Chalk it up as another reason to book through a real-life travel advisor.
This week’s Tripped Up travel column in the New York Times featured the story of a pregnant woman who booked a Queens, New York hotel room through booking.com to attend a Manhattan wedding last month.
The room seemed like a perfect fit. It was located in the Long Island City neighborhood with direct trains or quick car rides into Manhattan and not too far from LaGuardia, one of New York’s main hubs, and the airport she was flying in and out of, making it extremely convenient.
Also, getting availability in late summer or early fall in New York, with the city busy with U.S. Open tennis traffic amid a tourism resurgence in the Big Apple, isn’t always an easy task.
The issue came when the guest arrived at the hotel, she discovered it was no longer a hotel. Instead, she “found it had been converted into a homeless shelter.” She didn’t have a room and said she felt unsafe in a neighborhood foreign to her.
“Alone and nearly five months pregnant, I felt very unsafe in the neighborhood and finally got an Uber so that I could wait at the airport as I contacted Booking.com,” she wrote.
After trying to get new arrangements from the hotel, she ended up taking an Uber back to the airport late at night, a spot where she felt safe, and a trip that eventually ended up with her waiting outside, sitting in a wheelchair until the doors opened at 4 a.m.
There are things in place when booking through an online portal that are supposed to alleviate guest worries. Mostly, OTAs and home rental companies like Airbnb allow others to review properties and warn potential future travelers about dangers or disasters that don’t generally show up on copywriting on those booking websites.
The Tripped Up column says that much and does confirm that the hotel had some of the worst reviews in New York City and that previous travelers had the same experience as the woman.
However, that doesn’t necessarily excuse a website taking a reservation and then denying someone accommodations. The traveler should have done her due diligence, and if she wasn’t interested in research, a travel advisor would have done it for her.
“It turns out you slipped through a particularly treacherous version of the biggest crack in 21st-century travel: our reliance on online travel agencies, or O.T.A.s, like Booking.com and TripAdvisor, and Expedia. Many travelers fail to realize these are mammoth middlemen who often have only superficial knowledge of the services they’re selling and inadequate systems to intervene if something goes wrong,” the column says.
The OTAs have long made a killing on simply being a “middleman” and exempting themselves from blame when something like this happens, but there seem to be more and more stories popping up when OTAs are finally on the hook for unscrupulous behavior. Just this year, a major OTA’s CEO and COO were arrested in a COVID fraud case, Trivago was hit with massive fines from Australian Federal Courts because of “misleading” conduct, and CheapoAir was fined $2.6 million for “dishonest and predatory” behavior.