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Hotel Caught Gouging Evacuees Fleeing Harvey, Promises Refunds

A news crew discovered that the Best Western just outside of Austin, Texas more than doubled nightly rates as storm evacuees desperately searched for places to spend the night.

A natural disaster such as Hurricane Harvey often puts the very best of human nature on display. News cameras are busy documenting countless cases of ordinary people lending a hand when their neighbors are in jeopardy. Of course, there are also times when tragic events like those unfolding on the Gulf coast bring out some people’s less honorable instincts.

A news crew from Austin NBC affiliate KXAN inadvertently stumbled across just such a case of base profiteering. The crew was simply looking for overnight accommodations while traveling to cover the storm’s effects on local residents, when something else caught the producer’s eye at check-in. The local news team discovered that the nightly rate at the Best Western Plus in nearby Robstown had more than doubled in response to the storm. The reporters quickly started to ask questions on camera.

After initially feigning ignorance, the clerk on duty admitted that the extraordinary high nightly rate jumped to the quoted price of more than $320 from a much more reasonable range of between $120 and $149 prior to the storm making landfall. “Weekends start at $149, sometimes we start at $189,” the clerk told the news team.

“Because people are calling to take rooms, we need to (inaudible) the price'” the clerk responded when asked why rates were raised so dramatically during the emergency. “I don’t have any control on the price.”

Despite the rather unsettling implication that greed may have outweighed decency in this particular instance, the story seems to have something of a happy ending for guests who may have been taken advantage of. After KXAN forwarded a copy of the hotel bill to Deputy Texas State Attorney General Jim Davis, the property quickly changed its tune.

“We had a team go out immediately and we found out there was some truth to the claim that there was price gouging going on at the hotel,” Deputy Attorney General Jim Davis told the television station on Monday. “We later learned from our efforts that 40 people had been refunded — nearly immediately. We’re going to validate that and check for the rest of the story.”

Not surprisingly, Best Western officials also took a rather dim view of the Texas property’s catastrophe-motivated price hike.

“In advance of the storm, we proactively advised hotels on prohibitions against price-gouging and communicated our position as a brand that compassion be exercised during this time of crisis,” company spokeswoman Courtney McCurry told NBC News in a statement. “We take reports of price-gouging very seriously and immediately contacted the property in question when we learned of this report. The hotel advised they would be reimbursing guests on Aug. 28 all amounts charged in excess of their average daily rate for this time period.”

Comments are Closed.
FairDinkumMate September 7, 2017

So they jacked up the prices & when they got caught, they just refunded the excess & still took their average daily rate. So where's the disincentive to any other business owner not to try the same? If you try & get away with it, you make a fortune. If you try & get caught, you make what you should have. Unless there is some kind of negative financial result to trying & getting caught, nothing will change!

KRSW September 2, 2017

I hope BW pulls their flag from the franchisee for this crap.

downinit September 1, 2017

Greed outweighs decency for every other decision ever made by a politician or a corporation. Not sure why anyone is surprised that natural disasters are any exception??? How about some public shaming for the officials who have been ignoring the decaying infrastructure and imminent flood warnings in this region for the last 50+ years. Hotels always raise rates when demand goes up. If you don't like it, why not introduce some actual laws that prevent it, especially in situations like this? Oh wait, we do not need to regulate business because corporations will always act in the best interest of the consumer.

1StRanger September 1, 2017

The hotel administrators still should be prosecuted for the illegal actions. It is good that they've refunded charges to those who stayed, but who would compensate people who were turned away as they couldn't afford this prices, and had to drive elsewhere, maybe 50-100 miles farther? I hope that hotel will be fined for this.

sdsearch September 1, 2017

Yeah, it's one thing to gouge for an event that known long ahead of time (the August Total Solar Eclipse, SuperBowl, etc), but it's far worse to gouge in an unforeseen disaster situation.