News for the Hospitality Executive
|By Joseph Barrios, The Arizona Daily Star, Tucson
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Dec. 9, 2003 - The Better Business Bureau of Southern Arizona is urging people to be "extraordinarily wary" of an ad in last Wednesday's Arizona Daily Star offering special rates at Holiday Inn hotels across the country.
A spokeswoman for Holiday Inn Hotels said she's also concerned about the ad, and the Arizona Attorney General's Office is looking into the matter.
The man who placed the ad said it was a legitimate offer, although he said his company "crossed the line" in implying it had local BBB membership.
The ad, which ran on page A7 of Wednesday's Star, offers the "Perfect Christmas Gift" of special rates at "over 2000 Holiday Inn hotel locations" across the country. The ad, which does not include a company name, states, "Since 1971, Loyal member of the Better Business Bureau."
Holiday Inn Hotels and Resorts is offering no such special rates, said Virginia Bush, a spokeswoman in Atlanta. She said she's concerned about the ad and curious because Holiday Inn has only about 1,100 locations in the United States.
The ad indicates the offers can be used "anytime in 2004 or 2005" with no restrictions on dates or days of the week.
"It wouldn't happen that way. We would never do something like that," Bush said. "We always promote our promotions on our Web site. Promotions like this usually have a time frame attached to them."
Tom Collier, president of the Better Business Bureau of Southern Arizona, said he called the number in the ad, heard a recording with a company name and couldn't find a record of its membership in any Better Business Bureau.
The local BBB Web site warns consumers that the advertisement may involve one of three things: "flat-out theft of the $18 or $69 'deposit,' capture of personal information that could lead to identity theft, or the toll-free number could be a 'phone snare.' "
A site says a phone snare is a way for companies to sidestep the national Do Not Call registry because callers forfeit the ability to block telemarketing calls from that company.
The Attorney General's Office is looking into the Better Business Bureau's concerns, said Noreen Matts, an assistant attorney general.
The ad that ran in the Star was prepaid, said Nancy Greene, a sales manager with Tucson's Newspapers, the business agent for the Star and the Tucson Citizen.
Tucson's Newspapers usually screens advertisements so that they have a company name and other contact information before they are placed in the paper. This ad "just fell through the cracks," Greene said.
"We certainly don't want to run advertising that is false or incorrect or confusing to the reader or potentially could be a scam. This was a training issue and we've corrected that," Greene said.
Greene said the ad was placed by Thomas Hanson. Reached at the toll-free number by a reporter, Hanson described himself as a customer service manager and said concerns about the ad were "blown out of proportion." He said he works for SFS International, located in Sacramento, Calif.
Web sites for California's secretary of state and the Arizona Corporation Commission list no company under that name.
Hanson said SFS International's parent company is a member of the Better Business Bureau and that "we have 13 offices nationwide." Hanson refused to name SFS's parent company or the cities where they are BBB members.
"For the record, we made a mistake, we should not have put that we're a member of the Better Business Bureau because that's misleading," he said.
There were some errors in the advertisement, Hanson said. He said the packages are also good at other hotel chains.
Hanson said the "program," which had about 240 slots available, is sold out.
When the ad ran, Hanson said, roughly 240 packages were left, costing $99 for two nights or $349 for a week. The majority of packages, about 190, were purchased by previous customers on a mailing list, he said. Fourteen people from the Tucson area purchased the packages and SFS employees bought the rest.
The BBB's Collier said he obtained a mailing address for the company in Glendale, Ariz. He was unable to verify the address through several means.
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(c) 2003, The Arizona Daily Star. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News. IHG,