attempts to speak with the local manager – neither of which resulted in anything other than different dead ends as no one could verify there was a fire or why our room was one of the select few that was canceled. In doing a bit of internet sleuthing, it seems at least five other families had their rooms cut for the same reasons, and the only thing we all had in common was the – prepare to be shocked – the relatively low price we paid at the initial booking.

Clearly, we were the victims of a bait and switch because the hotel realized they could increase their profits if they opened a section of rooms just before the event weekend. Sure enough, a further search showed they had rooms available for the same weekend at $270.00 a night. For a company that publicly states its mission as “making hotel travel possible for all,” I find all of this exasperating and disappointing.

After a few hours of searching, we finally were able to secure a room at a Quality Inn at the not-so-reasonable rate of $360.00 a night. While we didn’t love that we had to pay Ritz-Carlton rates for a budget hotel, we also wanted to see our son and felt it was the best option under the circumstances.

This is the part of the blog where I’d love to write that, while overpriced, the hotel delivered on their stated promise of “connecting the world through the power of hospitality.” But, again, I’d really love to share that, but it just wasn’t our experience.

The hotel was run down, and the franchisee is clearly making money from people desperate to pay any price to see their children. The room was dirty, the air conditioning was more of a suggestion than a working device, the water pressure and temperature controls were rumors, and the television only displayed shows in ULD – Ultra-Low Def. Here is the best example of the service we received: twice we asked for additional towels (we were supplied three) – once Saturday morning and once Saturday evening. We were told they only had a bathmat and a washcloth clean in the morning, so we politely declined. Then, after the Crimson Tide destroyed their cupcake opponent of the day, we were told that the hotel was sold out and they didn’t carry extra towels.

Honestly, I can’t make this stuff up.

The lesson from this parable is simple: some companies do not care about fulfilling their brand promises. So, of course, we will never choose to stay in a hotel from either brand again. Honestly, as consumers, that’s all we can do. However, over time, the word will get out and erode the overall brand to the point where other properties in the same system suffer.

The above story illustrates why it’s so critical to deliver on a brand promise – regardless of what is charged to the client. Even when the price is painfully inflated, people can at least accept that cost when merchandise is delivered on time and is of the agreed-upon value. However, be wary of the customer who is gouged on price and is disappointed with all other aspects of the transaction – those are the ones that make it their personal mission to ensure the pain inflicted on them is returned to the brand tenfold.

Can anyone recommend a good Airbnb in Tuscaloosa for Parent’s Weekend 2022?

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