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When Marlene Hutchinson and her two Chihuahuas needed a place to stay for a week while the floors of her Wilson home were replaced, the 66-year-old hit the web and booked a hotel room. What was supposed to be a respite from the chaos of construction turned into a headache of its own when she was turned away for being a local resident.
“It was like a slap in the face,” she said. “To have lived in the area my whole life and never had a problem with anyone. To face something like this made no sense.”
Hutchinson used a third-party website to find a room, reviewing pet fees and amenities before settling on Candlewood Suites. She said she never came across the hotel’s policy of not renting to local residents and was floored when she was turned away.
Staff at GetARoom.com helped her find a room in Smithfield, but Hutchinson took to social media to vent her frustrations. Her Facebook post went viral with hundreds of shares and comments since Monday, many expressing shock at the situation.
“A lot of folks have said it happened to them, too,” she said. “I think they should at least put something in place that will keep this from happening to good people who put the money up for a room, expect somewhere to stay and then last-minute, they are turned away.”
Candlewood Suites owner Bimal Kolappa said the policy came about more than a year ago after dealing with locals damaging hotel facilities by partying or participating in illicit activities.
“These policies are in place so our customers are also protected,” Kolappa said. “If there is a drug dealer smoking pot, then we have to call the cops, but then that keeps other customers away.
“We’re trying to protect the customers from unwanted elements.”
A number of other hotels in Wilson and other communities such as Rocky Mount and Fayetteville have implemented similar policies after encountering problems with locals. Comfort Suites near Interstate 95 is among the most recent to add the stipulation. General Manager Dennis Johnson said the policy allows staff to be proactive rather than reacting once a problem arises and disturbs other guests.
“Our rooms were getting tore up because locals would rent a room and come party,” Johnson said. “It escalated to a lot of complaints and we didn’t want to jeopardize losing our repeat customers.”
Quality Inn & Suites front desk manager Niel Patel knows all too well the energy it takes to rebuild a hotel’s reputation. Under previous ownership, the Quality Inn reportedly developed a reputation for prostitution and drug use. He said new management and policies have helped repair the damage, but it is an uphill battle.
“No business would lose business unless there is a compelling reason to do so,” Patel said. “No manager or property owner wants to lose business unless there is a higher risk of losing more money.”
As part of Choice Hotels International, Comfort Suites, Quality Inn and Sleep Inn all have the residency disclaimer posted on the reservation website. Posting of the policy for other hotels as well as listings for hotels on third-party websites is less prevalent.
Country Inn & Suites General Manager Jennifer Jones said the controversial policy has been in place for about two years.
“We put the policy in place because we have an indoor pool and a backdoor. We would frequently find 30 or 40 people in the pool who had been let in the backdoor, but they had only rented one room,” Jones said. “We also have a hot deluxe breakfast, so they would bring in a dozen family members and friends to eat. We’d have people rent out a room for a birthday party with 20 people in the room, which creates an issue with other paying guests.
“We have to be mindful of everyone, not just locals.”
With that said, Jones said exceptions are made for locals experiencing home repairs or who have family in town for funerals, among other circumstances.
“We cannot look at someone and say ‘You look acceptable,’ and look at someone else and say ‘You look like a risk,’” she said. “Therefore, barring extenuating circumstances, the policy had to be for anyone living within a 30-mile radius of the hotel.”
Jones said the policy wasn’t the first recourse hotel staff took to alleviate the problems. She said staff met with local police and even hired off-duty officers, but the problem persisted.
“One of the online comments told us to contact the police when issues arise, but that is not good for business. It is not good to have police officers sitting at our doors every single Friday and Saturday night and I assure you, that is what would happen. There are other hotels on this exit that have similar issues that have that happen frequently,” she said. “The general idea is that this was the problem and to deal with it, you have to cut the problem off.”
As for Hutchinson, she said staff turned her away without inquiring about the cause for her stay. Jones said her staff reviews reservations in advance to avoid leaving guests holding their luggage.
“We don’t want you to make a reservation, assume you have a room, then get here and can’t stay,” Jones explained. “We try to look at every reservation coming in every day, so we can let our guests know beforehand.”
Hutchinson said her frustration rose because she didn’t know such a policy even existed.
“I don’t doubt there was a reason behind having to think something like this up to deal with whatever situation was going on,” she said. “It is like ‘no shirt, no shoes, no service.’ It has to be posted. It should be common knowledge.”