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Oh no!

OYO hotels, sold as cheap and better options, are also beset with sub-standard services, cancelled bookings and weak customer service

Cancelled bookings, deficient service, refund delays – these are, some of the problems which have constituted to showcase another reality of OYO. It’s the world’s third largest hotel chain and a $10 billion enterprise in India with 23,000+ hotels in the country.

The multi-billion-dollar enterprise got flak from social media and public forums when Priyanshu Kumar, a 15-year-old boy died after getting electrocuted at an OYO Rooms hotel in Southeast Delhi.

The incident happened when the boy who was visiting the Capital city from Dehradun to participate in a shooting competition. He was found lying unconscious on the bathroom floor by the hotel staff.

No water supply and a short circuit in the geyser at the hotel led to the fatal incident in which Kumar lost his life. A national level shooter, he was due to participate in a shooting competition.

Just like thousands others, Kumar’s coach booked the OYO-run hotel because of discounted rates. Ever since it has started, the USP of the famous Indian hotel chain has been about giving a better deal than your regular hotel, at a much cheaper price.

For example, a three-star hotel in an area like Connaught Place on online portal MakeMyTrip would cost one Rs 2,500 to 3,500, whereas an OYO Rooms hotel would ask for only Rs 1,400 to 2,000. This is why OYO attracts so many customers.

However, every now and then, social media gets all abuzz as a guest complains about a hotel cancelling a booking just before check-in, or denying a booking. In most cases, the complaint is about sub-standard services being offered to guests.

Hotel owners, on the other hand, blame OYO hotels, as the services have to meet OYO’s standard list of services, which cannot be determined by the hotel owner or manager. The services include “crisp sheets, sanitised bathrooms and premium wi-fi at every OYO around the world.”

In another case, Ruby Datta (name changed) booked an OYO hotel a week in advance for Rs 1,900 for a short break in the Capital city. Datta was startled when her friend told her that she must confirm the booking in advance, as the hotel owner denied the same to her friend.

When Datta called up the hotel, she was told that no such booking has been made and that she “should check with OYO.” After calling up OYO to ask for the booking, she was told to wait. The wait dragged out for half an hour. A disappointed Datta gave up and put the phone down.

The time was 4 pm, whereas if all had been fine, Datta would’ve checked in by 12 noon. “At 5 pm the OYO customer care executive told me that there was some system error and that I would get the refund of the money spent. “

She was also told that the hotel was fully booked, so the reason for OYO’s system giving a booking confirmation is still a mystery. OYO did not provide her with an alternative or apology. She requested, but it “wasn’t taken seriously.”

Datta decided to go to the hotel to see if she can get a room by negotiating with the manager. Much to her surprise, rooms were available not only for her, but her friends too.

“Obviously the hotel lied and OYO did not give a damn in any case. They later even gave a Rs 400 concession on my next booking. They are really living in a bubble if they think customers like myself, after going through all that trouble, would ever even look at OYO again,” said Datta.

While Datta stuck to complaining about it, Mohamed Najiullah, a consultant, created a portal called “oyo-ruined-my-anniversary.com” after getting stuck on a remote island in Andaman with poor cellular network connectivity. The hotel staff in Najiullah’s case too, refused to acknowledge a booking made through OYO.

Not only did OYO not confirm his booking, but the customer care executive also asked Najiullah, “What can I do?”

Social media platforms like Twitter keep getting flooded with complaints from customers about the sub-standard services that were offered to them during the stay — not remotely close to services mentioned on OYO’s official website, which has a crisp user interface.

In recent times, hotel owners in Hyderabad, Mumbai, Dehradun and Guwahati have started boycotting OYO for deep discounts and arbitrary contract changes.

The Joint Convener of Hotel Association Confederation of India (HACI) told media, “The fundamental reason these players came into the market was because the industry was fragmented. We have also filed online petitions. There is a big flaw in the business model that has to be brought to light.”

A hotel owner in Connaught Place who spoke on the condition of anonymity said, “We saw it coming. If OYO people will not address our concerns and work hand in hand, then these boycotts are a natural consequence. There have been so many times when I’ve faced problems while getting payments cleared from OYO.”

As per the guidelines of The Hotel & Restaurant Approval & Classification Committee (HRACC) of the Ministry of Tourism, hotel owners are supposed to adhere to many factors like maintaining hygienic conditions and services provided to guests.

The guidelines list specific services like “a clean change of bed and bath linen daily & between check-in” to “drinking water with minimum one glass tumbler per guest.” However, hotel owners continue to charge for these services from guests.

A research paper titled ‘Standards, Training, and Guests’ Perceptions in Luxury Hotels’ by Sarah Peterhans of Eastern Michigan University in United States brings interesting details about the general perception of guests and the way hotel owners can evolve. Although the study focuses heavily on luxury hotels, the sub-points are somewhat common, and can be afforded by low-budgeted hotels too.

The thesis lists three levels of expectations — essential, expected, and optional — to assess the guests’ expectations.

It says, “Essential expectations are the expectations that must be met in order to maintain a business. The expected expectations are just beyond the essential expectations, but they are necessary in order to provide guests with good service. The optional expectations are the extras and the unexpected services that the luxury hotels provide.”

The thesis also recommends that surveys to understand the guests’ needs should be done not only after each stay, but annually too, to see if there’s a wide difference between the two.

Breaking down the expectations, the thesis says, “These expectations may come from advertisements, similar experiences, their imagination, and what they hear from others. Repeat guests get their expectations from previous visits, and each visit will have an impact on what they expect the next time.”

In order to keep up with the service standards, the thesis suggests that these standards of service can also be evaluated by “an outside company.” It gives out an example of a hotel where the managers say that the hotel “has a company come in and complete mystery shop audits.”

It further adds, “The Chief Concierge at this hotel explains that these mystery shop reports help management see where there are inconsistencies and where things went wrong. These reports also indicate areas in which the service standards were followed.”

Perhaps, a similar style of quality check can be maintained with the help of authorities. Although there are guidelines set by the HRACC under the Ministry of Tourism, a plethora of customer complaints suggest that they’re not being followed by OYO, which boasts of its services and its business model of providing — budget friendly hotel — to “42 people every 10 seconds” as listed on the website.

In October, OYO announced a fresh $1.5 billion worth of investment. While the major chunk of the investment will be put into the growth of OYO and pushing it further into the US market, which is currently the company’s fastest growing market, the rest will go into solidifying its position in the European markets.