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The only difference between first class travellers and first class idiots is the price they pay.

When blackmail works

Hotel review scams, missing Roman legions and that infernal yellow rubber duck

Vijay Verghese/ Editor

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THERE’S NOTHING worse than checking in to a hotel to find housekeeping has made a pig’s breakfast of your room. After all, true cognoscenti who book dirt cheap deals online where even roaches are extra and the hair-drier is nailed to the floor will arrive in a frisson of expectation. Travel is all about expectation and romance. Like the innocent joy of prying that hair-drier from its cabinet and securing it safely in your bag along with the towels and toiletries and the alarm clock that you KNOW other guests don’t really appreciate.

Now consider this. The painting above your bed is slightly misaligned. Not much. Just a smidgen, but enough for you to know that the chambermaid is making a statement. Just because you paid a paltry $50 for a room that is normally priced at US$55.99 – in the high season – she has assumed you’re a worthless, uneducated jock who doesn’t know Picasso from The Artist Formerly Known as Prince. Misaligned paintings hurt the eyes and deeply trouble aesthetes. “Yo housekeeping? There’s this thang on mah wall that looks like mah missus after I done gave her a coupla whacks… Say, is this by Prince?”

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Aesthete Travellers are a new breed. DON’T MISALIGN THEIR PAINTINGS. They get upset by the smallest things. The room rate is too high, the flush is too noisy, the soap smells, they don’t like the receptionist’s face, they hate their fathers, the yellow rubber duck is coated in Chinese lead paint, the hypoallergenic bed is too small, big, wide, high, soft, hard, cold …

Aesthete travellers don't call a hotel just to make a reservation. They call to bully, intimidate, and threaten legal action...

Aesthete Travellers have a new way to hit back at uncaring hotels. With reader-generated content all the rage on the Internet, they simply log on and pen a review, a nasty review, preferably on a well-known site where their ramblings will reverberate through cyberspace causing untold numbers of potential travellers to beat their wives and hang them on the wall, slightly askew.

Times have changed. These days you don’t simply call a hotel to make a reservation. You call them, bully them, hint at legal action, threaten to leap off a high place – like from atop the toaster – and, finally, mention that dreaded “online review”, all to get $5 knocked off your bill. Sometimes it works. Despite travel giant Expedia’s best efforts to filter out scams – including complex algorithms to detect fraud – the “unbiased” hotel reviews on TripAdvisor.Com are often peppered with blackmail and stealth attacks. Net-savvy hoteliers skilled in the dark arts float fake reviews lauding their achievements while maligning competitors. The power of an online smear cannot be understated and it has prompted the more vigilant general managers to regularly scan and respond to slights.

Sometimes the feedback is valuable and acted upon. Problems get fixed. In the blizzard of brands online it is hard to tell crass from class, making reviews a crucial element in decision-making. Priceline.Com says it is cracking down on fake hotel reviews and would-be travelling scribes need to verify stays. Other useful review sites include IGoUGo.Com, HotelShark.Com and MyTravelGuide.Com. It helps to cross reference a review across multiple sites to see if there’s a pattern or variation.

Crowe was charged with criminal possession of a weapon - a phone. Where are those Roman legions when you need them?

Aesthete Travellers will stop at nothing to secure a harmonious stay. Hoteliers report they’ll even threaten to “blow up” the place if the rate is not dropped. And it’s not just the Hamas delegation we’re talking about. Others hint at brutal online hotel reviews with deeply disturbing outcomes fraught with bad grammar and misspellings. Guests who have enjoyed a perfectly comfortable stay will turn up at check-out complaining about trivialities hoping to get “compensation”. Usually this means a free night, or a free stay. One Kuala Lumpur hotel guest complained the spa was closed due to a private function in the vicinity. The hotel offered to open the spa for this guest and served complimentary wine while he waited but, clearly, this was not the approved script. He wanted “compensation”, a free room.

Blackmail can sometimes work because general managers are keen to keep complaints away from senior management. Often, hotel guests have a point. Like the lady who demanded the waiter dive in the dumpster to bring her dinner scraps back for her dog. We don't know if Fido was served supper or not. In a separate gladiatorial contest, Russell Crowe once attacked a hotel employee at New York’s Mercer Hotel only to emerge later in handcuffs. He was charged with “criminal possession of a weapon” – the telephone. Where are those Roman legions when you need them? Or, the Yellow Pages, which are heavier and substantially more menacing.

In some countries, egregiously uncivil guests are red carded for future reference and placed on a blacklist as at GuestsBehavingBadly.Com. So the next hotel knows the history and is thoroughly prepared. “Welcome sir. Here’s your soft rubber phone and we have a diving team on standby at the dumpster.”

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