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How Forenom Koto Left Me Out in the Cold…Literally

My entire trip to Lapland was fantastic. All of my plans seemed to go exactly as I expected; there were no late buses, very few hotel issues, and all of my activities were just as good (and often better) than they had sounded on paper. Then I tempted fate and mentioned this to a friend on Twitter. Sure enough, as soon as I arrived in Helsinki on my trip home, things started to go pear-shaped.

I landed around 10.15pm. A bit late for some hotels, but usually not for airport hotels, which should expect travelers to be moving in and out at any time.

First of all, I got in a cab, feeling exhausted after a month of constant movement, and asked to go to Forenom Koto, the hotel I had pre-booked because it was new, budget, and all I needed for a quick overnight stop in Helsinki. The cabbie had no idea where it was, and seemed confused even when I showed him the address. I figured he hadn’t heard of the hotel since it had opened last month and tried not to let it faze me, even when he drove right past it and I had to direct him back.

When I arrived in front of Forenom Koto, I was greeted by a pin pad and a few people outside for a smoke. I stared at the pin pad blankly, wondering what in the world my code could be. Checking my email, I found that Booking.com had mentioned in their confirmation notice that a code would be text messaged to me on the day. I was frustrated with myself for not having checked this earlier, but I also expected that if I needed extra information, the hotel would have emailed it to me immediately as CitySleep in Luleå had.

In any case, when I did switch my Australian SIM card back into my phone, there were no messages from Forenom Koto at all.

One of the people having a smoke mentioned that I should call the phone number on the door (since there was no reception at any time of day) if I didn’t have a PIN code and that management should get it sorted out. Fortunately, she was willing to lend me her phone, since my Swedish SIM card had stubbornly refused to let me call Finnish numbers for my entire trip.

Helsinki from the Sky

I didn't take any photos while I was there because I was so frustrated, but this is what they left me out in by not letting me into the hotel for the night.

I suppose it was lucky that the manager that answered spoke good English, but that’s about the only fortunate thing about our exchange.

First he asked me if I had a reservation. Yes, I told him, I had a confirmation from Booking.com that I had made the reservation over a month ago. Reciting the confirmation number to him, I waited for him to say, “Yes, we do have your reservation. Here’s your PIN code.”

Instead, he said, “We don’t have a reservation for you. Did you get a confirmation email?”

I told him again that I had a confirmation, which he completely dismissed as being something that Booking.com sends automatically without checking if the reservation was valid. “There must have been a problem with your credit card,” he said, trying to deflect the blame onto me.

I told him that I had made many other bookings on Booking.com for my last month of travel and not one had any issue with my credit card. And anyway, if there had been a problem, shouldn’t they have emailed to let me know my booking was no longer confirmed? He continued to make excuses about me not having verified that I had a booking and then went quiet as he said he was looking up details in the system.

Finally, he said that since no reservation had been made for me, there was nothing he could do. It was “too late at night to make a new reservation” as well. Extremely frustrated by now, I asked him if he expected me to sleep on the floor when I had a valid, confirmed reservation. The answer? Yes.

I then informed him that I was a travel writer and that I would be writing about this. Oh, how that changed his tune. Suddenly, he could call his supervisor and see if there was anything that could be done. However, he said that the supervisor might not be able to do anything, and when I asked how long it would take, he couldn’t say.

I was completely fed up by that point. I had less than 8 hours before I had to be back in the  terminal, I had a blazing headache, and I was exhausted. I didn’t know if I could face a night of restless sleep on the uncomfortable chairs in the terminal, which was really the only option in my budget, especially given everything outside was covered in snow and the temperature was below zero. Plus, it absolutely infuriated me that he wasn’t willing to help at all until he realised that other people might find out.

So instead of agreeing to wait and twiddle my thumbs while he “tried” to help, I asked for a taxi number. He didn’t want to give it to me, instead insisting that he could talk to his supervisor. I again asked him how long it would take, and when he couldn’t answer, I insisted on him giving me a phone number for a taxi. And with that, I hung up, called a taxi, and booked into the airport hotel (a Hilton). It was expensive — way over my budget and double what Forenom Koto would have cost — but at that point, it was worth it. I really needed a plush bed to sink into…and one that I could be guaranteed to have once I made the booking.

It appears that this wasn’t an isolated incident either. The person that lent me her phone said that she had similar issue getting a PIN code after having booked on Booking.com, although they at least had a booking for her. She said it took multiple phone calls and a lot of hassle — something that many travelers wouldn’t be able to do since they may not have a working international phone.

There’s clearly a disconnect in communication between the two companies, but I am laying the blame completely at Forenom Koto’s feet, not for not having my booking in their system, but for refusing to honour a confirmed booking, refusing to help until I threatened consequences, and for leaving me out in the cold of a Helsinki winter.

UPDATE: Forenom Koto got in touch with me after I posted this and apologised for the experience I had. They will be having a meeting with the board of managers to discuss better ways to handle when issues like this arise after hours (such as deferring payment, if that was the issue, until the morning), and will also be working on possible solutions for people that do not have access to a phone when they arrive. They also acknowledged that there is an issue with the disconnect between them and Booking.com and that they are trying to address it. In general, they seemed genuinely concerned that this had happened and spent a long time discussing what needs to be changed. I’m hoping this means that future travellers won’t find themselves in the situation I was in!

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