How to complain to a hotel or tour operator

Mike Shaw
Written by: Mike Shaw
Posted on: 8 October 2015

Holidays don’t always go to plan; sometimes you’ll find yourself wanting to make an official complaint about your hotel or tour operator. But many of us find this difficult – even scary – and it can end up feeling like more hassle than it’s worth, or even downright frustrating.

So, how can you complain effectively?

Keep it in perspective

First, take a deep breath. Travelling throws up numerous little problems and many of these can be dealt with quickly and without much fuss. Your first thought should be: how serious is my complaint?

If your complaint is fairly minor (housekeeping aren’t cleaning your room properly, food is served cold, there’s unwanted noise) keep calm, get your facts straight in your mind and speak to staff at the front desk or to your holiday rep or tour leader, if you have one. Do so in person and as soon as possible and be sure to make a note of their name.

Don’t exaggerate or embellish with emotional details – simply state the facts concisely and ask for a resolution. A smile will go much further than a raised voice here, so be polite and you may not have to go any further. It also pays to have a solution in mind so you can be specific about what you need.

Complaint letter being typed

Complaint letter being typed

Keep on their case

If your problem is not resolved when you first complain, you may need to go higher. Ask to speak to the hotel’s general manager and calmly restate the problem, including facts on who you spoke to and when. The last thing any hotel manager wants is an angry guest and the buck stops with them, so they should be keen to help.

Keep the evidence

If your problem remains unresolved, or becomes more serious, you’ll need evidence to make a formal complaint. Take photographs of broken facilities, keep receipts for things you had to pay for as a result (a cleaning bill for a suit your waiter spilled food on, for example) and make notes on timings and details that might be relevant (for instance, how late your daily transport turns up). The more facts you have to hand when complaining, the better.

Don't exaggerate or embellish – simply state the facts concisely and ask for a resolution. A smile will go further than a raised voice

Keep it real

Although most modern communication is done online or by phone these days, a letter sent through the post remains the best way to make a formal complaint. Compile it using the evidence you collected and send it within 28 days of your return home. Address it to the hotel’s general manager or the customer services department of your tour operator and give them two weeks to respond.

If you travelled on a package holiday and your tour operator is a member of ABTA (the Association of British Travel Agents) you can escalate your complaint to them if a resolution is not achieved.

Keep it realistic

No matter how put out you were at the time, you are not going to get a full refund for a faulty shower or a late bus transfer.

Be realistic and request compensation only if you feel it is deserved. You can include things like meals you had to buy because the hotel food was inedible or the cost of a taxi to the airport if your transfer failed to show up, but not the price of an ice-cream you would have bought anyway.

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