Hotel at center of KXAN price gouging investigation loses franchise

Best Western Plus - Tropic Inn in Robstown. (KXAN Photo/Wes Rapaport)
Best Western Plus - Tropic Inn in Robstown. (KXAN Photo/Wes Rapaport)

AUSTIN (KXAN) – The owners of the Robstown Best Western Plus will soon be taking down the hotel chain’s signage, one day after a KXAN investigation exposed 40 instances of price gouging at the hotel the day after Hurricane Harvey slammed the coast.

The hotel chain’s public relations manager, Courtney McCurry, told KXAN though email Tuesday, the company is parting ways with the Robstown Best Western Plus – Tropic Inn.

“Best Western was founded on the principles of honesty, integrity, compassion, and service. We are deeply offended and saddened by the actions taken by this hotel. As a result, we are immediately severing any affiliation with the hotel. This hotel’s actions are contrary to the values of Best Western. We do not tolerate this type of egregious and unethical behavior,” McCurry wrote in the statement.

The Texas Attorney General’s Office opened an investigation into possible price gouging at the hotel after KXAN delivered an invoice to AG Ken Paxton following an interview Sunday afternoon. Within three hours, the Civil Litigation Unit had confirmed 40 cases of price gouging at the hotel. The hotel agreed to refund charges above its $149 normal average room rate to 40 total customers.

The AG’s office delivered a subpoena to the hotel Monday morning, demanding records as part of an official price gouging investigation.

When a KXAN crew booked a room at the Best Western Plus in Robstown, a small town 20 miles west of Corpus Christi, an internet showed each room rate for a two queen bed priced between $120 and $149 a night. But, when it came time to book the room at the hotel’s counter, the bill came totaled $321.89.

A few minutes of questioning ensued about why the price nearly tripled. In a video recorded conversation, the clerk admits the $289 room rates are not what the hotel normally charges. The clerk later confirmed room rates were normally around $119 a night, but could not explain the nearly doubling of the room rate the weekend Harvey hit the Texas coast.

The hotel also assessed $31.90 in state and local taxes. The day before, Gov. Greg Abbott announced a proclamation, suspended all tax collections on hotel and motel occupancy taxes from the “victims of Hurricane Harvey or personnel participating in relief operations.”

The AG’s office fears this example could be just one example of potentially hundreds of price gouging cases related to Harvey’s path of destruction.

The Attorney General’s Office’s (800) 252-8011 complaint line and the agency’s online complaint unit’s already fielded more than 350 price gouging complaints since Hurricane Harvey’s Texas impact. The main thing the AG’s office needs when the public reports a suspected price gouging event is proof.

“If you see it happening, take a photograph. Use your cell phone. That’s one of the things of this storm that’s different, is the social media effect and the information we get,” Deputy Attorney General Jim Davis said. The office is searching social media postings for price gouging allegations and putting agents on the ground to investigate. AG’s office could decide to file a lawsuit against the business for violations of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act.

The AG’s office could decide to file a lawsuit against the business for violations of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act. Penalties for violating the act run up to $20,000 for each offense and up to $250,000 if the victim is 65 years old or older. The stage agency is continuing to investigate this case, but has not made a decision on whether penalties might come later.

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