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First Minister of Scotland tells accommodation providers not to accept guests

All,
You might be interested to know that this evening Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland has clearly instructed accommodation providers (e.g. hotels and B&Bs) that they should no longer be accepting reservations or arrivals from tourists, only those with an essential need to travel.

Some areas of Scotland, the Highlands and Islands in particular have been overwhelmed by the number of tourists still visiting despite the virus and the advice that people should only be making essential journeys. Here on Skye we are 135 miles from the nearest intensive care hospital beds and supplies in the food shops are running low. We absolutely do not want visitors at this time.

If you can view the BBC you will find Nicola Sturgeon's speech here and the segment I am talking about is from 6 minutes until 6 minutes 30 seconds.

Nicola Sturgeon on the BBC

She also talks about ferries who are now instructed only to take residents and those supplying the islands.

Some accommodation agents such as booking.com will not allow the property owner to cancel bookings, so providers will need you, the guest, to cancel your reservation. I am someone who uses booking.com and I am extremely stressed at the moment that some guests are refusing to cancel their reservations despite a very polite email from me explaining the situation and asking them to cancel.

Please respect this advice to keep us all safe. We will look forward to welcoming you all when this is over.
Best wishes
Jacqui (Skyegirl)

Posted by
5305 posts

We are having the same issue in France — city folks trying to self isolate themselves in the countryside, although here (anecdotally speaking) it is mostly Parisians going to their second homes.

This last weekend the authorities instituted checks in the Paris train stations to ensure that people traveling to the regions had a need to do so. I am not sure how far-reaching or how effective these controls were.

Posted by
1063 posts

"I am extremely stressed at the moment that some guests are refusing to cancel their reservations despite a very polite email from me explaining the situation and asking them to cancel."

Why are you asking them to cancel?? Just send them and email telling them that their reservation is cancelled.

Posted by
16576 posts

Bob, Skyegirl indicated that the booking.com platform doesn't allow her to initiate the cancellation, so she needs for the client to do that.

Posted by
609 posts

Jacque, thanks for the heads up. I have reservations in late June/early July and have been wondering whether I should go ahead and cancel or wait to see if my b&b hosts would like the hope of normalcy, as I do. All my bookings were direct, so I will now email and ask. Thank you.

** Also apologies for not catching the auto-INcorrect spelling of your name. :)

Posted by
5017 posts

the booking.com platform doesn't allow her to initiate the cancellation, so she needs for the client to do that

I'm more than a little skeptical that a property owner is completely at the mercy of a booking agent in that regard. If the property owner says sorry, the hotel is closed - by order of the national government (because of a worldwide pandemic, no less) and no guests will be admitted, is booking.com going to come there with a giant master key and force open the doors? Are they going to bring their own booking.com ferry, too, to transport guests to the island?

This is madness.

This is an emergency. Send them an email, politely but firmly tell them that the hotel is closed, their reservation is canceled, they will not be allowed onto the ferry, sorry, but it's not a suggestion, it's not a request, it's an emergency, there's a pandemic, it's in all the news and hard to miss.

Posted by
439 posts

David,
I will try to answer the points you make.

  1. There is a bridge to Skye as well as the ferry route, so unless a decision is taken to close the bridge then visitors are still able to drive onto the island.

  2. You may be sceptical about providers being at the mercy of booking.com, but I take it that you are not one of their 'partners' (as they call them)? I am. So I think I am rather better informed about their policies than you are. Their 'partner extranet', which is the bit of their website that we can see but clients cannot, clearly sets out their policy, which is that in the current circumstances normal booking conditions are waived for guests, which means guests can cancel their reservations even when there would normally have been a financial penalty to the guest for doing so. And this is obviously quite right given the pandemic. HOWEVER, there is no facility in their system for partners to cancel reservations. Indeed their terms and conditions for partners remain unchanged. These terms and conditions say that once a reservation is made it cannot be cancelled by the partner (i.e. me). It is worse than that. If a partner contacts booking.com to get them to cancel the reservation they treat it as an 'overbooking' under their terms and conditions and they require the partner to cover any additional accommodation costs incurred by the guests (not a risk I can afford to take).

Incidentally I found out recently that they invoke this same policy if a partner has to close their B&B in an emergency such as a bereavement (one of my neighbours was sadly affected when her husband died). Booking.com did cancel all her bookings but then charged her for the costs of putting the guests up elsewhere.

You might be asking yourself why B&B owners like me aren't contacting booking.com to complain? We are. No joy so far.

