Sunday, May 16, 2010

Starwood Brussels - an open letter

Updated: response from Starwood's Assistant Property Manager in the comments. Mr. Bannon, and several of his staff, have been very kind, prompt, and professional since they've become involved. I do appreciate their efforts in dealing with a challenging series of event. 

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We spent the weekend in Brussels. Below is the letter I have sent to Starwood (Roeland Vos) on the back of our stay at their Sheraton property, an incident which transpired there, and how we were treated by the hotel staff. I share this as it is the kind of incident, which cannot simply be overlooked.

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Dear Sir,

I am writing in regards to our recent stay (May 14 – 16) at your Sheraton Brussels property, and the unacceptable manner in which we were treated by your staff while there. As the police report, which your security assured me would be filed, should detail;

While walking out of the hotel lobby a Middle Eastern man approached us and began verbally assaulting us in French, English, and a third language (possibly Arabic). We would later be informed that he had moments before done this to one of your baggage handling staff members, who felt threatened enough to return inside the hotel – but did not notify security. After walking about 10 paces from the hotel entrance the man became physically aggressive towards us, and mimed having a weapon in his coat pocket. Fearing for our physical safety, we returned into the hotel’s revolving door, which he forced to a stop as he pursued us. After forcefully pushing the aggressor away several times, we managed to get into the lobby of the hotel, and repeatedly shouted for help from security. A concierge stepped in between the man and us at this point, but the individual continued to verbally assault us. He proceeded to expose himself, having pushed through into the lobby as well. He then pulled a mask over his face, and began pulling at his clothing. Finally, a security guard came and pushed the man back through the revolving door, from where he fled.

I can assure you, there was no provocation from our side. This was clearly the continuation of an event that began with one of your staff – who felt threatened enough to return into the hotel, but did nothing to inform guests of the danger outside.

While I find the level of security at your property to be largely insufficient, I can accept that situations like these are outside of your control. I, however, cannot accept the manner in which your staff responded to the situation and treated us.

In the aftermath of this series of events, your staff began raising their voices and trying to blame us for the incident. Statements they made included:
  • This is the way Brussels is; it’s a dangerous city. The security guard was stabbed 15 days ago – so it happens to everyone
  • It is not their responsibility what happens outside the hotel
  • As two Americans we should expect to be treated this way

Taking each of these comments in turn;
  • As a guest, I expect not to be shouted at by your staff. Situations like these are incredibly stressful, and I would expect them to be trained to handle them in a professional manner, instead of inflaming a tense moment by blaming us for the incident.
  • If it is such a dangerous city, then security should be more visible and faster to act. Several minutes and repeated shouts for help should not be the requirement for them to protect your guests.
  • While I would not hold the hotel responsible for what happens to me in Brussels, we were at no point further than 10 yards from the hotel door, still on hotel property. I would strongly suggest the well being of your guests is your responsibility in such proximity, and certainly in the lobby.
  • Profiling us as Americans is entirely inappropriate. Our nationality should not matter to, or affect the level of service from, your staff. If they believe that Americans deserve to be treated this way that is extremely disappointing. 
I would strongly encourage you to discuss this incident with the property manager. While he was kind enough to apologize on behalf of the property, it leaves a lot wanting.

The staff members involved in this incident were:
            Pierre Dewalz – Concierge
            Alain Verbeke – Baggage
            Youssef – Valet
            Nesir – Security
            Luc – Security
            Nezic – Baggage
            Annie Budally – Reception
            Vanessa Metais – Reception

I choose to stay at Starwood properties because I feel safe there – this has done a lot to damage that image. I choose to stay at Starwood hotels because the service is friendly and competent – this has destroyed that reputation. I choose to travel to Starwood destinations because things like this should not happen there.

I trust I will receive a follow-up from you detailing the steps taken to prevent this from happening in the future. I would specifically appreciate a written apology from the concierge who profiled us and said we deserve this kind of experience.

Kind regards

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