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After Nancy was stable medically, I took her to Germany for treatment not available in the United States. I had treated a patient who had moved back to Germany and I called her and asked her help in arranging for a hotel and the medical care I was seeking. In addition to being delighted to help us, she gave me a word of advice which has proved to be one of the finest suggestions i ever received about getting a decent hotel room. In America, we are all accustomed to making a reservation via telephone or computer. We arrive at our hotel and check in. We are handed a key, instructions for locating the elevator, and we are expected to go up to the room assigned to us by the hotel desk clerk. In Europe, and elsewhere in the World, my friend advised, sophisticated travelers know to always ask to see the room first.
Her advice was put to good use when we visited Japan. Prior arrangements had been made through a travel agent for us to spend 5 nights in Tokyo as part of an extended trip to the Far East. When we arrived in Tokyo, the cab took us straight to the hotel, where I checked us in. For some reason, I did not ask to see the room first, but went directly up with nancy in the wheelchair, our bags following shortly behind us. When we got to the room and opened the door, i thought there must be a mistake: The room was little bigger than a walk-in closet. Back downstairs to the check-in desk, with Nancy in a wheelchair and our bags following shortly behind us, I told the clerk the room was entirely too small for us. "You can pay for a larger room, if that is what you wish," he replied. "No," I told him. "It isn't that we WANT to pay for a larger room, it's that we NEED a room large enough so I can move my wife around in it while she is in her wheelchair." It is very important that you understand the subtlety of what I said to the clerk. There is a great difference in NEED versus WANT. We will pay extra for something we want. But if they accepted our reservation, having been told in advance we needed handicapped quarters because my wife uses a wheelchair, they are obligated (not necessarily by law) to give us what we need for us to stay in their hotel.
We have also learned not to argue with any staff, and especially not to ask staff to do anything beyond their power or job description. If you learn nothing else but this, you will have gained a most valuable tool, saving you untold emotional energy and grief. A front desk clerk does not have the power to grant what you are seeking. So I asked, most politely and never raising my voice, to speak with the hotel manager or assistant manager. The manager came over and asked if there was a problem. I bowed modestly and told him we would greatly appreciate his accompanying us to the first room we saw, as this would allow him to see for himself exactly the nature of our problem. He came up with us and when we entered the room, I went straight for the narrowest part of it and, with the leg rests extend rather fully, tried to turn the wheelchair around. He could see instantly this was not going to work. He took us next to a larger room. In this one, we could turn around inside it, but then I took Nancy into the bathroom and the manager could see for himself we were not able to get our wheelchair past the bidet in order to get to the shower or use the toilet. He tried yet several other room, each larger than the one before, finally working up to a junior suite. Unfortunately, with each one, there was some impediment that made it obvious that though we could use the room, it would be quite an inconvenience. Were it only for one night, it would not have mattered. For 5 days and nights, however, it was simply too much to ask of us. Finally, he took us to the Imperial Suite, the quarters they assign to dignitaries and visiting heads of state. It was gorgeous! Nearly as large in square footage as our home back in the US.
The suite was divided into 2 separate bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, kitchen, living and dining rooms, and a conference room. Over the conference table hung a Baccarat crystal chandelier! In addition, the suite came with a private butler, should we want one, and private concierge. "This is our finest accommodation", he said to me with a tone in his voice that was more a prayer we would find it acceptable, "and we should be honored if you and your wife will be able to stay here with us." Once again, I bowed to him, deeper than the first time, and told him that his efforts on our behalf demanded we stay here no matter what difficulties we might encounter doing so. As he left in the Imperial Suite, I am not sure which of the two of us was the happier!
Sadly, in America and many other countries, the attitude of hotel staff has become less caring and concerned. Now, it is more a matter of "Here are your keys. The final bill will be slipped under your door. Goodbye." I am convinced the only reason this has happened is because we accept such a poor standard of hospitality. If you reject such minimalist treatment, you will get better service.
So to recap, the secret is ask to see the room before checking in. If it is too small to easily maneuver, return to front desk, ask the manager or assistant manager to come with you, and with spouse (or other) in wheelchair, let them see exactly why the room they assigned will not work. They will find something for you, but if not, be careful because things can escalate out of control: Like you, we have read that if things get tense, you can pressure the staff by asking them to find you another hotel. The idea is they don't want to lose the revenue, so they'll shift things around to get you to stay. I have tried this several times, successfully, until once, in Buenos Aires, they called my bluff and did exactly what I asked. You know the old saying, "Be careful what you wish for because you may get it?"
Picture it: We are tired, need to use a bathroom. I transfer Nancy from the cab to wheelchair, and go into the hotel, after first paying and tipping the cabbie, tipping the front door man, and the porter who brought the bags inside. Our room is smaller than we would have preferred. It would have worked, but I thought I'd push for something more spacious. I asked them to show us something else. They said they had nothing. I asked them to arrange quarters for us at some other hotel- and they did! We shift into reverse: get the bags, transfer into another cab, drive across town, pay and tip the second cabbie, the doorman, the porter. Well, you have the idea. Looking back on it now, I was wrong. I overplayed my hand. If I had it to do over again, I might be more inclined to have accepted the small room at the first hotel. After all, it was only a single night's stay. It was a hollow victory for me. Yeah, I was foolish, but then, I was much younger...
Living 'la vida loca' at the Imperial Suite, Tokyo (Their kimono)
There are many subtleties in this chapter, and all are important to your comfort. Let us recap the essentials for you. Our experience is that you should include as much detail about what you need when the reservations is mad. Often, I will call several weeks in advance of our actual booking to to over the details with the hotel reservations staff once again. If you are working with an agent, remember our earlier suggestion about writing out a listing of everything you need and give this to the agent before any arrangements are made. It is far easier to do this in the comfort of your home, before you leave for your trip, than to have to go through it after arrival.
Once in the hotel, ask to see your accommodations before registering for them. Go to the room with the wheelchair or whatever other adaptive equipment you may have. Once there, look for specific things that may potentially compromise your comfort. If you are staying only one night, you may be more flexible than if you are staying 4 or 5 days. If you find serious impediments, return to the desk and ask that a front desk manager or assistant manager accompany you to the room so they may see for themselves why it won't work for you. Remember, it is useless to protest and expect modifications from someone not empowered to do what you ask. In large hotels, front desk clerks are not authorized to change accommodations to any substantive degree. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHOULD YOU BECOME UNPLEASANT OR ABUSIVE. Be firm, certainly, but do not raise your voice or use profanity. Doing so will cut off any chance you will have for free modifications.
Finally, please understand our suggestions are not intended to "wheedle" concessions for which there is no justification, other than the fact that you would LIKE larger quarters. But if you are going to be seriously inconvenienced, following these guidelines may end up with YOU in the Imperial Suite.
Don't pre-judge staff desire to help you. Most workers in the hotel industry realize they are in a service business. Most are quite proud of their establishments and are more than willing to meet your special needs IF YU TREAT THEM RESPECTFULLY AND DO NOT BELITTLE OR DIMINISH THEIR IMPORTANCE AS PEOPLE. If ever you were inclined to "treat others as you would be treated"' this is the place to do it. You will be quite pleased by the results! To do otherwise will only insure failure.
And, finally, don't be too quick to demand they find other accommodations for you. This is a drastic step, and can have disastrous consequences. Remember the fiasco I foolishly created for us in Buenos Aires..