MILWAUKEE -- They booked reservations at local hotels. When they arrived, they were turned away. The reason is where they live.
Mary Schwabe of Racine was planning a staycation for her family.
"We decided to take our grandkids during the Christmas holiday to a hotel," Schwabe recalled. "I found this Comfort Suites, which had a splash pad, which for a one, three and four-year-old, that is like, perfect."
Less than a week after booking, she got a call from the hotel, which is near the Milwaukee airport.
"She told me she was canceling my reservation. There was just no way around it," Schwabe said.
Turns out, the hotel has a policy that its guests either be a business traveler or live more than 30 miles away.
"They told me they had issues with people coming to stay in the area -- not taking care of the facility, damaging things and stuff," Schwabe said.
The Wisco Hotel Group tells FOX6's Contact 6 before this policy it had "major problems with local guests using/misusing our hotels…for local parties and events." It went on to say "rooms become overcrowded" and "there was extensive noise" and "littering."
"I just wanted the dang splash pad. That's all I wanted," Schwabe said.
Schwabe was told had she booked directly through the hotel -- instead of a third party -- her reservation would have been rejected.
"So, I tried it," Schwabe said.
Again, she says the reservation was accepted and this time there was no call to cancel.
When she arrived at the hotel, it was a no-go.
The family was directed to a nearby hotel. It did have a pool for the kids, but no splash pad.
"Discrimination is a big word, and I don't really like to throw it around, but I feel like I'm discriminated against because someone else did this kind of stuff," Schwabe said.
In response, Wisco Hotel Group says, "simply stated, no."
Nyoka Green of Milwaukee said she booked rooms at the Holiday Inn near the airport for her step-daughter's Sweet 16 party.
When they showed up, she was turned away.
"I'm just standing there crying," Green recalled. "Now, I have an ice cream cake melting. I have all this food. Four kids that are actually right here and one walked in through the door."
Green says she was told the hotel doesn't accept reservations from her zip code or anywhere within 30 miles.
"I was more so offended because this particular zip code there are a lot of African-Americans in, and I was kinda like, is this, I didn't know where to go at that moment. Is this a racial thing, or is this just, I didn't know what to think," Green said.
The family was able to eventually book rooms at a hotel nearby. The party started more than three hours late.
"We tried to salvage what was left of the cake, it didn't happen. We just had to toss it. We just basically tried to make the best of a really bad situation," Green said.
The Hotel Group says it does its best to cancel these reservations in advance. It apologized for any inconvenience and says other hotels in Milwaukee have the same policy.
The Wisconsin Hotel and Lodging Association tells Contact 6 "it is the right and expectation of the lodging property to take steps necessary to protect their customers and their property."
It says "excessive noise, exceeding the legal occupancy limits of rooms, violating the laws… are examples of when a property will naturally wish to protect themselves and their guests."
Both families tell Contact 6 they did receive full refunds for their reservations.
Here is the full explanation from Clint Wills, Regional Vice President for the Wisco Hotel Group:
“This policy was borne out of our determination to focus on the business traveler or those guests who reside outside the area, at least outside the 30-mile radius, who usually come into the area from out of state via plane and automobile and stay a day or two at the hotels. Before having this policy, our hotels were experiencing major problems with local guests using/misusing our hotels beyond their intended use – for local parties and events. We experienced guests sneaking friends and/or family members into their rooms and our pool area for parties. Our guest rooms became overcrowded beyond the maximum capacities of those rooms, there was extensive noise in the guest rooms, hallways, and breakfast area, we found excessive littering in the hotels and parking lots – all which generated complaints from our other guests who stayed at the hotels, increased our housekeeping needs, sometimes requiring security and even police intervention. We tried many different things to correct this; but found that once a room was rented, we had very little control over what our guests did and how they conducted themselves while on property. We determined that the vast majority of these issues were initiated by guests who lived within a 30-mile radius of the hotels and, thus, created our policy.
“Both the persons who complained to you posit the question as to whether this policy constitutes wrongful discriminations because they “do not live within the 30-miles area.” Simply stated, no. As a public accommodation, our hotels fully comply with Wisconsin’s Public Accommodations law. This law provides no such restriction and our policy is uniformly applied to all guests. Thus, implemented on a non-discriminatory basis as it relates to the Public Accommodation Statute.
As to our policy, we have done our best to notify persons who seek to reserve rooms at our hotels our 30-mile radius policy. Our policy is usually stated on almost all websites, including the one Ms. Green used, hotels.com., for her reservations under the “policies” section of the website. In hotels.com, the policy is located under the section “At a Glance” and “see small print or additional details or extra charges.” When a reservation is made, if the address falls within the 30-mile radius, we try to contact the person, advise them of the policy, and cancel the reservation. If no address is provided and a phone number is provided, we try to call them and ask their address. If it falls within the 30-mile radius, we advise them of our policy and cancel the reservation. We do the best we can and to those who we cannot reach before they actually come to the hotels, we notify them of our policy and try to relocate them to another comparable hotel, usually the one across the street.”