Until the mid-90s, when you’d stay in a hotel for business or pleasure, the only way you could communicate telephonically with colleagues or loved ones was via the landline phone in your room.
Those of us who are old enough to remember those pre-cellphone days will no doubt recall being “stung” with a massive extra charge for this service, thanks to the hotel having bloated the Telkom charge quite substantially.
Of course, the advent of cellphones has meant that hotel guests seldom need to pick up that phone in the room to do anything other than order room service.
But there will still be times when someone will have to use the hotel room phone to dial out, such as when they forget their cellphone chargers at home and end up with a useless ornament of a handset.
In Peter Waller’s case, he was staying in the Protea Hotel in Midrand on company business and decided to use the hotel phone to call his wife at home in Cape Town, and claim the cost of the call from his company, along with other hotel expenses.
They spoke for almost half an hour one evening during his five-day stay in mid-March and, given that it was an “off-peak” call, he was expecting this to add no more than R60 to his hotel bill.
“At standard Telkom rates the call should have cost me about R8,” he told Consumer Talk.
“Add some infrastructure usage and a profit margin, and anything up to R60 is acceptable.
“But I was horrified when, on checkout, I was charged R343, and decided I couldn’t possibly claim that amount from my employer.”
Waller was particularly annoyed that the rates were not advertised in the information booklet in the hotel room.
And rightly so, given that the Consumer Protection Act, being big on disclosure and transparency, requires prices for goods or services to be declared.
When he complained, he was offered a 20 percent discount on the cost of that call – R70.
“I declined and demanded a proper refund, but they never got back to me,” he said.
That’s when he contacted Consumer Talk.
Approached for comment, Protea Hotels’ director of revenue management, sales and marketing, Danny Bryer, said the hotel in question had erred in not resolving the issue with Waller “timeously”.
The hotel has since fully refunded him for that call.
In fairness, the offer of a full refund was made just before I sent my e-mail to Protea Hotels’ head office.
“After telling them that I was taking this issue to Consumer Alert and others, they replied and said they would give me a full refund if I sent them my banking details,” Waller said.
Bryer said the hotel group accepted that it had “a duty to inform guests of the telephony rates at the hotel”.
“We will, with immediate effect, introduce measures to make guests using the service expressly aware of the costs, particularly should they be making a long distance or long-duration call,” he said.
I dare say many other hotels are currently not disclosing phone rates to their guests, and should now be taking steps to remedy that.
And to consumers – never make assumptions about what goods or a service will cost you.
Always ask before the service is used or delivered, to avoid bill shock.