Can this trip be saved? There was a meeting in the ladies room

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By Christopher Elliott

Mark Gross was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Specifically, it was a room at the Renaissance Tampa International Plaza Hotel in Tampa that no man should ever enter. But I don’t want to get ahead of myself.

The question we’re presented with this morning is the following one: What does a hotel owe a guest when there’s an honest misunderstanding that leads to profound embarrassment? Is an apology enough?

Last spring, Gross attended a conference at the Renaissance (owned by Marriott) in Tampa. He also stayed at the hotel.

During the morning session break, I went to the men’s bathroom and was in a stall.

While sitting in the stall I was surprised at how noisy the bathroom was becoming, I was shocked when I came out of the stall and saw half a dozen women in the bathroom. They were even more shocked than I was, and they viewed me quite suspiciously.

Luckily, a female friend was among the women. She assured them that I was ok as she escorted me out of the bathroom.

I really was mortified.

When I left the bathroom I saw that one of the Renaissance staff had covered the men’s room sign with a ladies’ room sign. I could understand the reason, as there were more women in the conference than men. However, no staff entered the bathroom to see if a man was inside before they made the switch.

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I complained to the hotel manager, who laughed, said it was a mistake, and offered to investigate it for me. I gave him my name and room number and asked him to follow up. Though I could imagine, as part of good customer service, he could have offered me a dinner, a drink, or at a minimum some sort of formal apology, he did nothing.

I am pretty sure that if it were a woman in the stall and they had changed the ladies’ room to a men’s room, the response would have been quite different.

In any case, I really did want an apology and an acknowledgment from Marriott. When that didn’t come, I wrote to the general manager of the hotel, Jim Bartholomay, in May. When I got no response from him, I wrote the president and COO, Arne Sorenson, at corporate headquarters in July. To date, he hasn’t responded.

I am quite surprised at that poor level of customer service and am curious if I should have done something else. I really expected much more from Marriott.

There’s no question that the Renaissance mishandled this situation. It should have checked the restroom before switching signs. The manager should have followed up with Gross, as promised. And Marriott should have at least responded to his inquiry. (Here’s how to fix your own consumer issues.)

But does he deserve anything more than the apology he received for his meeting in the ladies room? (Related: Is this too much compensation? Men’s room mixup nets guest $200 gift card from Marriott.)

Here’s why I’m on the fence about this case: Even if the general manager had responded, and even if someone from corporate Marriott had replied to his email, they probably wouldn’t have done anything more than apologize for the misunderstanding. (A reader experienced an allergic reaction during her stay at the Marriott’s Renaissance.)

(Full disclosure: I’ve wandered into the wrong restroom a time or two by accident. It’s an experience I would have preferred to avoid. But I lived to see another day, like Gross.)

I’m not sure there’s anything more that can be done. What do you think? Should I intervene on his behalf and ask for more than a verbal apology?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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