A man got stuck mid-air after trying to skip his hotel bill using telecom wires between two tall buildings in Panzhou, Guizhou China on Friday. He was later arrested by Guizhou China Police. Talk of how not to ‘zipline’ to skip a hotel bill. Ironically, it is the rich that frequently skip out on hotel bills. Recall Saudi princess Maha bint Mohammed bin Ahmad al-Sudairi, who over the years has tried to skip out on a combined $27 million in bills at hotels and clothing stores.
The Princess made a habit of shopping at Paris’ most expensive boutiques and leaving without paying. She spent $20 million at various stores and upon exiting would have an assistant give the shop employees a note that read “Payment to follow.” She got away with it for so long because she typically settled her bills, but when the money stopped coming, shop owners camped outside where she was staying in hopes to receive payment.
Princess Maha tried the same stunt at Paris’ extravagant Shangri-La Hotel. She had ran up a $7 million tab after staying in 41 rooms for five months. The Princess tried to escape the hotel with an entourage of 60 people deep at 3:30 a.m. She was only allowed to leave after the hotel got French diplomats involved.
Eventually, the shops and hotels were repaid after two of the Princess’ storage units, which clothes, jewelry, artwork, and roughly 1,000 pairs of shoes, were seized and auctioned off. Other bills may have been finally settled by the Saudi royal family, who probably wanted to avoid a huge scandal.
Maybe next time the Princess will learn from the Prince of Morocco, who back in 2013 went on a lavish shopping spree without ever leaving the comfort of his palace. At least that way she can avoid being confronted in the hotel lobby, or leaving sketchy I.O.U notes.
What can a hotel do if you are unable/unwilling to pay and you reside in the country of interest?
Withholding a passport would not make much sense, most local guests might not even have one. Your nationality or country of residence, whichever they might be, do not entitle you to uniform treatment all over the world, it’s the authorities of the country you happen to be in that you have to deal with first. The international aspect can complicates things down the line and might seem to be a big difference but, as often, the local laws are the most important thing. The fact that you are a foreigner with a passport will only enter the equation to the extent that these laws provide.
If you take France as an example, what they can do is “not very much”. Basically the hotel can call the police, which might initiate a procedure if they suspect you arranged to be unable to pay intentionally. Technically, continuing to “consume” the service after realizing you will not be able to pay would count as intent, refusing to provide your name and address probably as well. There is a special criminal offense called “grivèlerie” for these situations but it’s only a “délit” and I would be surprised if the police goes to the trouble of arresting you or getting a judge to force you to surrender your passport so at the end of the day they will mostly ascertain your identity and send you on your way. It’s basically analogous to petty theft.
Photo: How not to ‘zipline’ to skip a hotel bill. Man caught mid air
In any case, you still owe a debt to the hotel of course and how they can recover it will depend on the laws of the various countries involved. In France, there is actually little they can do, even “aggressive” non-coercive tactics used in other European countries like calling repeatedly are off-limits. The only way is to go through the civil court system and then get someone called an “huissier” to seize some of your property, which is probably too costly for a hotel bill (even companies that have to deal with these sort of things regularly like internet providers or utilities mostly disconnect people and then forget about their debt, so complicated is the system).
But if the country you reside in allows it, the hotel might also choose to contact a local debt collector. Here again, it’s the laws of the country you are in that matter the most. So if you live in a country where debt collector are allowed, say, to just show up at your home and grab stuff, your nationality will not generally be of any help. In some countries, debt collectors will also look for you if your address is not current and charge you for the pleasure or make sure you get a bad credit rating. That’s what I would be most worried about.
In light of all that, what they will and can do in most cases, is simply ask for an address to send the bill to.