Monday, February 25, 2013

Single or Double?

Twitter is cross. Twitter is always cross. This weekend it has been cross because a gay couple were denied the chance to sleep in a double bed at a hotel.

It started on twitter. It got picked up by proper media. And, as the BBC journalist started typing the story I wonder they didn't stop and think. Looooong ago, I did some basic BBC journalism training. Two bits of it apply here:
1) Thou shalt not run a story from a single source.
2) Always kick the tyres to see they're sound before buying it

(Mind you, most of the "journalism" I did was about vampires and Bagpuss, so who am I to lob a brick?).

Reading the couple's account does raise some interesting points. They were checking into a central London hotel on a Saturday night. At 11.30pm. And were then disgruntled to find out that their choice of room wasn't available. Well, frankly, I'm not surprised. Are you? 2000 years ago, Mary and Joseph understood the idea of a late check in.

I don't doubt the sincere upset of the couple concerned. Neither does the hotel, who hurried to say "we apologise for the way they feel". But... this really is a single-source story. Ringing up a hotel's PR department at the weekend for a quote doesn't count as verification. That's a reaction.

A clever friend went off and checked the hotel's booking conditions, which is a valid second source. Here we go: "Guests may check-in at any time from 2.00 p.m. on the day of arrival. All rooms that have been secured by credit / debit card or prepaid at the time of booking will be held until 12.00 noon on the following day. Any non-secured reservation will be held until 4.00 p.m. on the day of arrival at which time the hotel is entitled to re-let the room, unless the guest has notified the hotel of a late arrival." and "Rooms are subject to availability".

Sorry for the small print. Research? Yawn. But there we go. Nearly midnight on a Saturday. Central London. Rooms are subject to availability. Uh huh.

Then again, this took place in the Barbican, that famous centre of homosexual oppression. Mind you, as someone said to me on Twitter: "If homophobic, then there's a serious charge to answer, of course.". Yes. And if the hotel had also murdered them for the glory of the Dark Lord, then there'd be a serious charge to answer there, too.

Mind you, the receptionist apparently asked, when confronted by two young men asking for their room: "Are you sure you want a double room or do you want single beds?"

Years ago I was asked the exact same question. I'd been on a rather lovely date which had gone very well, and we were wondering about staying in the hotel above the restaurant. As she made the booking, the receptionist asked if we wanted a single or a double - neutrally - and when we replied "a double", she giggled and said "oh, lovely". But, first of all, she had to ask the question. I suspect a lot of hotels do so when two people of the same sex check in. Possibly because sometimes straight men decide to share a room, make a mistake in the booking, and are quick to take offence. Not that I'm saying all straight men are homophobic. Or that all hotels are. Just saves the trouble of sorting them out another room so they don't accidentally bum each other while reaching for the complimentary shortbread.

Maybe I've got the wrong end of the stick. Maybe I'm leaping to a conclusion without having read all the facts. Well, then I'm not alone. Here are a few tweets, all made, remember, before the hotel has properly had a chance to properly investigate and respond:

  • "I'll make sure no one I know or work with books with you."
  • "How he felt is because of what your employee did. He could sue you. And should."
  • "Boycott is the answer here."

And those are just the nice ones. 
Don't get me wrong - Twitter is often a very useful customer-service tool (especially with Train companies, who seem to reserve their huggy approachableness purely for social media). But this kind of situation, which sees a lot of people getting very cross before the facts have been properly stood up could be very damaging. At the moment it's just damaging for individual companies, but it may rapidly change the way that organisations react to a social media witch hunt.

Finally, I recently stayed at a Thistle hotel. It was rather lovely. Although a chambermaid did keep popping into my room without knocking. I was a bit surprised and mentioned it on Twitter. Oh, and I also mentioned it at reception when I checked out.



Hmmm, shortbread.

other pete said...

Gay twitter yesterday.

Alezed said...

My twin sister and I had the opposite problem... we checked into a pre-arranged booking with Holiday Inn on the Finchley Road we obviously have the same surname... not because we're married to each other though... even through I have what could be thought of as a boys first name! They assumed we wanted a double room... they were very put out when we asked for a twin room. But I didn't feel the need to let the world know... until now ;)