My Honeymoon Nightmare

As regular readers of this blog already know, the lovely Mrs. Media Training and I tied the knot last week. The wedding was fantastic. But a “luxury” resort almost ruined our carefully planned honeymoon – and in so doing, offered a great crisis communications case study for what not to do.

Last fall, my fiancée and I deliberated over our “perfect” honeymoon. We decided that the one thing we  wanted most was a small resort that offered a quiet and private reprieve from our busy lives. After looking all over the world, we made our selection for a once-in-a-lifetime vacation at Zoetry Agua Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic. The small resort, with just 51 rooms, was exactly what we were looking for.

We booked our room last November and quickly received an email from a reservations clerk offering to help us with any additional needs for our visit. Over the next few months, we traded numerous emails and arranged a special dinner on the beach, as well as transportation to and from the airport.

Two weeks before our trip, I called Zoetry to ask whether we might be able to extend our trip by a few days. They told me they were over-booked for those extra days. When I asked whether our original booking would be affected by their “over-booked” status, they assured me we’d be fine.

On Friday morning – the day before our wedding and just three days before our scheduled departure – I received an email from Zoetry informing us they had overbooked the property and were unable to honor our reservation. They offered us a room at another property called Secrets Sanctuary Cap Cana – a sprawling complex with 176 rooms. Secrets, more than triple the size of Zoetry, was precisely the type of place we didn’t want to go. Worse, the reviews weren’t nearly as good.

So on Friday afternoon – as guests were arriving for that night’s rehearsal dinner – we found ourselves scrambling to book a different honeymoon.

Here are four things Zoetry did poorly – and each of these serve as good crisis communications reminders for all businesses: 

1. They Forgot the Power of Social Media: When I asked Zoetry Hotel Manager Luis Fitch why he bumped a honeymoon couple instead of someone in one of the other 51 rooms, he told me, “It was a business decision.” I’d argue it was a bad one.

In the age of social media, customer service nightmare stories often get thousands, hundreds of thousands, even millions of online views. As an example, a video about United Airlines breaking a passenger’s guitar has been seen more than ten million times. 

Little did the resort’s manager know that I wrote a blog. Or that the blog ranks well on Google. Or that a negative review here would show up well on search engines. As a result, his “good” business decision could cost him tens of thousands of dollars of future business from potential honeymooners who decide to make a reservation elsewhere.

2. They Failed to Act Quickly Enough: When I called two weeks in advance of our trip, they knew they were over-booked. Instead of dealing with the problem then, they waited until the Friday of our wedding weekend before notifying us.

3. They Minimized the Problem: When I asked Mr. Fitch what went wrong, he told me, “People get bumped. It happens in the airlines and at other hotels.” Minimizing a crisis instead of fully acknowledging it only makes it worse.

4. They Offered an Insufficient Remedy: When I explained that a move to a much larger resort wasn’t an acceptable option, he offered us a free “romantic” dinner and a free airport pick-up. Only after I continued to express my outrage did he offer something better – but by the time I won that Pyrrhic victory, I no longer wanted anything to do with his chain. Companies in crisis should start with their best offer of a remedy instead of one that offers to do the smallest amount possible.

All’s well that ends well. In the end, we were able to scramble to find an available room at a lovely small resort in Los Cabos, Mexico. But that new vacation, booked on three days notice, cost us significantly more than our original budget.

If anyone is planning a vacation, I strongly recommend avoiding Zoetry and their related properties. The casual indifference with which they canceled our honeymoon at the last minute bodes poorly for other travelers, as does the fact that other Zoetry guests have shared similar stories on review sites of being bumped at the last minute.

And if you’re a future honeymooner looking for a place to stay, drop me an email. I know a great place in Los Cabos.

Related: Seven Rules To Remember When a Crisis Strikes