/ Travel & Leisure

Brief case: couple’s nostalgic celebration ruined

A couple’s 50th wedding anniversary celebration was ruined when a hotel cancelled their booking at just 24 hours’ notice – despite them having booked it seven months in advance.

Professor Trevor Kerry and his wife Carolle booked a nostalgic long weekend at the Seiont Manor hotel in Snowdonia, for August 2013 and paid £747 for an executive room with fine dining. They chose the area because it was where they used to holiday with their children when they were small, so they weren’t happy to be offered alternative hotels up to 20 miles away.

The hotel blamed a computer error, even though the couple booked on the phone with its reception. The couple then had to go elsewhere, losing a day of their break finding accommodation and incurring extra expenses.

Seiont Manor eventually refunded the payment, but the Kerrys felt that the customer service fell short of what they expected. Their request for compensation for missing out on a long-planned special holiday was rejected, first by hotel management and then by the Hand Picked Hotels Group chairman, Julia Hands, who said she felt the hotel’s proposals had been fair.

Which? Legal steps in

The KerrysWhen their formal complaint letter went unanswered, the Kerrys contacted Which? Legal Service for advice. We said Hand Picked Hotels was in breach of contract and so the couple were entitled to claim for loss of enjoyment and damages.

We advised that they write a Letter before Action setting out the claim and informing Hand Picked Hotels that they intended to pursue it in court. The couple were concerned about court costs, particularly if they should lose, but we were able to allay their fears.

In November, the hotel offered £817.35 to settle the claim, including an amount for loss of enjoyment. The couple accepted.

What the law says…

Going to court is a last resort. You should first consider mediation or another form of Alternative Dispute Resolution. If you can’t agree, the next stage would be to decide whether to issue legal proceedings.

The small claims track of the county court makes it possible to make a claim without the need to employ a legal representative, for claims not exceeding £10,000 in England and Wales for breach of contract. The small claims limit in Scottish courts is £3,000. Other limits apply in other areas of law. If you lose, you’d be liable only for your court fees and the expenses of witnesses.

Have you ever had a booking cancelled at the last moment like the Kerrys? Have you ever taken a matter to the small claims court?


I notice on a well-known hotel review site that the Seiont Manor hotel has a predominantly above- average rating, most reviewers considering it to be excellent. It’s a shame therefore that it allowed its reputation to be tarnished by a disobliging reaction to the couple’s claim for some recompense for the considerable disruption to their holiday. Personally I think the hotel’s eventual offer was on the wrong side of generous and it was bad that it had to be wrung out of them through legal action.

This hotel belongs to an organisation with an ex-lawyer as the CEO. They should therefore know contract law and be aware that they were in breach of contract. So why did they not have the common sense, let alone the decency, to settle this claim immediately? Or is there more to this? Perhaps Hand Picked Hotels would like to comment?

Without knowing the full terms of the booking – which are not clearly laid out in the article – it is difficult to judge just how unreasonable Handpicked hotels were being.

It would appear that the Kerrys paid in advance. If that payment was non-refundable in the event of them cancelling then, in addition to their money back, every penny of that amount (and perhaps more) should have been offered in compensation when the hotel cancelled the booking.
If however, the Kerrys were also at liberty to cancel their booking with no loss up to 24 hours before arrival, then compensation need only be minimal

Consumer agencies and Which? rightly concern themselves with unfair contract terms against the consumer, who typically does not have the legal resources of a corporation. But the essence of a fair and hence legally-enforceable contract is that it is not onerous on either party. Therefore the cancellation terms and conditions should be equitable; no loss for the guest if they cancel, no loss for the hotel if they cancel under the same conditions.

So come on Which?, let’s have all the facts before we start judging Handpicked Hotels actions. I’m pretty sure I’m on the side of the Kerrys, but let’s not leap to conclusions.

I agree Em – there may be more to this. Handpicked hotels have a right of reply and I wonder of they have been asked to do so. The background is brief – if, as is implied, their telephone booking was not put onto the system and therefore didn’t exist in the hotel’s records, how did the hotel know to cancel 24 hours before arrival? Or had they simply double-booked and looking for a way out. I am sure the explanation is simple but when you criticise an organisation publicly it is good to know it is fully supported by the facts. Like you, I am on the Kerry’s side at present but a little more explanation would be interesting!

We recently stayed at Seiont Manor and it was a wonderful experience. However the hotel can be used exclusively by a party e.g. for a wedding. I wonder whether this was the case when Mr & Mrs Kerry wanted to stay. As your previous respondent said – it ‘s a pity to judge the hotel on this one hiccup. It really is a beautiful, relaxing place to stay at and we wouldn’t hesitate to go back there in the future.

Lydia Smith says:
20 August 2015

I have a different situation. But a loss of enjoyment and out of pocket expenses claim. My wedding was ruined because my supplier did not provide a big enough generator for the activities needed, therefore was not fit for purpose and nothing worked properly. I am going to pursue this in court after I have tries to informally agree a compensation claim for this incompetence.