Why aren't we trying to get some media attention to help us out? We are. No joy so far.

Why aren't we asking our local political representatives to help us? We are. My representative has been very supportive, but again no joy so far.

Why do we work with booking.com? Good question and despite their global reach and the fact that I get far more bookings through them than if I had my own website, I will be rethinking this once the pandemic is over.

But right now I have other priorities. My income has potentially dropped to zero (that's another story about the difference in treatment by the government of employed/laid off and self employed people) but obviously I don't want people coming here at the moment, putting our health service and our grocery shops under pressure and potentially bringing the virus to an area so that is so far (at least according to official figures) virus free.

The point of my original post was to give you a heads up (and it seems some guests do need one!) and to ask you to cancel any bookings you might have in Scotland in the coming months.

Best wishes
Jacqui (Skyegirl)

Posted by
147 posts

As I understand it AirBnB operates a similar system with regards to the people who host and use their website to advertise their accommodation.

Hosts are under a great deal of pressure never to cancel a reservation and AirBnB exacts harsh punishments if they do.

Posted by
4 posts

Best wishes to you Jacqui as you navigate this Covid crisis. I know agents can't cancel because I had one B&B ask me to do it for them which I was happy to do.

We'll be in Skye in September and look forward to seeing your beautiful countryside!

BTW, I live in Sandwich on the Cape and everyone is encouraging people not to come here-that includes second property owners because our resources are low and hospitals are not able to accommodate if an influx of serious cases flood the system.

Hoping we all get over this soon and get back to our normal everyday lives.

Best,
Karen

Posted by
86 posts

This is yet one more reason to always book direct which is what RS recommends. I avoid booking.com at all cost and I did not even realize this was how they treated their "partners". Thank you Skyegirl for that first hand information. I feel for you and your loss of revenue. I was to spend 2 weeks in the Highlands in May. I had booked all B&B's direct and started communicating with them in Feb. Now all reservations have been cancelled.

Kathleen

Posted by
2 posts

Jacqui
Completely agree re Booking.com and what the accomodation owners do going forward. There are angry rumblings all over Scotland (there is in Glencoe!) in regard to Booking con's force majeure. Nearly all (outwith Booking.con) have managed to defer the booking to a future date to the satisfaction of the customer. This has and will help support a huge number of the businesses that are at the moment slipping through the government help net.

To the customers that are demanding a complete refund of the deposit, I hope people understand that most b&b's are operating from their home which at present they may lose!. They rely on their terms and conditions (including the client to organise their own insurance) to sustain the ability for people all over the world to visit places otherwise inaccessible. It would be unfair to treat some differently with a full credit and some not, and indeed it may even hinder their own business insurance.claims going forward. Many b&b's have also lost deposits or had to organise rebookings for their own holidays, races, events etc . I hope many survive these tough times, help support them, otherwise you may find it extremely difficult visiting 'anywhere!

We're looking at how it is possible to bypass the major Channels, our community are exploring options. FTB to compete more in the search engine market? Or the community websites marketing differently, and even trademark. I believe the channels can 'grab' even direct b&b name searches and place them within their umberella higher up in the rankings (even though they are not listed in that channel?), the trademark would may stop that? I get the feeling that many though are rethinking opening up the channels that have not supported the foundation on which they are based.

Stay safe
Best wishes
Laurence

Posted by
3056 posts

Jacqui - booking.com are clearly being unreasonable! Under “normal” conditions, travelers expecting a room for the night, having made reservations, would be highly inconvenienced if they showed up at the place and we’re told, “No room at the inn - despite your reservation.” So that’s clearly for the protection and satisfaction of the customer. And I know of experiences with airBnB properties that cancel on people at the last moment, if they have a 3-night reservation but a 7-night opportunity comes up for more profit. But with the pandemic, no one’s traveling, no one’s going to knock on your door with their luggage and reservation in-hand, and booking.com is clearly not doing the right thing.

Bookings many months away? Too soon to tell when travel is possible, and their regular policies could be enforceable. But if the government has set up a policy (or strong suggestion?) that holiday travel won’t be happening, then punishing “partners” when they can’t accommodate customers during that time, is just wrong. One more reason booking.com is not an organization worth being associated with. I’m annoyed in the first place, when I try to search for the Website of a particular place, or for names of places in a particular location, but the booking.com, and Expedia, and Kayak, etc. links are what come up first. I have to scroll thru all of those to get to actual Website links for individual properties, without facing extra middleman surcharges. Best of luck getting thru these difficult times Skyegirl, and I hope when travel is safely possible again, that you’ve got better means than the ultimately unworkable booking.com !

