Hotel stays are supposed to be relaxing, and for business travelers, they should be a place where they can be productive and rest comfortably. Unfortunately, my recent stay at the Holiday Inn Express Jacksonville (Florida) South was not only none of these; it was the worst-case scenario for a wheelchair user. In fact, my interactions with parent company IHG and local hotel management deteriorated so badly that I was left in tears.
I have had multiple sclerosis (MS) for 12 years, I can’t walk at all, and I use a power wheelchair for mobility. I reserved an ADA room with a roll-in shower for a 2-night stay to attend a professional seminar nearby. When I checked into the room, I immediately went to the bathroom to see if there were any problems I might encounter, and there were. The fold down shower bench was located VERY far across the roll-in shower from the shower head and faucet (see photo above). The hose for the shower head actually wouldn’t even reach far enough to allow me to bathe even if I could somehow get to it from the bench (which I couldn’t because I can’t walk).
My first action was to contact the front desk employee (referenced from here on out as FDE) who checked me in. I went to the front desk and asked her if she had a stand-alone shower chair I could use so I could sit closer to the faucet and shower head. She asked me to wait while she checked on her computer. Soon she said she would have to go look in person because she didn’t think they had one. There was never any mention of a maintenance person helping her, or that such an employee was on the premises. Ten minutes later, the FDE—not a maintenance person—came to my room with a tub bench. She was apologetic because she said all they had was a portable bench, which only had one leg and was designed to be used over a bathtub, not in a roll-in shower. She verbally acknowledged that the tub bench would be insufficient for my needs, and she seemed like she felt really bad and tried her best to help me.
After she left, I posted about my situation on Twitter and tagged Holiday Inn Express (@HIExpress). This prompted IHG Guest Services to request a direct message (DM) session. I explained to them what was happening and my frustration that I couldn’t bathe all weekend. In my first DM message, I said, “I contacted the very nice [FDE] who was unable to provide me with a portable shower bench to use.” IHG Guest Services responded that she would be the one to help me. I replied, “The problem is that there is no way [she] can help me. I’m not sure if you read my message to you in full, but there is no portable shower chair on the property.” The FDE was the one who told me this when she brought me the tub bench. Then IHG replied, “As much as they would like to assist, the preferred room type with the appropriate shower head or roll-in shower is currently occupied. Although, they would like to transfer you immediately, they are unable to do so.” Please remember this because it will be relevant later.
IHG continued to say my comments would be forwarded up the chain and an internal investigation would be opened. I replied, “On Monday I will be calling your corporate headquarters to speak to somebody in charge of making decisions about room design and elevating my complaint. As a travel blogger, I will also be writing about this experience, and publishing photos of the bathroom as well as the fact that all you could do was apologize.” Then at 11:00pm, my hotel room phone rang after I had gone to bed. It was the FDE, and she said she was checking to see if I had been taken care of. I told her I was sleeping and she apologized for disturbing me, but once again asked me if I had been taken care of. I told her no because I had been sleeping, and we ended the call.
There was no manager on duty all weekend (including when I checked in at 8:30pm on Friday), so when I checked out on Sunday morning, the front desk employee said she would just put the charge on hold until she could speak to the hotel manager. She gave me a business card with the manager’s number and took down my name and number for follow up on Monday, the next day. I didn’t hear anything from the manager on Monday, so I called Tuesday to get an update. This was when the real problems started.
I explained to the manager very briefly who I was and what my situation was over the weekend. She sounded annoyed with me, said “I know who you are,” apologized for my inconvenience, but said that they had done everything the possibly could to accommodate me and I had refused all their offers. I was shocked at this statement and asked her to clarify. She said the FDE told her she brought me an actual stand-alone shower chair, not the tub bench that I saw, and I refused it. She said the FDE offered to switch me to another ADA room with a roll-in shower, and I refused. The manager also said the FDE told her she had offered to move me to another Holiday Inn property and I refused. ALL of these statements are COMPLETELY FALSE. Why would I refuse a shower chair when that was what I had requested in the first place? How could she have offered to move me to another ADA room when both the FDE and IHG Guest Services (via Twitter DM) told me that room was occupied? The manager also said they would not refund me for any part of my stay since I had refused all their multiple offers of assistance.
Then things went from bad to worse. The manager said I told the FDE that I routinely threaten hotels with negative publicity on blog posts and social media in order to get comped hotel rooms. She also described what I said in my DM to IHG as a “threat.” I had not been offered a solution to my inability to bathe and I had been informed I would not be compensated for this inconvenience. This is what unhappy customers do when there is no further recourse, and we just hope something changes for the better. This was when I started to cry. I told the manager that yes, I was a travel blogger, but I was also Ms. Wheelchair USA and represented the disability rights of hundreds of thousands of Americans. I asked her what kind of person she thought I was when all I wanted to do was have the ability to bathe. The manager went even further by explaining to me how their hotel was a preferred hotel for the Brooks Rehabilitation facility nearby, and they routinely host disabled athletes. She said many of them have stayed alone in the hotel room I was assigned, and no one had ever complained. I felt so insulted and humiliated by this comment; as if I shouldn’t be complaining since no one else had obviously ever experienced any problems.
The manager once again “apologized” in a very annoyed tone and reiterated for the fifth time that they had offered me multiple solutions and I had refused all of them; once again, this is completely false. We went back to the shower chair, and she said she knew it was a shower chair because it was the maintenance man who had found it and brought it down for the FDE. Again, I found this interesting because it was the FDE who went looking for it, she didn’t find the existence of a shower chair on her computer, she did not radio or call a maintenance man while I was at the front desk (which is a logical thing to do to save her time and energy), and it was the FDE who brought me the tub bench to my room, not a maintenance man. The manager then offered to take a photo of the supposed shower chair and email it to me. That was during our phone call at 1:00pm on May 23. As I write this on May 24, I still haven’t received a photo.
I can’t adequately express what a horrible experience this has been for me. I have traveled all over the world, usually alone, to 28 countries—9 of those on my scooter while disabled. I have tagged numerous IHG properties on social media during my trips, including the Intercontinental Sydney and the Holiday Inn Munich, praising them for their amazing wheelchair access and customer service. I have been in similar situations, including a Crowne Plaza in Arlington, TX, where I have been unable to bathe because of a terrible design layout. However, the customer service was more than outstanding in those cases, and far outweighed my physical inconvenience. I have never in my life been spoken to and treated in a manner by a hotel manager that has left me feeling attacked, humiliated, and in tears. This isn’t about “comps” or the money. I spend thousands of dollars on hotel rooms every year, so a 2-night stay at a Holiday Inn Express in Jacksonville, FL isn’t breaking my bank. This is about principle, and making sure that something like this never happens again to a wheelchair user. I have sent a lengthy complaint to IHG corporate, and I don’t know what will happen. I just hope that if anything like this happens to you, you will speak up to hopefully prevent it from happening again to another wheelchair user.