This is a re-post of my original blog post here.
RubyConfIndia 14 – Hospitality was anything but pleasant at The Lalit resort and spa, Goa. We had a pretty bitter experience and would like to capture it here. Also please suggest me where else we can do this. Send us email at email@example.com
We are a not-for-profit conference run by community support. The only thing special about us is that we run a pretty high quality conference in pretty hotels. We get around 450+ participants on an average from 20+ countries and 60+ cities every year, for the last 5 years. The reason we choose a serene and nice place to conduct a conference is to make sure that the participants need not worry about food, stay, ambiance, atmosphere, weather and focus on talking to new people, learning from them and helping each other.
Note: We host our conference in a city for two consecutive years.
RubyConf India 2014
As usual and like every year, we started our preparations pretty early, as early as July 2013. We reached out to multiple hotels and banquet halls and finalized on The Lalit, Goa.
They sent us a pretty strict payment schedule. Initial estimate only for reservation and minimum guarantee for rooms came to around Rs. 30 lakhs. They wanted us to start paying for the conference scheduled in March 2014, as early as August 2013. While we discussed and talked to them, I think that they don’t understand anything but business. The payment schedule required 25% as early as 6 months before the conference without any interest, failure to comply with anything will result in cancellation. BTW, we have dealt with Hotels like Hyatt and Royal Orchid, and booked as early as 6 months, but never had been troubled this much.
The Internet Saga
Fast forward to March 2014, we check-in on 19th March to finalize few more things and look after arrangements such as backdrops, standees, sponsorship materials and other facilities like internet access. The only thing which was left with the Lalit was the internet access, and they first told us Rs. 800 per participant per day, simply Rs. 3,20,000 per day. Hotel has an 8 Mbps line, which we were never able to utilize. Anyway, we tried to convince them saying that people need WiFi only on devices; people will not be using for heavy access during the day as they will be attending the conference. It took them 4 days – and just a few hours before when people starting coming in, to finalize rates and give us coupons. We never had this pathetic experience about internet anywhere and no other hotel treats internet as Gold. But anyway, we negotiated and succumbed to their demand, paid Rs. 1.5 lakhs for internet access, which mostly did not work. Our participants were from one of the nicest and tolerant community, who understand what we do is for each other.
Enter the wedding and we are literally fucked, for being nice guys!
I am sorry to use such a bad language but this is what happens – at 1:00 pm, I get a call saying come over to the reception as there is a problem. (I was running a huge fever the previous night, and after opening the conference on Saturday went back to my room to take rest).
At 1:00 pm, we are told that our banquet hall had got double booked and they need it to decorate it for the wedding the following day i.e. 23rd March, 2014. We had booked the Banquet hall for 22nd and 23rd night. So we have to hand it over right now. We said no. The hotel guys were pretty sure about it and they said Sir, you are booked on 21st and 22nd. Gautam Rege said, “Please check your contract and and we are sure that the conference is on 22nd and 23rd March”, they did not budge, talked to us rudely, but then realized that the hotel clearly had double booked us. The manager, GM, DM and everyone was pretty nice to us and were trying to cover up their mistake. We decided to be accomodative and asked them what is the solution. Here is what they proposed.
- The wedding decoration will not be interfering with our programme – they will decorate the hall at night.
- We need to dismantle our stage and bring it 4 feet forward, which meant that all the pieces – projector, screens, backdrop, cables, console, audio, video, camera and what not needed to be moved too.
- They will put some crystal chandeliers, drapes (mind it lavender and pink), sidewall drapes a typical rich Indian wedding will showcase.
Conference or a Wedding hall?
With this, our AV partner freaked out. We discussed among ourselves. We can’t screw up someone’s wedding as if this had happened to us, we would have been upset. Shit happens, mistakes happens, lets co-operate. I told the Hotel Manager to please discuss how they are going to execute this; talk to me before taking any steps and then do it.
We now thought that they will come back to us, but nothing like that happened. 7:00 pm, first day gets over, and suddenly a few house keeping staff moves in and started folding the chairs; then someone comes and drops a big white polythene sheet in front of our stage and starts putting stuff. Please note that all our arrangements are still there. When we asked about it, they said that they going to replace the existing stage with a new one! I was totally freaked out, started looking for the hotel staff. Finally, I could get some one and asked him. He said, Sir, I was just coming to you to tell you what is happening. Now, go through this series of events un-folded!
Saturday, 22nd March
- 8:00 pm – We call up the manager (Ajit Jose) and Nitin Rao, they talk to us over phone. Nitin Rao, tells us to pull the contract out and go through it.
- 9:00 pm – We are still waiting, we are told that we can see the contract in a few minutes. I pull out my laptop and then check the contract scanned copy. We were sure about it, and we saw that we were right!
- 9:30 pm – The DM and acting GM come to the hotel, we talk to them, we tell them that while it’s your mistake, we will co-operate, but please maintain decorum and ambiance of the conference.
