Donít let hotels take you for a ride

Pushpa Girimaji
Pushpa Girimaji

THis is that time of the year when everyone is escaping to cooler climes for a holiday. Since in most cases, a holiday would involve a stay at a hotel, I thought it is appropriate to write about some interesting orders of courts, upholding the rights of consumers vis-a-vis hotels. One of the early cases that comes to my mind is a case of theft in a hotel, and the hotel management's attempts to escape liability for it.

In the year 1996, Robert F Tauro visited Delhi for two days, and stayed with his family at Ashok Yatri Niwas. During this time, when the family had gone out, someone broke open the lock of his briefcase kept in the room, and stole Rs 4,700 from it. In most such cases, since the guests at the hotel are all travellers, cases are not pursued, and that is how hotels escape liability.

In this case, however, a consumer group, Delhi Grahak Panchayat, took up the complaint before the Delhi consumer disputes redressal forum VI. The hotel's defence before the court was that Rule 7 of its house rules clearly said that "the hotel management does not hold itself responsible for loss of goods, property or the belongings of the guests/visitors. To assist the guests in safeguarding their valuables, safe deposit lockers can be made available by the cashier free of charge, subject to availability on security deposit of Rs 100, which is refundable". A copy of the house rules and the resident card clarifying this was provided in every room of the hotel. The hotel was, therefore, not bound to take any responsibility for the loss of goods or cash, as in this case.

Dismissing this argument, the consumer forum held the hotel management guilty of negligent service, and directed it to refund the amount lost by the guest, along with Rs 5,000 as compensation and Rs 1,000 as costs.

In the case of B.N. Nagi Reddy vs Residency Hotel, the complainant's granddaughter was getting married, and he had booked six suites and 14 double rooms for three days at the hotel for the bridegroom's party to stay. However, when the guests arrived, the hotel could make available only two suites, forcing the complainant to make alternate arrangements at another costlier hotel.

The Tamil Nadu state consumer disputes redressal commission directed the hotel to refund Rs 22,000 paid as advance towards the booking of rooms, besides Rs 28,000, which was the additional expense incurred by the complainant on account of seeking alternate accommodation. It also awarded the complainant Rs 50,000 for mental agony, anguish and humiliation caused on account of the hotel's negligence.

Consumer court orders have also laid stress on the need for hotels to ensure the safety of their guests. In the case of Manisha Chhabra vs the Director, Tamil Nadu Tourism Development Corporation, decided in 2003, the national commission came down heavily on the hotel for its negligence, resulting in the death of a guest. Manisha and her husband had checked into the hotel on December 19, 1993, at about 8.30 pm. Soon after, her husband noticed a small door on the western side that was just latched. Assuming it to be a storage space or balcony, he opened it and stepped outside, only to fall on to the ground 35 feet below.

Noting that the hotel should have taken every precaution to prevent such an accident, the commission directed it to pay the widow Rs 5 lakh, along with 10 per cent interest calculated for 10 years.

Before I conclude, here are a few tips for choosing and booking your hotel, particularly if you are doing it online. First and foremost, before you make your reservation, look at some independent reviews from customers about the hotels that you have chosen. This will help you make an informed choice. Similarly, when you check the room rates, find out the applicable tax rate, and whether the rate quoted includes taxes.

It is equally important to check the cancellation policy of the hotel. If for some unforeseen circumstances, you are forced to postpone or cancel your booking, do you get a refund? Of course, if the quality of service provided by the hotel turns out to be deficient, or if the quality is not what is claimed, you can always knock at the doors of the courts for relief.