[Note: if you want the full story, please see the original post here before reading this update]
The short version of the story: the hotel is severely overbooked for the weekend of the game between Texas A&M and Clemson, one of the premier non-conference games of the year in college football.
I had previously asked Marriott for a statement or comment and never heard back from them. I extended the same offer to the ownership group who actually owns and operates the Courtyard Marriott Clemson and, on Friday afternoon, spoke with David Robert, CEO and Managing Member of Midas Hospitality, who own and operate 30 hotels in the midwestern United States. I found David to be open, candid, and genuine in his responses to me.
What I really wanted to hear was simple: how could something like this possibly happen? Not like in a philosophical way, but what were the mechanics involved that created the possibility for such an error? Robert made the following points.
Point 1: The weekend was not marked as a special event in the pricing system
All hotels overbook, and in the normal course of business things usually end up ok, with hotel cancellation policies usually not having teeth until a few weeks before the reservation. Usually, enough people cancel for overbookings to work out. For whatever reason, Robert could not say for certain, the weekend was not marked as a special event in their system, which meant the bookings were subject to their automated pricing system, which handles things like how many rooms to overbook by and pricing. This system allowed an extreme number of overbookings.
Andy commentary: If you own/manage a hotel in a university town in the football-crazy southern United States, you live by three events (in order): football season, graduation, and Parent’s Weekend. That’s it. You simply have to know those dates by heart, in as far advance as possible. The game between Texas A&M and Clemson in Clemson, South Carolina, was publicly announced (along with the dates of the contest) on October 23, 2014. There was no excuse for this weekend to not have an enormous circle around it in every system that Midas Hospitality and Marriott have. Regardless, whether the weekend never was marked as a special event or if it was and some sort of system malfunction removed that status, that the weekend of September 6-8 was not marked as a special event caused a cascade of problems.
Point 2: The overbookings happened within hours, not over an extended period of time
Robert said the rooms were all booked and overbooked within a matter of hours. [Andy note: I do not take Robert’s ‘hours’ statement to be literal, as the reservations I’ve gathered were over the span of a few days, but the point applies the same]
Andy commentary: I conjected in my first article that overbookings were allowed to happen over weeks or months to attempt to cover up the bookings made at lower rates and notification about the ‘mistake’ didn’t go out until the hotel was sold out with overbookings at higher rates. Robert’s assertion, which I believe is plausible, disproves my claim. So, even though many of the affected customers facing cancellation had reservations booked in September, everyone else did too. It does not appear to be a case of a reservation made in May 2019 superseding one made in September 2018.
Point 3: Rooms are not priced above $170 at the Courtyard Marriott Clemson unless it’s marked as a Special Event
Robert indicated that the highest room rate that hotel offers is $170/night (unless it was marked as a Special Event). Robert said my conjecture, that they rebooked rooms at drastically inflated rates, simply didn’t happen because it wasn’t a special event. Since the weekend was not marked as a special event, Robert’s assertion in point 1, all bookings were made at normal rates, not Special Event rates. I confirmed with Robert this morning that all bookings for that weekend were made at or below $170/night, there were never any Special Event rates offered for that weekend.
Andy commentary: I searched for other Clemson gameday weekends for the upcoming season and, when I saw rooms offered at $549/night, they were clearly marked as Special Event rates, which aligns with what Robert said.
Point 4: Midas Hospitality waited to see how many of the overbookings would cancel in the normal course of business
Alongside point 2, Robert said they waited to see how many rooms would cancel. When people weren’t canceling rooms at the expected rate, they made the call and began informing people their reservations would not be accommodated.
Andy commentary: I would imagine most of the comments will be around this point. I do not own nor operate any hotels, so I do not know how many people normally cancel rooms in a situation like this. For the life of me, though, I cannot imagine why they waited for nine months to be certain that people would not cancel their rooms. Clemson won the College Football Playoff National Championship on January 7, 2019. You’d think at least at that point, staring at a drastically oversold inventory and a non-conference game between the National Champions and a 9-4 SEC team that only lost by two points the year before, you’d have to face the music in early 2019. I wish I would’ve pushed David on this point a little more.
Point 5: The Courtyard by Marriott Clemson still has more work to do
As of the publishing of this post, they still have more rooms booked than they can accommodate. They want to work with customers to find alternate accommodations which are acceptable to them. Robert said Midas Hospitality knows that they are disrupting travel plans and that they all wanted to try as best they could to make things right. Their plan is as follows:
- In the coming weeks they will reach out to everyone holding a reservation to try and find acceptable alternate accommodations for them
- Once the number of reservations is down to an amount which can be accommodated, those who still have confirmed reservations at the Courtyard in Clemson will be sent a letter confirming that their reservation is still valid at the rate which they booked
Robert said the emphasis will be on communication, as the worst thing that could happen is someone showing up who had never been notified.
Thanks to David Robert for speaking with me and shedding some light on what happened. Let’s talk about what all this means for customers
My conjecture appeared to be wrong. Based on my conversation with David I no longer believe this was a malicious act. However, that does nothing to help those whose reservations were part of this huge mistake. And it is an enormous mistake for a hotel. The difference between regular rates and Special Event rates easily could total more than $150,000 in lost revenue for the hotel, not to mention any expenses occurred in reaccommodating guests (if I were Midas I’d be speaking with Marriott corporate to figure out what happened with their pricing system).
If you’ve been affected by this, here’s what I would personally advise you to do:
- Figure out what reasonable alternate accommodations would make things whole for you. Hotels have been offered in Greenville, but if you’re flying in/out of ATL, there may be a more logical alternate arrangement. Have that information ready for when you’re contacted
- If you truly cannot move for that weekend, have a reason why for when you’re contacted by Midas Hospitality (no guarantees if this will change anything but be prepared to make your case)
Editorial note: How I could have done better in reporting this story
I should’ve waited to speak to Midas Hospitality before writing the conjecture part of my previous article. While the hotel is not blameless in this (nor are they claiming to be), I should’ve done a better job getting to the heart of the story and getting a response from Midas Hospitality before writing. I didn’t hear from Marriott corporate and thought that was the end of the line so I made an editorial decision to proceed with the article, since I didn’t have all the information about the ownership of the hotel (which wasn’t hard to find). While I tried to separate fact and conjecture, looking back I could’ve made a more responsible decision. The facts told enough of the story without fomenting any rage on top of it, which the conjecture did. As the owner and editor of this blog, I’m sorry.
I’m also sorry for everyone who has been affected by this. I wish I could do more, as I know the final result of this saga will disappoint many of you. Many of you were hoping that I’d somehow get everyone’s rooms honored, and I could not. It appears to be an innocent/unintended mistake which will affect many innocent folks. I hope you’ll be able to find acceptable alternate accommodations and enjoy the game anyway.