Since I love to travel and have this blog, I’ve made it a point to try different hotel chains, and informally assess which ones tend to be most accessible. At the top of my list, at least for the price point, are the properties owned by IHG, including Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, and Crowne Plaza. In general, these hotels are reliably accessible, and tend to have roll-in showers available. After many comfortable stays, I joined their rewards club and have since made them my preferred hotels on every trip.
Unfortunately, I’ve had a few bad experiences, with one that was never fully resolved to my satisfaction. But the good has always far outweighed the bad, so I continue to choose them most of the time. Recently, I had an experience which started out bad, but ended well thanks to excellent customer service from IHG and later the hotel manager.
In a few days, I will be traveling from Indiana to Burbank, California for a work event. I decided to book a room, but unfortunately it didn’t go well at first. Due to my disability, I always travel with someone, generally a friend and/or caregiver rather than a romantic partner. So I almost always need two beds in a room. First I tried the website, but the only available rooms with a roll-in shower were a queen room or a suite, the latter of which was more expensive and outside my budget. So I called the hotel on January 28, 2017 to book the queen room and request a rollaway bed.
I have done this at numerous Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express locations around the United States with no problems. However, on this occasion, I was treated extremely rudely by the hotel employee who answered the phone. She refused to allow a rollaway bed, citing supposed fire codes, and was extremely hostile towards me when I insisted that I had received rollaway beds at other Holiday Inns around the country. I then asked if she could book the suite with a roll-in shower at the same rate as the queen room, since she would or could not make the queen room accessible for my needs. She also refused to do that, and then insisted on transferring me to the main reservations line.
Once transferred to that line, I spoke to another employee who was also unable to help with booking an accessible room. I asked to speak to her supervisor about booking a suite at the same rate; he came on the phone, but then claimed he couldn’t hear me and hung up. I waited for someone to call back, but no one did.
The next day, I sent a letter detailing these incidents to the IHG customer service portal. Honestly, I wasn’t sure if I would get a response. Many times when I run into an accessibility problem with a business, my complaints just disappear into thin air. But thankfully, this time, I heard back from them fairly quickly. After clarifying which hotel was an issue, they had the manager call me, and we discussed the situation.
It started out a bit rough, as she reiterated the refusal of the rollaway bed and tried to explain why in ways that came across as ableist. “We want to make sure you have room to get the wheelchair out in case of a fire.” I said shouldn’t that be up to me to determine, if there is no specific fire code in place? Which I doubt there is. I also suggested that some extra furniture could be removed if needed to make space for a rollaway bed, and she didn’t seem to be interested in doing that. However, she offered to reserve the suite for me at the same rate as the queen bed room. Of course I said yes! It’s going to save me a lot of money on the trip, and I got the room I need at my preferred hotel.
Of course, I would always prefer to avoid situations like this. But I must say they handled it well, and I appreciate the attention to customer service.
In my years of traveling with a disability, I have found that physical access is only part of the problem. Many times, a situation could be made accessible, but employees are not educated about disability issues. Sometimes, due to stereotypes about disability, we are taken less seriously and talked down to rather than receiving the same accommodations or consideration a customer without a disability would receive. Would the manager have denied the rollaway bed if I did not have a disability? It’s difficult to say. There might actually be a fire code issue that applies to all hotel guests. But if she had said no, she probably wouldn’t have done so with the same paternalistic attitude, and wouldn’t have implied that I wasn’t capable of figuring out how to arrange the room to provide for my own safety.
The larger question is why doesn’t this hotel have an accessible room with two beds and a roll-in shower? Prior to new regulations released in 2010, hotels did not have to provide both tub and roll-in shower rooms of every room type. They merely had to have a certain number of rooms with each type of bathroom. So any hotel that has not been remodeled since before 2010 may not have a room with two beds and a roll-in shower. One of my theories is that since roll-in shower bathrooms are typically larger, hotels would only build them for one-bed rooms to avoid having to increase the overall room size. Bigger rooms equal smaller total guest capacity and less profit for the hotel… at least as they see it.
I wish they would start to see things differently. There are many people such as myself who travel less or stay elsewhere because we need two beds in a room. A single bed assumes that a person with a disability is traveling alone or with a spouse, which doesn’t reflect the diversity of our lives. What about people like me who travel with friends and / or personal care assistants? What about families where a parent or a child has a disability? The bottom line is that hotels should not make assumptions about who travels with people with disabilities, but rather give us the same range of accessible rooms to choose from as anyone else.
Perhaps this is just a pipe dream, but I wish hotels would go even further and realize that making every bathroom accessible would only be to their advantage. They wouldn’t necessarily have to be roll-in shower rooms, as many people do appreciate a bathtub, and roll-in showers tend to flood in the hands of those unfamiliar with their quirks. But every guest could benefit from a toilet with bars around it, and a bathtub with a seat and safety bars. They could accommodate the vast majority of guests with and without disabilities, while saving roll-in shower rooms for those like me who truly need them.
Holiday Inn, I appreciate you seeing me as an asset, a valued customer. I appreciate your quick resolution to my situation. I hope someday you will see the value of making every room accessible and easier to use with universal design features. Thank you!