Is this too much compensation? Men’s room mixup nets guest $200 gift card from Marriott

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By Christopher Elliott

This column is usually called, “Is this enough compensation?” because frankly, the travel industry often doesn’t have a clue about customer service. Then again, maybe I’m clueless.

Here’s why: Back in April, I received a note from Mark Gross about an uncomfortable incident at the Renaissance Tampa International Plaza Hotel. I didn’t think it was worth bringing it to Marriott’s attention. Neither did a majority of my readers.

But apparently Marriott disagreed with me about the seriousness of the problem, and compensated Gross very generously.

Did I misjudge this case?

First, a few details.

Stalled surprised at the Marriott

Last spring, Gross stayed at the hotel for a conference. During a break, he went to the restroom, which was clearly marked as the men’s room and was, in fact, the men’s room (it had urinals).

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.

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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.

OK, who hasn’t at one time or another accidentally walked into the wrong bathroom? I know I have. It’s embarrassing, absolutely.

I’m not sure if I would have done anything about it, other than to apologize to all present and to assure them this was a misunderstanding.

But that’s not the end of Gross’ story.

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.

Unexpected generosity

I agreed with Gross that his incident was troubling, and offered to write something about this issue, but didn’t contact Marriott, because I wasn’t sure if this rose to the level of needing a consumer advocate’s intervention.

Well, Gross followed up with me late last week with what he called a “happy” ending:

I had to make reservations at another Marriott in Orlando. I was so impressed by the incredibly solicitous reservation person that I asked her if she had a phone number or an address for customer service/follow-up to address a concern I had at another Marriott hotel.

She gave me a phone number, I called, and in less than four days I had a $200 Marriott gift card FedExed to me. Your affirmation of “troubling” really allowed me to keep my hopes for justice up.

I find that surprisingly generous. I don’t think I would have pushed for that kind of compensation. But Marriott has a rare track record of overcompensating guests with grievances. (Related: Can this trip be saved? There was a meeting in the ladies room.)

I’m not sure that’s such a bad thing, actually.

So here’s my question: Did Marriott go too far?

In a survey of 700 readers you said: yes. (Here’s how to fix your own consumer problems.)

This case makes me wonder what else I’m wrong about. Errors are inevitable collateral in the pursuit of truth. But still.

I haven’t written anything about the TSA in 48 hours. Maybe I should listen to the commenters who want me to stop covering the pat-down controversy?

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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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