Well, folks, where do I start?
My “hiatus” from blogging wasn’t planned. After last year’s incident, it was difficult to maintain my normally cheerful outlook towards travel and life, in general. There were times when it felt like a facade, an appearance to keep up. I had my job to do, my example to lead, my family to assure. I hated the fact that I was affected by this.
I don’t know if I will ever truly “get over it” but I know now that I am ready to move on.
It has taken me time to forgive myself. I know I didn’t do anything wrong, but there certainly were things I wished I did better. It has taken longer, though, to forgive others around me, especially the hotel in question. I am not going to deny that I considered a lawsuit.
I procrastinated on the idea of a lawsuit for many reasons. When one lawyer explain to me that I would have to at some point quantify what my “damages” are, I realised no amount of money could fix what I coped. When a friend pointed out it would force the hotel to make changes, I concluded a settlement likely comes with a non-disclosure and would do exactly the opposite, allow them to sweep it under the rug. At the end, I decided to drop the pursuit of legal grievance. I had enough on my plate personally and didn’t need the added pressure. I have no aspirations to be a David taking on Goliath.
Nor did I want to just forget it. So I instead worked up the indignation to write an angry email to the hotel chain executives.. and to publish some of that here for other fellow travelers. It felt cathartic. Then I found myself in a laughable position of not knowing where to send it! Fortunately, a friend with amazing research skills was able to dig up some resources (more on that in another post).
I didn’t expect compensation. I didn’t expect any response from Westin, really. I now have reached the point of not caring. Instead, I just needed to get the anger off my chest and close out this unpleasant chapter of my life. I am ready to move on, and this is my final parting shot.
Full disclosure: Westin and Starwood brands responded. Surprisingly quickly. Clearly, emailing the CEO a castigating letter dinging them on their service and quality is pretty effective. I spoke to the current General Manager of the hotel afterward. Despite not being in the position the time of my incident, he was very apologetic and kind, which I appreciate. I acknowledge it must have been difficult to own up to his predecessor’s mistakes, especially when the natural reaction would be “it wasn’t under MY watch.” However, I rejected his offers of assistance, that being a $250 donation towards a charity of my choice, and some large number of points towards future stays. From a large corporation, $250 felt like a slap in the face. Keep in mind, many of their hotels charge more for a single night’s stay. I rather they don’t bother at all and make that donation myself and told them so. And, in a market saturated with competition, I see absolutely no need to ever visit a Starwood again, when the choice is left to me. They later raised the donation amount to $500, to which I have not responded.
Postscript: And it didn’t go away. Final communication with Starwood posted here.
A year ago this month, I checked into one of your Westin hotels. Living overseas, I was returning Stateside for a long trip and looking forward to an “homecoming.”
And what a hell of an homecoming it turned out to be.
As soon as I got into my room, I was held up at gun point, robbed, and assaulted. The man held me in the room somewhere in the window of two and a half to three hours. I was stripped of a majority of my valuables on me and in my bags, and of my sense of my safety. This is not the first time he has done something like this- he was too calm and collected and took his time.
That this happened in a Westin shocked my sense of trust in any business reputation. But how the Westin handled- or didn’t- was absolutely inexcusable and a disgrace to the hospitality business.
The only thing the Westin did right was how quickly they called the police. After that, it was a series of horrendous performance.
The manager went off duty at the end of his shift. Despite the heavy presence of squad cars and the fact that several rooms were taken up by the police for the investigation, he left with no replacement manager on duty, and did not provide any senior staff any instructions.
As a result, when the police helped move me to a different location for both my safety and my sense of security, the night staff at the front desk had no idea what was going on, and didn’t know how to “close out” my account. They couldn’t even answer the question then the lead detective asked if the hotel seriously expected me to pay for the room.
While your staff kindly helped the robber pay for his parking, likely with my money, they were confounded how to deal with helping the police get my rental car off the lot to the alternate location.
Your security personnel- if they exist- were never seen roaming on the grounds by me, or, later on, the police. Nor did I see any increased presence when the police brought me back from the hospital to collect some change of clothing.
The only communication I ever received from the hotel was a pathetic email from your “director of guest services”.. and I paste the text here:
“The safety and security of our guests is our main priority, I’m reaching out to you, to make sure you have my information should you need anything from us.
Hope you are well and please let us know if there is anything we can do for you at this time.
I know you spoke with [name withheld] our Manager on Duty last night, I was also here, but I was unable to speak with you at the time.”
Reading that first communique was the equivalent of being kicked when I was already down. Even without knowing the details of the police investigation, I would hope the presence of 4-6 police vehicles, and the initial report I gave the operator, would clue your own management the seriousness of the trauma I had experienced. “I hope you are well” What utter callousness. I will carry the scars- both physical and emotional- for a long time to come. And, I would really like to know what was so important that she “was unable to speak at the time”
Your vague offer of “help” smacked of insincerity and was far more offensive than I could stomach at that moment. If your guest relations person thought a generic statement would qualify for a more useful “please let us help you contact the banks to replace your stolen credit cards” or “can we recommend a local medical clinic for you” or “let us assist in getting you home or assist you with alternate accommodations while you are stuck in town to deal with the police investigation” you have extremely low standards in your hiring and performance standards.
The friends and family who know of any portion of my ordeal often started with “I am so sorry for your ordeal” because that is an appropriate caring sympathetic response. Instead, you have your carefully worded toneless note that smelt more like fear of accountability than genuine concern over a person’s trauma.
How I was targeted and how the robber chose to come into the Westin are questions I want answers to but won’t get until the police catch him.
At the same time, you, the Westin hotel, owe a lot of answers as to how you don’t have the security coverage to even identify how he went in the hotel. More than that, how you force every single car driving onto the property to take a parking ticket to pay park anywhere on the grounds, but not have any cameras to capture the car traffic, let alone the license plates. Your priorities are clear: revenue over security.
I hate that my confidence and my trust in myself is shattered. Considering that travel is an inherent aspect of my professional demands, being terrified wasn’t bad enough; I dreaded I would be paralyzed to not be able to do my job at all. I don’t skirt with danger unnecessarily; I chose my travel arrangements with my personal safety and comfort level in mind. I expected Westin to meet those needs.
What you failed in your security is an unknown, pending the police investigation. What you failed in your service and reaction to the events of that night is clear. A lone traveler in a city that is not her own, and you left her- me- stranded alone with zero support. Your staff’s ignorance and apathy demonstrated the standards of your company.