Direct Line magazine

How to complain to a hotel or tour operator

Updated on: 21 July 2021

A hotel reception desk.

Holidays don’t always live up to their promise, and you may find yourself wanting to make an official complaint about your hotel or tour operator. But many of us find complaining difficult – even scary – and it can end up feeling like more hassle than it’s worth.

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 isn’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, your holiday rep or tour leader. Do so in person as soon as possible, and be sure to note down the name of the person you speak to.

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. It also pays to have a solution in mind so you can be specific about what you need.

Complaint letter being typed

Keep on their case

If your problem isn't resolved when you first complain, you may need to take things higher. Ask to speak to management and calmly restate the problem, including facts on who you previously spoke to and when. The last thing any manager wants is an angry guest, 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. The more facts you have to hand when complaining, the better.

  • 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).
  • Make notes on timings and details that might be relevant (for instance, how late your daily transport turns up). 
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 formal

Sending an email or a letter through the post are both good ways 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’re 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’s 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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