Refund for Mexican hotel with no air conditioning?
Crystal Hana Kim makes her debut as a novelist with “If You Leave Me,” a sweeping tale that centers on a resilient young woman forced to tackle roles thrust upon her: caregiver, wife and mother. Born in Queens, N.Y., and currently a resident of Brooklyn, Kim, 31, says the inspiration for the main character was her grandmother.
An edited version of our conversation follows.
A: New York has my heart, but I loved my time in Chicago. It’s a deeply cultural city with a robust food scene. For two years, I lived 15 minutes from Lake Michigan. My favorite writing break during the summer was jumping off the flat stones in Hyde Park and swimming in the lake for an hour.
A: Oh, I’ve gotten that a lot . ... I want to assume the best of strangers who are curious, but I’m also taken aback by some people’s insistence on repeatedly asking, “But where are you really from?” even after I’ve answered. It insinuates that there is only one true type of American. I’m a teacher, so the educator in
Qme comes out in these moments. It can be a helpful teaching moment to talk about how questions like “Where are you really from?” contribute to a narrow understanding of our country.
A: I’d love to go back to Nice where I’d eat more socca, which is a type of pancake made of chickpea flour sold on the streets as a cheap snack. In Mexico City, I’d love to eat more escamoles, a local dish made of ant larvae.
A: I grew up traveling to Korea often. My parents are both immigrants from Korea and my mother’s side of the family still lives there. She’d take me and my little sister back during our summer breaks to visit our grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. All of those summers in Korea helped me to develop a deep love for my culture. When I began writing my novel during graduate school, I visited Korea specifically to do research. “If You Leave Me” is about five characters growing up during and after the Korean War. I wanted to make sure I represented this period of time accurately. I first interviewed my grandmother, who was a teenage refugee who fled her home during the Korean War. Her story inspired the premise of my novel.
A: Cassis, France. Cassis is a small fishing town in the south of France, about 40 minutes outside Marseille. I lived there for a month while doing a writer’s residency, and I fell in love. It’s a quiet town where you can lay out on stone beaches, eat plenty of pastries and hike the majestic calanques, which are these breathtaking limestone valleys along the Mediterranean coast. For more from the reporter, visit www.jaehakim.com.
My family and I recently made reservations at the Villa Las Estrellas in Tulum, Mexico, using Booking.com.
When we arrived, we found that the room wasn’t as advertised. Among the problems were accessibility for our disabled daughter, who has Down syndrome and has mobility, vision and health issues. The room also had no air conditioning.
Our room had only one fan, which did not rotate and was at floor level. The hotel offered us another fan, but it wasn’t enough and was almost impossible to put at bed level with the furniture in the room.
We couldn’t lock the room, because with doors and windows closed it would have been even more uninhabitable. The screen door did not close entirely. We had bugs galore in the room. There was no TV in the room, but there was a common area outside with a TV. However, a disabled person would need constant supervision there. Also, nothing on Booking.com mentioned that the Villa Las Estrellas was an “ecofriendly” property, where ocean water was used in the sink and for bathing. For our daughter, that is completely unsafe since she would gulp down water during bathing.
We let Booking.com and Villa Las Estrellas know as soon as we arrived that this would not work for us. The hotel offered a floor-level room, which cost us extra. But the room didn’t accommodate four people. Can you help us get a refund?
— Yasmin Maniar, Saratoga, Calif.
A: I’m sorry your family ended up in a hotel room you couldn’t use.
Booking.com could have done a better job with the room description, but this Mexican hotel nightmare was also preventable. If you’re traveling with someone who has special needs, you might consider working with a qualified travel adviser. For example, Travel Leaders, one of the largest travel agency groups, publishes a list of agents who specialize in accessible travel (www. travelleaders.com/travel _agent/agent-search -results.aspx?slctInterest =Accessible+Travel). There’s also a nonprofit organization, the Society for Accessible Travel and Hospitality, that can help connect you with a property or agent that will fit your needs (http://sath.org/).
I think you did your best with the information you had. The property description seemed adequate. But everyone expects air conditioning in a modern hotel. A TV too. I think Booking.com should have placed a warning on the site if the hotel didn’t have any amenities that everyone takes for granted.
A brief, polite email to your online agency might have helped. I list the names, numbers and email addresses of Booking.com’s executives on my nonprofit consumer-advocacy site: www.elliott.org/company -contacts/booking-com/.
It turns out your family booked a “deluxe ocean front” room on the upper floor of the Villa Las Estrellas. Air conditioning and TV were not listed as amenities for the specific room category chosen, according to Booking.com. Your online travel agency also verified that the hotel tried to help you by placing you in a room with AC and giving you access to a TV lounge. Booking.com offered you a refund of $833 — half your room rate for the five days you were in Tulum — which you accepted. Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the author of “How to Be the World’s Smartest Traveler.” You can read more travel tips on his blog, elliott.org, or email him at [email protected]liott.org.