Sorry, this bed’s taken

The scenario – a booking is made, several weeks in advance, for a particularly busy time of the year, when the hostel is likely to be full. The backpacker arrives at 7pm that evening, and presents your e-mail which confirms the booking.

The problem – because the backpacker had not arrived by 6pm, you have given the bed to someone else. You tell the backpacker that, unfortunately, ‘there is no room at the inn’. The backpacker makes all kinds of threats, and refuses your offer to sleep in the kitchen!
The legal position – the hostel is within its rights to refuse accommodation for a variety of reasons, particularly behavioural concerns such as offensive or abusive conduct, drunkenness and substance abuse.
Arriving late may be a good reason to refuse accommodation, but it needs to be introduced as a condition in the booking process, if it is to be available for use.
How is it best introduced? The arrival time must appear on the website page which contains the booking details or booking form. Something like ‘your booking will be valid only if you present yourself by no later than 6pm on the day’ should appear on the website page and on the e-mail confirmation.
Is there any other way? Yes, if the confirmation is given by SMS, the message should state ‘subject to our booking conditions’.
What about a sign at the hostel desk or a note on the booking form signed on arrival? No, because by law, the contract was concluded when the booking was accepted, and a hostel cannot introduce a new condition such as an arrival time after the fact.

Australian travel and tourism lawyer Anthony Cordato contributes a regular column to Backpacker Trade News. Got a question for Anthony? Email or visit

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