When Hostel Siesta, San Jose, Costa Rica refused entry

This is an interesting and disappointing incident of a hostel in San Jose, Costa Rica refusing entry to me based on my nationality. Hostel Siesta, also known as Hotel Siesta first attempted to make me cancel reservation so that they could save 20% commission they have to pay booking.com, when I refused and during the cash payment process, suddenly owner gets annoyed and decides to refuse me entry and asks me to leave, citing Indians are bad customers and other silly reasons and racial remarks. Read this post to know all the details.
Background:
I am currently on a 34 days, 6 countries tour in the USA, South and Central America. [Read about it more here]. This is my longest and most expensive trip till date and I am on extreme budget. For the stay requirements I used booking.com to find cheapest hostels (and AirBnB in some cases). Read why I prefer booking.com here, some recent experiences with booking.com here.

After Bahamas, Colombia and Panama City, my next destination was Costa Rica. For a night's stay in San Jose (main city in Costa Rica) I found a cheap hostel on booking.com and booked a night for 7 USD, sometimes in March 2019. Hostel name was Hostel Siesta, located on address: Avenida 8 entre calles 39 y 41 De Arenas Los Yoses 100 sur y 25 oeste, 11501 San José, Costa Rica [Check Hostel Siesta on Booking.com here]. The property also has another name- Hostel Bekuo- not sure why they need multiple names.

My trip was going on all fine- USA, Bahamas, Colombia and Panama city for the first two weeks. Then I arrived in Costa Rica, took a bus from airport to San Jose city centre, then walked about 2.4 kms to my hostel, Hostel Siesta.

Had some minor difficulty in locating the hostel, as it wasn't exactly on the spot shown on Google maps and there were no street signs showing Hostel Siesta (from the direction I entered the road- it was visible from opposite direction). Took help from staff at McDonalds' office and managed to reach the hostel.

As I finally found the hostel and pressed the door bell, I was allowed in. First thing the staff asked me was "Hey man, you've booked on a promotional fare I published sometime back- in that 7 dollars I have to give 2 dollars to booking.com, can I mark you as "no show" so that I don't have to pay 2 dollars to booking.com? You can pay in cash"

I have faced this with lots of hostels. I will get back to this at a later point in the post-why many properties try to cheat the booking platforms and why it is bad idea as customer to encourage hotels/hostels in doing so.

I refused the proposal, saying my booking is guaranteed by credit card and will be charged anyways if I am 'No Show', since free cancellation window has gone. The owner reluctantly agrees, he says another group of Indians had stayed with him recently, I pay him 10 USD in cash and he dumps on the counter few notes and lots of coins in local currency. (the change of 3 USD in CRC or Costa Rican Colons, should be around 1800 CRC, CRC coins are big and heavy, I was just getting used to them)

As I try to count the notes and coins placed on the counter, I ask him how much is it and how much would be the rental if I have to pay in CRC directly instead of USD. This is all I did- trying to ascertain the change given and asking rent amount in local currency.

Suddenly the staff (assuming he is the owner as well) gets agitated, decides to cancel my reservation, takes back the CRC he had spread on the counter, returns my 10 USD and asks me to leave.

While I took a moment to assess what happened, what was my mistake, he makes following statements
"You Indians always counting money, for every small amount"
"It is just 7 dollars, which is less than my standard rate and you won't cooperate"
"You Indians create lots of trouble-cooking at late night, making noises"
"I don't want you here, Go back to your country"

I did not beg, I did not argue. It is his property and if he doesn't want me there, I would rather go somewhere I am welcome than stay with a hostile host. I went out of the gate, sat on the steps to figure out where to go next. He comes back and shouts I shouldn't use his WiFi, I should not sit on the steps. I said I am not connected to his WiFi. I asked for a written communication w.r.t refusing my entry and he refuses, says he will communicate to booking.com that my entry has been refused.

