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Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Mackinaw City, Michigan / Lodging and Chamber of Tourism

May 2014

As much as we love the quaint city of Mackinaw, one thing I think that it lacks is a decent hotel. The last time we visited, we stayed in the Holiday Inn Express. We thought the Holiday Inn Express was overpriced and unclean, so I searched for different lodging for this trip. We have also stayed in the Hamilton Inn Select and the Ramada Inn when it was in a different location many years ago.

Some of the locations I researched before this trip were: Best Western Plus Dockside Waterfront InnComfort InnHamilton Inn SelectRamada InnBridge Vista Beach, Cabins of MackinawBrigadoon Bed & Breakfast of Mackinaw City and Deer Head Inn. Over several days time, I read many reviews, researched properties on Facebook and google, had online conversations with some locations, and I made several telephone calls.

During my research, one thing became clear. Many, many guests who had made a reservation through the Mackinaw City Chamber of Tourism were unhappy. Part of the reason I am writing this post is to make future travelers aware of the potential for disaster when booking through the chamber of tourism. I consider the complaints that I read valid, because they are not specific to one hotel, and all of the complaints are the same in nature: staff members were rude, including the manager who was often not available; they did not have a reservation when they arrived, some guests had even called to confirm a few days prior and had produced a printed confirmation; they were sent to another [unacceptable or lower quality] hotel for the same cost; they were told that there was a water problem in the guestroom, this same story given at different properties; and/or they were given a different room type than they had booked.

Initially, I thought that the Chamber of Tourism site must not be the official booking site for hotels in Mackinaw City, because I did not expect an official site for a city to allow there to be so many unhappy travelers. That is not what I concluded at the end of my research, however. This is what I think is happening, and bear in mind that this is merely my conclusion.

I think that Mackinaw City wants to fill all of their hotels, no matter how this is accomplished. Therefore, the Chamber of Tourism site will accept a reservation at any hotel that the guest chooses for any room type, whether there is a room available or not. When a hotel becomes full, the hotels are not honoring reservations for guests who booked through the chamber site. They are giving some type of story about why the reservation is not being honored, such as, there is a water problem with the room, or the guest is told that they do not have their reservation. The guest is then either assigned a lower quality room than what he or she had booked for the same rate, or the guest is sent to a lower quality hotel for the same cost. [I plan to check this theory of overbooking rooms when it is peak season this summer by attempting to book a room on the chamber site at a hotel that is full.]

Some of these properties do not have their own website, so guests cannot reserve a room through them except for over the telephone. When I entered the web address for Cabins of Mackinaw and for Bridge Vista Beach, for example, I was not taken to a web page for either company; the browser goes to the chamber booking site, and neither property has their own website. This is very misleading, and I can understand why there are so many unhappy guests. A few of the properties, such as Ramada Inn and Comfort Inn, have their own website with the same rates as the chamber. I suggest booking a room through the hotel website, or directly with the property over the telephone to ensure having a guestroom when arriving.

We initially chose the Best Western, and made our reservation through the chamber site because the rate was $10 less before taxes. When I called Best Western (the Mackinaw City hotel and the corporate number), I was told that they could not match the chamber rate (even though BW has a low-rate guarantee, and I also filled out the claim form). It did not sound like booking through the chamber would be a problem, and I was told that my rewards number could be added to the reservation when we arrived. I still had an uneasy feeling, and I decided to call back about a week later and cancel that reservation, as I had read even more complaints about reservations made through the chamber of tourism site. The employee on the telephone at the Best Western provided excellent service and a cancellation number, so I thought everything was fine. We ended up staying at The Deer Head Inn, and at about 10:30 p.m. that night, I received a voice mail from the Best Western about my reservation. I returned the call the next morning, and the employee had no record of our cancelation! I did not have the cancelation number with me, and fortunately, the employee was professional about the situation, and did not try to charge us.

Before choosing Deer Head Inn, we had also considered Brigadoon Bed & Breakfast of Mackinaw City. We decided not to make an advance reservation at either place because of the cancelation policies, since the lake was still frozen in April. Brigadoon has a stiffer cancelation policy; $30 cancelation fee at any time, and there is no refund less than 10 days prior to the stay. Most of the reviews I read for Brigadoon Bed & Breakfast were great except for a couple of minor things. Some people said that the bed was not very comfortable, and that the pillows were hard. When I called there, I found out that they have one guestroom without a fireplace, even though all 8 rooms on the website have a fireplace listed. I assume that they have a 9th room without photos that is not described online. We went with the Deer Head Inn because the rate was less, and the reviews I read said that the beds were comfortable.

All four of the Mackinaw City locations we have stayed in have been similar. I am surprised that there is such a contrast in lodging pride and cleanliness between Mackinaw City and Mackinac Island. We have only stayed in one location on the island (that review will be published soon, too), although all of the properties on the island look like they are excellently cared for.