MBS cops flak for cancelling customers' discounted rooms due to booking error

We know making a customer happy is important. But how far should one go? Most recently, five-star Marina Bay Sands (MBS) hotel found itself in the media spotlight and PR drama due to some unhappy customers.

According to reports on Channel News Asia, a customer had made a booking of a room on 28 November, a date many of us are familiar with known as Cyber Monday. The booking was made  for 31 March to 7 April 2017 and was at a steal of SG$62.70 a night.

However a week later, the hotel had informed the customer that due to an error on the online booking page, the reservation would not be valid and he would need to pay the full price of SG$450. However, the hotel offered to take of SG$100 off the final bill - as a gesture of goodwill.

Since then, said the report on CNA, other unhappy customers, possibly in similar situations, had left one-star reviews on the hotel's Facebook page slamming the company for the incident. MBS did not responded to Marketing’s queries at the time of writing.

However, MBS told CNA that it is stated in the terms and conditions that the Hotel reserves the right to correct the rate or cancel the reservation at its discretion, and will contact the consumer directly to do so. A quick check by Marketing also verified the information.

Meanwhile Seah Seng Choon, executive director of Consumer Association of Singapore (CASE) told Marketing that if there is indeed a genuine mistake in the posting of the pricing, the hotel is likely to dispute the validity of the contract (if any). We also note that the terms and conditions of the booking states that any reservation is subject to MBS’s confirmation.

“However, consumers can attempt to negotiate with the hotel for an amicable resolution as confirmation of the booking was received by the consumer. As a matter of good business practice, we would encourage the hotel to work towards an amicable resolution to this matter,” he added.

He added that consumers may seek legal advice on the matter as well.

Speaking to Marketing anonymously, one senior PR professional from the hotel industry said she felt the brand was trying not to "open a can of worms" and was setting proper precedence. She added that MBS could possibly rectify the situation by giving the affected customers a memorable experience and maybe complimentary benefits.

"In MBS' shoes, I would reach out to the guest personally and not just email them to notify them on the matter. In the hospitality world today, it is not about the dollars and cents but rather experience you give the guests. I think there are lots of ways for MBS to rectify this mistake. A mistake is mistake, and can't be undone, but MBS can make use of the situation and win the customers over," she said adding:

At the end of the day, we need to be able to live up to the name "hospitality " and not be "cold" about it. It is all about experience today.

According to PR professional, Jacob Joseph Puthenparambil, partner at Redhill such incidents are not unheard of and several business factors come into play. It goes way beyond just the PR backlash.

“Margins are thin and giving stuff for free for PR is not going to help pay the salaries and bills,” he said. Adding that while giving away bookings at such prices might be the easy option and good for publicity, the hotel still has the right to cancel the bookings.

Puthenparambil also highlighted an incident earlier this year where an internal glitch caused Emirates flight prices to drop to as low as $200 for long distance travels from Brazil to Adelaide. Despite the backlash, the airline stood firm and cancelled the low price tickets. Meanwhile, in 2014, Etihad when faced with a similar issue decided to  honor the tickets prices offered during the glitch.

With so many factors in play, there is one answer to such a conundrum.

“Sure, bargain hunters will whine on social media and there will be some noise for a few days. In the end, if you want to stay at MBS you have to pay the price. Mistakes happen, a goodwill gesture was offered and apology made. Not happy? Move on. Give free stuff or paying influencers is not PR,” he added.

Shane Chiang, currently PR lead of Honestbee and former PR lead for HTC agreed saying such mistakes are not uncommon be it in hotels, airlines or banking industries. He added that it is generally good practice to pacify the consumer with a future discount or a voucher of some kind. That would usually go a long way.

Pointing out Singtel’s Internet fibre breakdown issue recently, he said the offering of free data, even if for a day, was a good gesture and makes the brand more forgivable.