Posted by
57 posts

Thank you for this update, Jacqui. I started the sad process of cancelling reservations for a trip in May today. All my bookings were direct, but many were booked at a non-refundable rate or I've paid for the first night. Not sure if there are special leniencies being given to travelers or not. I am sure the information is "out there." I have just avoiding delving into it until today. Was really holding out hope that there would be an end to this season of illness much quicker than any projected. Our trip was to begin on May 8, and it just does not seem likely that a quick resolution is going to occur.

If anyone has any advice to share, I'm receptive.

I know this is an especially awful time of uncertainty for those who work in the travel industry, and I'm going to be mindful of that as I work through these cancellations.

Posted by
609 posts

AVogan, I had 2 weeks of reservations (all direct) in the Hebrides for June. After receiving a cancellation from one host somewhere in the middle of my schedule, I bit the bullet and proceeded with all cancellations. No one had asked for any deposits (I had offered), so I didn’t have any money involved. I don’t know if it’s right or not, but it made sense to me to go ahead and let them know I wasn’t planning to come - so that if travel within the U.K. eased up, they would have a chance to book someone who was coming from somewhere closer than Texas.

However I also had car reservations paid for with a local firm on Harris and Lewis. They asked if I would be willing to accept a voucher for a future trip, so they could get through this taking care of employees. I loved that thought. Since I plan to make this trip when I can (and will probably stay longer), I will be asking to reserve with all these same gracious people as soon as it’s feasible.

Posted by
203 posts

We were booked with two B&B in Inverness and Skye. I sent emails to both stating we were canceling. We did not ask for refunds but never got emails back either. I hope they are all well and safe. I am not concerned with my deposit, too many other concerns in the world to worry about. I travel on a budget but even then, if I have enough to travel I can suck up the deposit.

Posted by
506 posts

Just cancelled a 10 day trip to Scotland in May, with three days allotted to sightseeing and the rest for golf. For lodging we booked through the Hilton website three nights at the Doubletree Hotel in Edinburgh, through VRBO an apartment in St. Andrews for seven nights, and tee times at the Old Course and Carnoustie. There were two of us going, but since I had planned and booked trip it fell to me to unwind everything. I contacted United and after about 30 minutes on the phone with their Mileage Plus agent she deposited the 310,000 miles I used for first class ticker back into my MP account and waived the usual $100 redeposit fee. She also refunded the $280 I paid in taxes and fees to my credit card while we were on the phone. My friend had paid $1,300 for his ticket, plus $605 to upgrade him to Economy Plus. Because at that time the flight had not been cancelled by United she could not give him a refund, but did email him a travel voucher for the base amount of the ticket and then refunded to his credit card, again while we were on the phone. the full amount he paid for the upgrade. He has 12 months to book a new flight with the voucher and we plan to do the same trip in 2021. The St. Andrews Links Trust and Carnoustie do not give refunds, but the Links Trust will give us a new tee time at The Old Course in 2021 within a few days of our 2020 time, with that decision being made in July. Carnoustie said that in August they will give us a tee time within 48 hours before or after the Old Course tee time we get. Cancelling the Doubletree reservations was a simple mouse click on the Hilton website. The apartment was another issue. I contacted VRBO and was told that I had to cancel through the owner to get a refund. The owner reminded me that any deposits were non-refundable, regardless of the Coronavirus situation. Ultimately he agreed to give us a $325 refund of the $1,800 rental and would gives another $325 off a booking with him if we stayed there in 2021.

I have used VRBO on four trips to Europe and four to Hawaii in the last 10 years and never had a problem like this. As I have read about the problems my fellow travelers are having getting refunds I am thankful for the advice I received on the Travel Forum years ago about using third party services to book flights, lodging, tours, etc. which require upfront payments. Someone once said, “Never, but Never go through a third party just to save a few bucks. You always get what you pay for”. Every time I’ve booked with VRBO I kept the property information and contact them directly if I return, and have shared that with friends, family and travelers here to help them book direct and avoid the ridiculous booking fees (VRBO is 9%). We were fortunate that I booked direct with United, the two golf courses and the Doubletree and were pleased with their responses. We will probably book the apartment again, but I will call him directly and avoid the $162 booking fee I could not get back from VRBO. Everyone stay safe and believe that we WILL be on the road again soon.

