If it is at all possible to make a simple process complicated, India will do so. Streamlined efficiency is for other countries – why go for convenience when you can add multiple layers of bureaucracy, reams of paperwork, and obscure rules for which the explanation invites nothing but further intrigue?
Then there’s the bizarre: the phone in my Delhi hotel room rang at 3 am. “Good morning Sir,” came the voice from the front desk. “The boy will be there in one minute for a hanger.” That makes little sense in any context, and less during the small hours of the morning. Half-asleep, I opened the door. The boy from the lobby apologized, came into my room, walked to the wardrobe, opened the door, calmly removed a single clothes hanger, and left.
If you’ve never been to India, you really should. That “Incredible !ndia” marketing slogan they use is spot on.
Anyway, before arriving in India I wanted to book a hotel near Amritsar airport. I found a suitable candidate on Booking.com, and then went to the hotel’s own website because every hotel conference today features a Chief Executive swearing blind that the hotel’s own website is the where customers will find the best deals. After fifteen minutes trying to navigate around the various options I gave up and went back to Booking.com – and this was on the company’s global website so it wasn’t simply a matter of Indian confusion, it was brand-level confusion.
I booked a room. Around a month later, and four days before my stay, I received an email from the hotel asking me to fill in a credit card authorization form (PDF) and send a scan of my credit card, both sides, and my passport. If I did not do so, stated the email, my reservation would be cancelled. Now every hotel conference today features a Chief Executive giving the impression that attracting customers is a key part of the business model, and one that isn’t getting any easier in the face of stiff competition. So having found a willing customer, why on earth would you threaten to cancel his reservation? And furthermore, why would you ask him to engage in a time-consuming process of trying to convert a PDF form into a file that can be filled in and to figure out how to use the scanner on his phone? Not to mention attaching all the necessary documents and hoping the data remain secure. Well these days I’m gradually turning into my Dad, so I refused to comply.
They didn’t cancel my booking as it turned out, but I did have a chance to find out why they’d chosen to introduce the policy – and it wasn’t exactly the Indian need for complications and additional paperwork that I’d first suspected. A number of factors had combined to create a problem for the front office.
The policy of requiring credit cards and ID before the guests arrived had been triggered by the owner’s reaction to a no-show over New Year, when a guest had booked seven rooms for a week, then failed to arrive. The credit card used for the booking couldn’t be charged to extract the cancellation fee, and so measures had to be introduced to address the problem. Part of the issue was that a vast majority of the guests were Indians, driving up to Amritsar to visit the Golden Temple, and this particular group has a relatively high tendency to change their plans, either taking a last-minute cheap offer from another hotel, or simply not travelling at all. They rarely bother to inform the hotel, and often book the rooms using maxed-out or otherwise non-functioning credit cards. Others take the chargeback route when the cancellation fees hit, leading to time-consuming disputes with the local banks. Foreigners, they explained, tend to reliably show up as booked, other than in the most exceptional circumstances.
Why then, would the hotel not simply take payment at the time of booking, or at least take the credit card details at the time of booking, as Booking.com permits? Once again, the problem is that too many guests provide the details of a credit card which cannot be used, or isn’t theirs in the first place. Hence the need to provide ID along with the card – yet Booking.com doesn’t support that ID provision, leaving the hotel to secure that information from the guest themselves.
The hotel admitted that the policy was probably saving the hotel money on balance, but was certainly irritating customers. It wasn’t exactly working, but with a demanding owner and some rather unscrupulous guests, something had to be done. “The idea of inconveniencing guests goes against the general idea of hospitality, but there are many problems for which we need to find a balance,” said the Front Office Manager, aptly waving his arms in the manner of a juggler.
If anyone has any imaginative ideas to solve this particular problem, we’d love to hear about them.