On our recent travels in Central America we had two incidents where money was stolen from our room. Both involved relatively small amounts ($20 and $30), both were the result of carelessness on my part, but both cases still left a distinctly sour taste in the mouth. Yet what stays in my mind is the sharp contrast between the way that the senior staff dealt with the situations.
First case: We stayed in a small guest house with no safe storage facilities. $30 went missing from our room (I had hidden it in a zipped compartment of my backpack rather than carrying it around all night – a mistake I now know). I only noticed the following morning, and as the duty staff spoke no English and my Spanish is not good enough to explain that I was missing some money that I had counted earlier that night, I waited till later that night and wrote an email to the owners.
Their response couldn’t have been more professional. They apologised unreservedly, explained that they had taken on a temp worker to cover an absence and that they had clearly made an error of judgement. They offered to return the $30 to me and asked how best they could do this. On top of that they offered us two free nights to compensate for our problems. I didn’t want to create problems for them in sending small amounts across borders and we’re not likely to be back there anytime soon. But by their swift and caring approach they turned what was a negative experience into a positive one.
Second case: mindful of the earlier incident, having checked into a Mexican hotel and found no safety box in the room I hid a small amount of remaining money very carefully in a hidden pocket in my bag. Again $20 was missing when we returned from a day out. This time I immediately reported the missing money to the hotel management.
The hotel manager came up to our room and called the cleaner in. There then followed an extremely awkward exchange where he asked her if she had taken the money. She said no, he turned to us and shrugged his shoulders, saying that we should have put the money in the security box at reception (it was the first we’d heard about this facility). For the remaining time in the hotel the cleaner ignored our gaze (and omitted to clean our room until prompted) while the reception staff were decidedly frosty with us. We saw and heard nothing from the manager again.
So what did I learn from these experiences?
Should I have been more careful with my money? Absolutely. Both incidents happened near the end of a six week trip, we had spent most of our cash and I had foolishly dropped my guard to our cost. In future I will not leave cash in the room unless there is a safe available.
Should I have let the incident go? Definitely not. Yes, for hotel staff in Central America $20 is worth a lot more than it is to me. But to let it go would mean that I would be allowing similar incidents to occur (no-one rummages through one guest’s bag and doesn’t do it again to someone else) – I tried to put myself in the shoes of the hotel manager and in his shoes I would certainly want to know if such things were happening in my business.
And finally, is a theft from a room a disaster for a hotel’s reputation? No, it doesn’t have to be. It is an opportunity for a hotel to show how much it cares about its guests. In both of these cases they managed to do that perfectly.