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Despicable Practice at the Grand Hotel Avala

Phespirit reports - September 2005

What is the essence of a good hotel? Is it the range of facilities on offer? Perhaps the quality of its restaurant is most important? Maybe it is the size of its rooms, or the attractiveness of their furnishings? And how much value is to be placed on customer service?

The good reputation of a hotel is determined solely by the favourable impression that it creates with its customers. For a new hotel, or a hotel wishing to establish itself anew, there is surely nothing more important than earning a good reputation. Unfortunately for Phespirit, in the summer of 2005 it appeared that these were not the foremost concerns of Grand Hotel Avala in Budva, Montenegro.

As Phespirit was particular keen to visit Montenegro and be in close proximity to Budva old town, he took the unusual step of arranging his booking over a year in advance. On 13th August 2004, using Balkan Holidays as his U.K. agents, he secured a room at Grand Hotel Avala for one week from 11th September 2005. Written confirmation arrived in the post three days later and subsequent payments were made in good order, all in advance of the required times. Fine.

Time passes.

In April 2005, the Bradt Travel Guide to Montenegro (Edition 2) was published. Appended to its information on Grand Hotel Avala, a line read: Recently acquired by an Anglo-Russian consortium and due for further refurbishment in winter 2004. It seems that as long ago as 2001, this previously state-run concern had been put up for privatisation by "The Agency of Montenegro for Economic Restructuring and Foreign Investment". Pennies and roubles must have been piled together, presumably making for the most impressive stack of cash on the table, thus enabling east and west to shake hands over a highly desirable piece of real estate. It goes on all over the world.

Now fast forward to August 2005. Tickets should be arriving in the post at any time. Instead, a phone call, followed by a letter dated the 17th August 2005. It is from Balkan Holidays, who say that they are: "sorry to have to advise that on 15 August 2005 we were informed by hotel Avala that due to overbookings they will not be able to provide the rooms we had initially contracted with them.".

Exactly one year and two days after Phespirit had booked his room and with less than four weeks notice before his departure date, Grand Hotel Avala announce that they have overbooked and will not be honouring this long-standing confirmation.

Despicable practice.

Phespirit has been the victim of overbooking before, but never in circumstances like this. Could it be that his booking had been taken by the 2004 management, and that when the new management moved in they took a new set of duplicate bookings? In the absence of any written explanation, Phespirit is only able to guess. However, what is certain is that Phespirit was not alone. He later found the booking nightmare of Grand Hotel Avala to be common knowledge throughout the tourism sector of Budva.

Whatever the case, it is not so much the overbooking to which Phespirit objected, as to amount of time that was allowed to lapse before the hotel gave any notice. It is inconceivable that nobody associated with the hotel could have foreseen this situation looming. Someone must have been aware and must have been in a position, if not to prevent it entirely, then at least to allow customers more time in which to make other arrangements.

As it turned out Balkan Holidays were able to secure Phespirit a room in Hotel Mogren, directly opposite Grand Hotel Avala and right by the old town walls. Hotel Mogren treated Phespirit well, providing him with good facilities, good food, a clean and comfortable room, and good customer service.

Grand Hotel Avala treated Phespirit badly. If this is the first act of a hotel wishing to establish itself anew, then it has newly established itself a bad reputation for the way it treats its customers. Good luck for the future.

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