By Travel columnist
updated 7/6/2005 4:56:12 PM ET 2005-07-06T20:56:12

Nancy Miller’s vacation to the Bahamas is a disaster from start to finish. First her hotel room is burglarized, leaving her penniless. Then she is subjected to more than three hours of questioning by hotel security and police. To add insult to injury, she’s billed a surprise “resort fee” of $15 a night when she checks out. How could she have prevented this from happening - and what is the hotel’s responsibility? How about her travel agent?

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Q: My friend and I pre-paid for two nights at the Wyndham Nassau Resort & Crystal Palace Casino in the Bahamas through Travelocity.

On our second night, someone came into our room while we were sleeping and robbed us. The robber came in through the sliding glass door to the balcony and we were staying on the 7th floor. He took all of our money — $400 from me and $240 from my friend — some jewelry and a cell phone.

The next morning, we didn’t have a dollar between us.

After contacting the front desk to report we had been robbed, two hotel security men came to our room and took our statements. Then a police officer came to our room and took our statements.

After more than three hours of interviews, we spoke with the manager on duty. I explained to him that we didn’t have any money and asked for help. We were given a voucher to eat breakfast and told that we would be provided a cab ride to the airport.

I asked about dinner, and he said, “You have breakfast, go enjoy it.”

To add insult to injury, we were charged a $15 resort fee for each night. We were not told about the fee by Travelocity when we booked the trip or by the hotel when we checked in. My friend and I still can’t believe this happened to us. The entire trip that we had planned for such a long time ended up being a terrifying event.

— Nancy MillerWellington, Fla.

A: You know, it doesn’t get much worse than this. First the robber took your belongings, and then the hotel helped itself to a little more of your money with a surprise “resort fee.” (What’s a resort fee, anyway? If you ask me, it’s nothing more than a meaningless room surcharge.)

And never mind the fact that the Wyndham sent you to bed hungry on the last night of your vacation. That’s just shameful.

This should have never happened to you. The hotel has a responsibility to protect its guests from outside threats, and it should have done better. It also failed to meet its customer service obligations to you by subjecting you to a morning of interviews and then offering you inadequate assistance after you said you were broke.

But you let yourself down, too.

Any time you travel abroad you should familiarize yourself with the security risks. The State Department’s report on the Bahamas would have clued you in to the dangers. “Hotel guests should always lock their doors and should never leave valuables unattended, especially on beaches,” it warns. “Visitors should store passport/identity documents, airline tickets, credit cards, and extra cash in hotel safes.”

You were traveling with a lot of cash. That’s an unfortunate decision. Credit cards are far easier to replace when they’re stolen. You should only carry enough cash for tipping and incidentals. You also could have – and should have – used the hotel safe for your valuables.

So here’s what it comes down to: the Wyndham has a little safety and customer-service problem. You need to do your homework next time you go on vacation. And Travelocity? It should have told you about the resort fee – in fact, it should have included the fee in the pre-paid price.

If you had booked this through a human travel agent, you might have been able to protect yourself. A competent travel professional could have steered you to a safer property, or destination, or at least offered you tips on how to travel more securely. In fairness to Travelocity, it is working on improving its site to offer more of that kind of advice. But it hasn’t quite figured out how to replace a person — yet.

I contacted Travelocity and Wyndham to see if you could be helped.

Travelocity promptly refunded the resort fee. The operator of the Wyndham property, Cable Beach Resorts, is investigating the robbery and has referred your case to its insurance adjusters, who will be in touch with you soon. In a letter to you, Andrew HeLal, the company’s vice president of operations, acknowledged that “the manner in which our manager on duty responded to your situation failed to meet your expectations.” He said “corrective action” had been taken, but offered no specifics.

As a “gesture of goodwill,” HeLal invited to return to the Wyndham for two free nights.

Christopher Elliott is National Geographic Traveler's ombudsman and a nationally syndicated columnist who specializes in solving your travel problems. Got a trip that needs fixing? Send him a note or visit his Web site. Your question may be published in a future story. Want to sound off about a story? Try visiting Elliott's forum.


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