I am not sure why the staff/owner did what he did.. Some possible reasons I can think of are as below:
#1: May be he was hoping I will panic and agree to his original idea of marking me as "no show" and pocket the commission
#2: May be he was hoping I will panic agree to pay the higher non-promotional rate
#3: May be he was happy to save 2$ he has to give to booking.com even if it meant losing 5$ for himself
#4: May be the previous Indian guests did things he didn't like and he assumed I will also do the same, hence best to get rid of me
#5: May be he was just having a bad day and me trying to count the cash and ascertaining conversion rate upset him further
#6: May be he had given bed to someone else for higher price, didn't have the vacancy and was happy to get rid of low paying guest
#7: May be he used an highly unfavorable conversion rate and gave me much less than 1800 CRC- once I started counting he felt I might ask for more and decided to get rid of me.

I don't know the reason. I was out of my confirmed reservation for no fault of mine and was to fend for myself in a new city.

The perception problem exists all over. It is built over time based on experience, observations and thought process. There's no quick fix for this.
Some examples of perception related problems:
  • Bachelors find it very hard to find a house for rent, as they are deemed trouble makers
  • In South East Asia western tourists are assumed to be rich and it is ok to rip them off, while many of them could be traveling on shoestring budget.
  • Indian tourists- youth in groups particularly, do create lots of nuances when they travel- like teasing air hostess to not complying with rules to not respecting others and so on. While there're many good Indian travelers, it is hard to change the perception instantly if someone had seen a trouble-making group and formed an opinion that everyone belonging to that category are similar.
  • Sikh people are often confused for Muslims and at times treated badly
  • Indians have to earn in rupee and spend in dollars- so they are generally cautious about spending-They may not tip generously or spend lavishly- there's nothing wrong in being price sensitive but of course businesses naturally prefer someone who spends more.
Being denied entry is lot less of an issue than more serious things we face during travel- like getting robbed, stabbed (Nomadic Matt was stabbed in Colombia for his phone), conned big time and so on. I didn't have any reason to panic- there're dozens of hotels and hostels in the city, it was broad day light and I just had one bag (read what I have packed for this trip), so I could move around and find another place to stay, which I did.

The commission problem with service providers and platforms:
This clash is also very common and understandable. Service providers like hostels don't have the reach on their own to attract international customers and depend on platforms like booking.com, airBnb etc to bring in customers. But when it comes to paying the legitimate commission to the platform, they try to circumvent it and save a few more dollars. Booking.com charges a flat 20% commission (which is 1.4 dollars in my case for 7$, not 2 $ as the owner claimed), which is Booking.com's rightful share for bringing in business. Of course I can't comment what % commission is fair-it is left to negotiate between service provider and platform.  Some platforms like Swiggy try to charge as high as 35-40% commission because of which restaurant owners have an inflated menu for online orders. [Read more]

Ola Outstation cab drivers often ask customers to cancel the booking, stating they will take them to the destination for less, this is again to avoid commission Ola takes.

 As a customer I don't like to encourage these practices-Reasons as below:
* If I book outside of booking.com I lose all the support platform offers,
* It is literally cheating to deny the platform their fees
* Once you agree, service providers may have secondary tricks to make you pay more (for example not offering free breakfast or asking you to pay extra for toll or things like that which was probably included in original pricing)
* If booked directly, service providers will have no fear of poor ratings on the platform, hence won't have any motive to treat you nicely. Otherwise the sheer fear of poor rating and review ensures service providers stick to promised standards.

If Hostel Siesta is not comfortable paying commission to booking.com why list the property there?
If Hostel Siesta was not fine with 7$ bookings why offer it in the first place?

Hostels often have this compulsion to keep price low- most budget travelers sort listing by price and go for the cheapest- if a hostel keeps its price high, it will take much longer to get bookings. So hostels need to compete with other hostels in the area and then try to resort to cheap tricks to make a few bucks more.