Jim

Posted by
15 posts

Just wanted to share that I had to cancel my reservations for a late April/May 4 week trip to England & Scotland. My flight with Delta was cancelled and they are offering up to two years to rebook. Since most of the cost was on mileage, I still have to confirm getting the miles back on my account. I had 5 lodging reservations booked thru AirBnB. I had booked with free cancellation up to two weeks before my reservation. My Host in Edinburgh cancelled my reservation and I cancelled the other 4 reservations. I had paid the 3 night stay in Edinburgh & the first night in the others. By the time I cancelled, AirBnB had already said that they would not charge the Service fee and when I cancelled my reservations, ALL my reservation costs paid up front were immediately credited to my account by AirBnB. I was pleased with how AirBnB handled my situation so didn’t want everyone to think they are not handling this grim situation well. My Hilton Hotel at Heathrow cancelled before I did also. Thanks for the info on booking.com! I will certainly avoid them in the future.

Posted by
439 posts

I am glad that most of you are managing to cancel reservations without issue. My original post was intended to highlight that some booking platforms won't allow the B&B or hotel to cancel reservations and their system rely on guests doing so. In normal circumstances this gives protection to guests that a B&B or hotel can't just cancel on them. At the start of the covid-19 situation, the problem was that this inflexibility meant that guests had to cancel and my experience was that many were reluctant to do so, believing that this would all be quickly resolved and life could go on as usual.

Since my original post, all my bookings for May and most for June have cancelled, which has relieved the stress on me considerably.

Booking.com allow the 'host' to set their cancellation parameters and ours are set so that ordinarily guests can cancel up to 14 days out with no penalty. Of course in situations like these we would not take anyone's money even if they cancelled on the day of arrival.

In normal times booking.com and other such sites do provide a valuable service to very small businesses such as mine, enabling us to access bookings from people all over the world, and offering much greater reach than our own website would. They also handle all payments meaning we don't have to have credit card machines or worry about cash.

So we will probably continue to work through them when all this is over.

I hope that you are all staying safe and that things will return to normal at some point in the future....
Best wishes
Skyegirl (Jacqui)

Posted by
15 posts

Hi Skyegirl, Glad to hear things seem to be working themselves out with regard to this unusual situation we are in. I was one of those that kept hoping things would get better, surely by end of April, but it was not to be. I didn’t want to cancel until it was obvious that travel was not being allowed, my flight was cancelled, as I had the free 14 day cancellation provision for my lodgings. What is the name of your BnB and where is it on Skye?

Posted by
439 posts

Hi JMJtraveler
Thank you for your reply. I'm not allowed under the rules of the forum to tell you the name of my B&B as advertising is quite rightly not permitted here. But we're in the north west of Skye near Dunvegan. We're lucky to have found such a great spot to retire to.

Best wishes
Skyegirl (Jacqui)

Posted by
15 posts

Oops! I’m still new to the forum, so didn’t know about not giving out names of lodgings. I was just impressed that you have been willing to answer questions of travelers and would like to find an owner to rent from that is as friendly and helpful as you are.

Posted by
409 posts

JMTraveler: You can name establishments on this forum. Advertising is just that- owner etc using the forum to “advertise (plug, push, sell services) is totally different then naming a place you have no financial interest it that provided a great/good/poor experience with.

As Skyegirl notes she is the owner of the Band B thus even fair comments about her establishments would have a commercial aspect and thus inappropriate but other travelers on the forum can and will often give the names of establishments they had favorable experiences with.

Posted by
3056 posts

JMTraveler, the biggest town on Skye is Portree on the east side of the island, and the Rick Steves guidebook lists some recommended places there to stay. When we went to Skye 5 years ago, we opted for a place on the west side. More remote, with many great things to see and do. The famous Three Chimneys restaurant is on that side, and we had a truly great meal there. For a B&B, check out the Hazeldean B&B in Colbost, on the hill above the Three Chimneys. Really friendly and helpful owners. For details, e-mail them at hazeldeanskye@gmail.com

Posted by
3056 posts

Right, jjgurley, thank you, and I corrected it. Between my mental lapses and the infuriating, oft-inaccurate anticipatory auto-correct/auto suggest/auto-assume function of my iPhone, I won’t take full responsibility for everything that gets typed up. I didn’t proofread adequately, in any event.

Portree on Skye, Portrush in northern Northern Ireland. Hazeldean B&B in western Skye.