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Dirty once, dirty twice, hotel deals with ratings damage; Owner in Lancaster is on the defensive

What's worse than having an Internet travel site rank your hotel one of the country's 10 dirtiest establishments?

Having a national business site revisit the same rankings six months later.

It's a double dose of bad publicity that has left Rashmikant Patel, owner of the Rodeway Inn in Lancaster, cleaning up the mess.

"We try to keep it tidy. It's not a Ritz-Carlton. It's not a Marriott. Don't expect that," Patel said in an interview Friday.

Patel's Rodeway Inn came in at No. 7 on the TripAdvisor rating of the 10 dirtiest hotels in the country, a ranking based on traveler reviews posted on the site in 2010.

Guests who reviewed the hotel on TripAdvisor complained about conditions such as dirty sheets, flaking paint in bathtubs and mold on the walls in the rooms. Photos amplified several of the reviews.

"We got our room and it seemed somewhat run down but OK for two nights. My wife and I went to bed and I woke up to a scream. My wife's night table was covered in ants," one traveler wrote in a Dec. 10 review titled "Not fit for pigs."

Patel said he believes that the online comments came from a small percentage of his guests, but that after the ratings came out, he ordered more training for his cleaning crews and pumped more money into maintenance.

Now the Forbes website posted a follow-up story on the TripAdvisor hotel rankings last week, and Patel is worried that the second wave of bad publicity will hurt his business again.

"I feel frustrated," said Patel, a native of western India.

TripAdvisor carries reviews of thousands of hotels, restaurants, attractions and other venues of interest to travelers.

In January, the site released its annual listing of dirtiest hotels, and Lancaster's Rodeway Inn came in at No. 7, with 84 percent of reviewers declining to recommend it.

"The hotel refused to listen to my concerns and request for a refund as did the website. The conditions of this hotel were unreasonable and totally unprofessional," a reviewer wrote after a September 2010 stay at the Rodeway Inn, a 120-room, two-story hotel on Freeman Road, off Transit Road.

Patel owns the franchise for one of several area Rodeway Inns. The brand is owned by Choice Hotels International, which did not return a message Friday seeking comment.

The Lancaster hotel draws a number of Canadian travelers and shoppers because of its proximity to the airport and Eastern Hills Mall.

It boasts an indoor pool, free wireless Internet and a continental breakfast for its guests.

"I am an economy hotel: clean, comfortable rooms at reasonable rates," Patel said.

Patel, formerly the general manager of the Ramada Inn in Niagara Falls, bought the hotel in April 2009.

After the rankings came out, Patel said he received a number of calls from regular customers offering encouragement.

He said he believes that he lost some business after release of the TripAdvisor list, and he spent time on the phone reassuring prospective guests. "I said, 'Come in here. If you see anything you don't like, we'll cancel your reservation,' " Patel said.

The hotel averages 20,000 booked room nights per year, said Patel, who contends that the 17 TripAdvisor reviews from 2010 aren't a representative sample of guest experiences.

"It's people's opinions out there," Patel said.

The 87 ratings that were posted on TripAdvisor as of Friday included 72 that were "terrible" or "poor" and just seven that were "excellent" or "very good."

Of the eight reviews posted since Jan. 1, four were "average" -- "We will return" -- and only one was "terrible," with the headline "Flea-bag motel."

On Expedia, the Rodeway Inn gets an average of 2.4 out of five stars. Travelocity assigns the hotel a one-star score on its scale of five, and guest reviewers give it an average of two out of five smiley faces.

"[One-star] hotels meet the basic needs of comfort and convenience of travelers who are aware of their budget," Travelocity writes.

Patel isn't thrilled that Forbes is now revisiting the ranking.

He invited a reporter to his hotel Friday and offered to let him into any unoccupied room of the reporter's choosing.

An examination of two rooms revealed some stains on the carpets, one tub with flaking paint, a scuffed wall and refrigerator door, and a comforter and blanket set with small stains.

Guest Maggie Fisher said she read the negative TripAdvisor reviews but opted to book a room at the Rodeway Inn after reading other, positive ratings.

She and her husband, Danny, are in town from Morgantown, W.Va., to attend a friend's wedding. They wanted a low-cost hotel that had a pool and was close to Samuel's Grande Manor, where the wedding and reception were held.

"Our room is fine," Maggie Fisher said. "It's very clean -- better than I expected."


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