Businesses that do not want to pay commission to 3rd party should learn from SouthWest. Southwest doesn't sell tickets on 3rd party platforms like Skyscanner, Kayak etc. 100% of SouthWest's inventory is sold exclusively on their website. Their customer base is also aware of this and they check directly on airline website first, saving the airline GDS fees.

Is it legal for a hostel to deny admission?
It is debatable-most hostels and hotels say "Right of admission reserved" meaning they can decide whom to grant admission and whom not to.  It is common for cab/auto drivers to refuse to ply you to where you want to go. Like getting a visa is not an assurance that you will be allowed into a country- at the airport if you're deemed unfit might be turned around. They have a service to offer, which I was interesting in availing for a particular price. If one of the parties loses interest in honoring the deal it is probably best to move on. I could have gone to Police, or created drama on the spot in front of other guests, escalated to booking.com but like I said, I would rather go someplace I am welcome, than stay with a host who had racial thoughts about Indians, unethical business practice of cheating their business partners (booking.com) and takes spot decisions just like that without knowing the other person.

In their own interest, platforms like booking.com should monitor these fraudulent practices and blacklist properties that circumvent the system to cheat them their commission.

What support did Booking.com offer?
Once I sent a message to Booking.com they replied very quickly- in under 30 minutes. Because I didn't have a working phone number for them to call, they couldn't call. They can't force property to accept me or be here in person to help, but can offer alternate booking or some compensation may be. But then I had found an alternate place to stay, so I didn't need much of a support- cost me a few dollars more but I am glad rest of Costa Rica visit ended without any incident.

Update: Booking.com has offered to refund 3$ extra that I paid to alternate stay. (Damn! Why didn't I check myself into Hilton :)  )

Am I angry/upset? Do I advise you Not to book at Hostel Siesta?
No. This is first such experience for me during my travel to 35 countries around the world and stay over 100s of hostels and hotels. I've just written it off as a bad experience and moved on. Without much of an issue rest of my Costa Rica trip went well. Other guests seem to have had good experience at the hostel, so use your discretion. Hopefully all goes well with your booking and stay.

I've sent a note to Costa Rica tourism, just to check if they care to respond/take action. Their representatives were conducting survey at the airport documenting how many nights tourists spent in Costa Rica, how much they spent on taxi, hotel etc. Let me see if they care for my feedback. They are most probably interested only in high spending tourists and not budget travelers.

What can be done to avoid this in future?
Nothing. If there were written rules that a property doesn't want Indians we can avoid booking such places, or if they cancel immediately after booking seeing our nationality, we can book somewhere else. There is no way to predict how a property owner will think and do upon check-in. We have to book in good faith and be prepared for scenarios like this in the unlikely event of it happening.

Anyways, my short visit to Costa Rica has ended. I am heading to my next destination. Another day, another experience.

Other hostel posts:
Small things Hostel Owners can do to make it more convenient for guests * Cheapest place to stay in Delhi * Monk's bunk hostel, Kaunas * Capsule Hotel Experience in Japan * Hostel Booking in Europe- 7 point checklist *

12 comments:

  1. Strange reasons to refuse admission.. wonder why these ppl are in the service industry when they can't keep up simple commitments to customers. I hope u r enjoying your trip..

    Destination Infinity

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you. Everyone will have their own predicaments, thought process, reasons and justifications. What to do?

      Delete
  2. And with what maturity you handled it! Hope you will not have any more hiccups on your trip.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Sad to read.
    Hope all well, Enjoy your next destination.
    All the best.

    ReplyDelete
  4. You had taken the right decision even under unnerving conditions - Bravo !

    ReplyDelete
  5. Sad incident. But I like the way you handled the situation.

    ReplyDelete
  6. This is absolutely shocking! I know some places and people do have racist notions about indians but the owner of the place seems downright disgusted and extremely rude. I just think he got rattled by you not marking no show and checking money, which means he was as shady as his place. Glad you got a place and were safe after the incident. You really handled the situation well.

    ReplyDelete

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