- 10:00 pm – We join our community for dinner and we are assured by the hotel staff that everything will be taken care of and its their personal guarantee. We told them, please make sure that we are discounted for the problems caused to us. We did not realize at this point that we had an upper hand and could have done a lot of drama.
- 10:30 pm – We ask our event company to check-in to one of the rooms we had, and help the hotel. The hotel said that they will not charge us for this.
Sunday, 23rd March
- 1:00 pm – Our lunch place has been given out to the Wedding Party. The hotel is serving us lunch in the open under the blazing Sun, not even in the lobby. There is no water and no proper amount of food.
- 2:00 pm – All the water bottles are gone from the back of banquet hall; our material at the reception is gone into some storage and all standees have disappeared.
- 3:00 pm – Suddenly we hear a huge noise outside the hall, apparently the wedding decorators have moved in with flowers, standees and hammering the nails into the wood. The noise gets louder and louder by the second.
- 4:00 pm – The hall is completely blocked and nobody can get in or get out. Tea is NOT served and we are left with a complete mess.
Monday, 24th March
- 10:00 am – We reach the reception for our bills. We were kept waiting till 12:30 pm., Sidu and I leave for the airport in the hope that the bills would be settled by evening.
- 3:00 pm – Niranjan decides to stay back. Gautam has been waiting in the lobby for the whole time, but to no avail. Hotel staff is not only being rude but ignorant that Gautam’s family is waiting in the room for them to leave for home.
- 9:00 pm – Finally they call Manager Ajit Jose, who in turn accuses them that he was waiting in his office. The office is not visible, and everyone else we have been dealing with have no say! Now he said that there will be no discounts, no compensations for anything and you can not leave unless you settle the amount (which we don’t know yet).
- 9:30 pm – Being humiliated, mis-treated, Gautam calls me. I tell him to calm down and I call Ajit.
- 10:30 pm – I talked to Ajit for 30 minutes, he tells me that someone will call me but no one does. I talked to Nitin Rao, tell him the situation and he says the same.
- 10:30 pm – I search over LinedIn and get to know that Dr. Jyotsana Suri and Rocky Kalra might be the right persons to be contacted. I was sure that I won’t be able to reach Dr. Jyotsana, but I had some hope for Mr Kalra. I called him up, told him the situation and demanded the phone number or to conference me in. Nothing happened.
- 11:00 pm – I called up Ajit again, talked to him, told him to please understand that you cannot hold Gautam for ransom. Please let Gautam go. I will go to The Lalit, Delhi tomorrow morning 5:30 am before Gautam leaves and you can hold me there. Ajit says that he cannot let Gautam leave unless the money is paid in full (which hotel does that? I have dealt with so many hotels.)
- 11:30 pm – I called up Ajit again. I tell him that you are not dealing with a person, but with an organization and you can’t hold people. If you want I can give you my personal guarantee. He said no sir, that’s not acceptable. Only two days back we took their word of personal guarantee!
- 11:45 pm – Then I called up Nitin Rao. He said sir, why don’t you send me the picture of your card and we will block the amount and Gautam can leave.
- 11:45 pm – I demanded numbers of senior management but was denied. I called up Lalit Delhi, but there was nothing from them as well. So no one will hear us.
- 11:50 pm – I called Niranjan, told him that we need to pay money. We had got a figure of Rs. 8.35 lakhs from Ajit Jose. I called him to confirm the figure, but he did not pick up. I sent him a SMS that I am paying money now. He called me back then!
- 12:15 am – I talked to Ajit, telling him that we will pay Rs. 8.35 lakhs in the next few minutes. He then said that I still need to give him my card for some pre-authorization as Gautam and Niranjan might have some incidentals after 8:00 pm as the figure he had was till 8:00 PM. I told him have some trust on me, I will pay you, we have exhausted all our cards. Pre-authorization won’t go. Please understand we will not run away. He told me in very cold voice that it’s not acceptable. I called up Nitin Rao, and told him that for God’s sake please let them leave peacefully and any thing beyond that we will clear.
At that moment, I realized that we were fools. The Lalit did the following things to us:
- Held us at ransom; did not allow us to leave.
- Did not compensate us for their mistakes.
- They ruined our conference.
- They charged us a hefty amount for a 8 Mbps link, and their WiFi AP could not support even 100 devices.
- They charged some guests for stupid amounts for the internet – like Rs. 5000 for a day.
- Troubled us and treated us like victims.
- And threatened us.
The events above have been depicted in a very plain way.
You should strike when you can. That is why a simple security guard also treats you like shit. This culture is crap. WE have never experienced this in the past. It is so sad that this happened to us. Please understand that we spend around Rs. 50 lakhs on RubyConfIndia and most of that amount went to The Lalit. Still they could not let us go for even Rs. 10 lakh outstanding?