Washington - Late one night in an Austrian hotel, Ed Perkins was returning to bed after answering nature’s knock when he tripped and cut his head on a piece of furniture. He placed a T-shirt on the pillow to soak up any blood, but the next morning, he woke up to a B-movie horror scene. The pillowcase was a gory mess.

The American traveller worried that the Innsbruck hotel would charge him for the stained linens. Quite the opposite. The housekeeper replaced the pillowcase and also cleaned his shirt at no extra fee.

“She wouldn’t even accept a tip,” said Perkins, a contributing editor at the online travel site Smarter Travel.

In our daily lives, we may be as graceful as swans, but once we step inside the hotel arena, we suddenly transform into bulls drunk on sangria, knocking over vases, dripping wine on carpets, splintering furniture with our heavy loads and shattering mirrors with champagne cork missiles.

“People are normal until they check into a hotel room,” said Stephen Barth, professor of hospitality law at the University of Houston and founder of HospitalityLawyer.com. “If you stayed at your friend’s house, typically you wouldn’t walk off with the towels, or jump up and down on the bed or answer the door naked.”

In my own bumbling history, I dribbled beetroot juice on to the milk-white carpeting at a contemporary museum-hotel in Bentonville, Arkansas.

“We all realise that accidents happen,” said Greg Miller, regional vice president of Destination Hotels & Resorts, a group of 41 properties in the US. “Unless there was malicious intent or the guest was very irresponsible, we’re generally very lenient.”


Most of the time, staff members don’t even become aware of the damage until after the guest has long zoomed off. Then they have to weigh their options: confront the customer or let it slide, push forward or retreat. Ultimately, no property wants to be tagged as a fortress of inhospitableness. Nor does it want to lose future guests, even clumsy ones.

“A $50 (R533) lamp is not worth losing a customer who can bring thousands of dollars,” Schafers said of the ultimate prize: the repeat guest.


What does US law say about these sorts of incidents? Not much. Properties are generally responsible for fixing any normal wear and tear. But there’s no national legislation in the US that a hotel can slip under the perps’ door informing them that, say, their pomegranate juice stain broke the law. A few states do offer a dim guiding light. In Texas, for example, a hotel can charge parents for damage inflicted by their minimonsters. But all said, assigning responsibility is very arbitrary.

“It’s a very challenging area,” said Larry Mogelonsky, a former manager who runs a hotel consulting firm. “It’s not one where you’ll find a specific code.”

The exception: things that go woof or smell like the Marlboro man.

Hotels are unfailingly upfront about regulations on pets and smoking, which hold prominent places in the Hall of Shame on You. Information on a hotel’s website and the booking confirmation will typically outline the restrictions (size of pet, clean-up regulations, approved smoking zones) as well as the fines you’ll incur if you violate the rules. And my, my, my, how people do defy.

Lorry Mulhern, general manager of the Green Park Inn, said the historic North Carolina property displays signs informing guests of where they can puff (on the porches) and where they can’t (in the rooms). In one incident, the staff became aware of a couple smoking in their room and politely directed them to the veranda. Later, housekeeping noticed burn marks on the sheets and discovered cigarette butts in their quarters. The hotel charged the couple a smoking penalty, plus the cost of replacing the linens.

As for pets, a black Lab staying at the inn missed the line about being a good dog. The visiting pooch ripped a hole in a quilt, costing his owner a $100 damage deposit and the price of the comforter.

In cases that are less clear-cut, the staff will focus on intent, the elephant that can tip the scale for or against the guest. The individual who caused an innocent accident nearly always avoids the charge; the rogue behind a malicious attack ponies up.

“If it’s an honest mistake, you’ll probably walk,” said Mogelonsky. “If a room gets trashed, you’ll pay.” – The Washington Post