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A Heart-Racing Day In The Hotel Business

, , , | Working | CREDIT: Antistar84 | December 14, 2020

Race week in my town is booked a year in advance by most people; by February there is little to no hope of getting a room in this town. 

It’s the last week of February. I’m in control of reception, taking over from my manager who is on maternity leave. Guests are coming to the hotel in droves, dropping off their luggage, and going to the races. We are handing out keys in pre-packaged welcome envelopes. Porters are taking luggage to rooms. The champagne is flowing. We are a well-oiled machine.

We are down to our last few check-ins. Suddenly, two executive busses pull up in front of the hotel. No alarm bells here yet; we think nothing of it for a few minutes as it isn’t uncommon for corporate guests to hire busses to get to the racecourse from the hotel. But then, the leader of the group gets off the bus and comes to my desk.

Leader: “Hi, we have a reservation for forty.”

Thinking this is a restaurant booking, as we do have a few functions this morning, I ask:

Me: “Can I take your name, please?”

She then tells me her name and company name.

Me: “I will be back shortly; I will check your booking with the restaurant.”

I’m about to walk away from my desk to find the function coordinator where she stops me dead in my tracks.

Leader: “We have a reservation for forty people, twenty rooms.”

I crack a fake smile and laugh, thinking this is all a joke.

Me: “Umm… No, you don’t?!”

My laughter quickly turns into dread when she pulls out a binder stacked with paperwork and passes it to me.

Leader: “Our confirmations are in here.”

Taking the binder, I hastily open it and cannot believe what I am seeing: a full printed email trail with my old manager who is still on maternity, their booking complete with deposit receipts and confirmations for rooms booked. However, I notice that these rooms have numbers and not names. All of the rooms in the hotel are individually named, so I look at this information in disbelief, now knowing full well what my manager has done.

She most definitely booked them last year in March as a block booking, gave the company a competitive price, and took the deposit, but did not allocate any of the rooms on to the system. Instead, she put them in a “virtual room” to hold their deposits in until said deposits were paid in full, at which point they would be transferred to real rooms. It turns out that this company did actually pay the remaining balance with the events manager just before the reception manager went on maternity. However, the reception manager called in sick for her last week. It was handed over via email but never picked up by the assistant manager, as she was literally now left running a department unexpectedly, so the email slipped in between handovers and was not chased up.

With my heart well and truly sunk, I go to the computer to check if the information I saw with my own eyes is correct, and lo and behold, in March of last year, there is an unallocated block booking that was paid for, and because it was never allocated, it therefore expired a few months later. And obviously, because race week is so popular, it didn’t take at all long for the hotel to fill.

I grasp at straws, as by now, the woman is staring a hole into my head. The only thing that I manage to blurt out is:

Me: “Can I see your group booking confirmation?”

She explains that she can’t provide me with it, but the paperwork in front of me does show that they have a booking. I stall.

Me: “I apologize; this information looks correct, but I can’t seem to find your booking. Bear with me.”

I get up and go into the reception manager’s office behind me and frantically dial the acting general manager’s number, only to be met with his phone ringing out; it is his only day off this week and he went to the races as he had never been.

I’m almost in tears at this point, waiting for the ground for me to swallow me up. I cannot believe I am in this situation! I freeze and look at the window, contemplating jumping out and running away. I do NOT want to go back outside to face the music of a problem I did not create. I am rudely interrupted by another receptionist at the door.

Receptionist: “The lady outside wants to talk to you. Why are you taking so long?”

It is time to bite the bullet.

With nothing more to lose, I go out and smile.

Me: “I’m ever so sorry for keeping you waiting. Unfortunately, there has been a mix-up; the agreement that you have in your binder is with our old reception manager who is actually on maternity leave. I don’t want to pass the blame, but she did not allocate you any rooms, and subsequently, we are fully booked.”

Before she can say anything, I quickly add on:

Me: “I was trying to get my general manager on the line; unfortunately, I can’t get hold of him at the moment. Please do take a seat. I will try my best to get him here as soon as I can. Would you care for a drink whilst you’re waiting?”

She blankly stares at me in disbelief.

Leader: “What do you mean, you are fully booked? We booked this last year!”

I go on to explain again.

Me: “Unfortunately, the agreement you had with our reception manager is void; being 100% honest, she did not allocate you any rooms. I have only been on reception for a month. The best I can do right now is to give you a full refund, but unfortunately, I can’t do anything more than that without my general manager’s authorization.”

Surprisingly, the woman understands the situation. She isn’t happy, but she isn’t angry either. I think the realization is dawning that she herself booked these rooms and she now has to face her company and boss to tell them they have no rooms. I am now preparing for the arduous task of sorting this mess out by myself. The duty manager’s diary does not cover scenarios such as this.

Moments later, almost miraculously — like an angel sent by God — the interim general manager appears on his way out to the races.

General Manager: “I forgot my wallet. Did you ring?”

I pounce on him and I explain the situation to him in front of the woman. He then takes her to one side, instructs me to call all of our sister properties to see if we can honour the booking elsewhere, and then goes over to the woman to explain the situation.

It took a good two hours, but we eventually managed to out book all forty people to various hotels in the neighbouring counties. We took a loss, as they had technically paid us, and we promised them all transport to and from the hotels they all stayed at each night and arranged to have them picked up at their hotels to go the racecourse and back to our hotel for dinner. We also sent each and every guest a complimentary bottle of house champagne. The crisis was averted, and I didn’t have to deal with any of the backlash from this, as it wasn’t my fault, to begin with. If it weren’t for the interim general manager forgetting his wallet, I have no idea how this story would have turned out.