When Your Tour Guide Hasn’t Slept For 24 Hours — What Would You Do?

Filed Under: Travel

I intentionally waited a while to post this, because I didn’t want to get the person in trouble, and also wasn’t sure how to handle this. But I’m certainly curious to know how you guys would have handled this.

A while ago I was in a city and arranged a full day private tour through the hotel, as I often do when I’m in a city for the first time and have a limited amount of time to see things. I was told a certain price for the tour, which seemed high for the market, but I was told it included a driver and a guide. I could have probably gotten a better deal if I had arranged it directly with a tour company, but in this case it wasn’t worth the effort, I thought.

Fast forward to the morning of the tour. I’m in the lobby at 9AM, and the “guide” shows up at 9:05AM. I didn’t think much of him being a few minutes late.

About 20 minutes after we start driving to our first destination he says “you recognize me?”


“I work at the hotel, I just finished the night shift! Sorry I was a few minutes late, the person from the next shift was running late.”

Let me start by saying that I’m generally terrified of driving, and I’d like to think it’s a realistic fear, since it’s the most dangerous thing we do on a day-to-day basis. So when I’m paying for a service that involves driving, all I ask is that a driver is well rested and that the car is well maintained (which certainly wasn’t the case when I took Uber in Moscow).

Long story short, the guy giving me a tour had worked the night shift at this hotel from 10PM until 9AM, was supposed to give me a tour from 9AM until 6PM, and then was working another night shift that night from 10PM until the following morning.

He hadn’t worked a night shift two nights prior, and he explained he got up the previous morning at 9AM. So he had been up for 24 hours, was supposed to give me a nine hour tour, and then four hours later was supposed to be at work for another 10 hour shift.

On top of that, there wasn’t a driver and guide as promised, but rather he was both, and his car was really beat up and rattled constantly.

So I’m conflicted, because he was the nicest guy imaginable. He gave me incredible insights into the place, was so genuine, explained how he was saving money, etc. It also appeared like giving the tour wasn’t his idea, but rather he was asked by the hotel.

At the same time, he yawned constantly, a couple of times while driving me he wasn’t paying attention to the road (I had to say “watch out” or he would have hit something), etc. I can’t say how much of that is linked to him not sleeping, though to me it’s utterly reckless for an international hotel chain to assign a guest a tour guide who they know hasn’t slept for 24 hours, and who is expected to work yet another shift a few hours later. At the same time, this wasn’t a country with especially strict labor laws, based on my understanding.

In the end I paid the full price (even though I didn’t get both a driver and guide, and even though the car was in terrible condition), because I really liked the guy.

At the same time, I feel like allowing this was incredibly negligent on the hotel’s part. The problem is that I feared reporting this to the general manager would have caused the guy to get in trouble, even if it wasn’t his fault. They set me up with someone who clearly wasn’t well rested enough to do a job safely, and I also didn’t get what I was promised.

So what would you have done? Would you have said nothing, negotiated the price, asked to turn around the second you found out the “guide” also just worked an overnight shift, or…?

(Note: Despite the cover photo, this didn’t happen in Hong Kong, it just seemed like a pretty picture to use)

  1. invasive procedures and complex surgeries are often performed by operators who have not had adequate sleep in the prior 12, 24, 36, 48 hours…

  2. Tricky situation.

    I probably would’ve went back to the hotel and ask for both a driver and a tour guide (two separate people) as I was promised.

    If the hotel gets another person, at least the one who hasn’t slept would be able to offload some of his work.

    If the hotel doesn’t or can’t, then I would politely cancel the tour and find someone else myself.

  3. You should say something.

    There are really two issues:

    1. You didn’t get a car and a driver, though you were promised both and paid for both
    2. The hotel put the guide in a very bad position by having him take you around

    For #1, you can ask for a refund, or if you’re honestly not looking for a refund, tell them so, and emphasize the fact that this isn’t about the money, but it’s about the hotel setting expectations and not meeting them, when this was within their control.

    For #2, you can make the point that the guide’s lack of rest, causing alertness and therefore safety issues, created danger for the guide as well as to a guest – which is, again, fully within the property’s control. This takes the focus off the guide to a large degree, and shines a spotlight on the questionable judgment of the hotel.

    You run the risk that the guide really wanted to do this for the extra money, which may cause him problems, but I don’t think you should say nothing.

  4. @aki

    That’s only true for absolute emergencies that can’t wait.

    Elective surgeries usually get cancelled if the surgeon had been up all night operating and is deemed unsafe, and if the patient’s condition allows for a delay. Another solution sometimes is finding another surgeon to replace the tired one.

  5. I would have stopped the tour and asked to return to the hotel. Allowing someone in this state to jeopardize your life, his life and anyone else on the road is inexcusable. He made the decision to work 2 jobs and put you and others in harms way.

    I’m compassionate for the repurussions of what would happen if his hotel employer found out and the risk to that job. But I’m more compassionate for the innocents and their families that would have to live with the consequences of his actions for the rest of their lives if something happened.

  6. Maybe I’m too nice in this kind of situation, but I probably would’ve told the guy to get some rest and meet me a couple hours later cutting the tour down to maybe half a day. I can see your concern that complaining to the hotel in such a situation would ony result in trouble for him.

  7. My first concern would have been my own safety and the safety of the guide/driver and would have asked him to bring me back to the hotel immediately. As far as the trouble he would have potentially gotten into, might have been a small price to pay in order to protect future guests from the same situation.

  8. 1.) You started the “tour” knowing that you were only getting a combo driver/guide. You should have said something at the beginning if this was not acceptable, but apparently it was as you did not.

    2.) You started the tour knowing you were getting inside a POS car (or did it look ok and just sounded/rattled like a POS. Again, you could have said something that it was not acceptable, but apparently it was as you did not.

    3.) The driver/guide was up 24 hours straight and this may or may not have led to a semi-unsatisfactory performance (he may have had the same issues if he slept 2 days straight. Even I yawn after epic sleeping sessions!) As well, you could have said something if this was not acceptable, but apparently it was as you did not.

    4.) You fully consumed/utilized what was presented to you despite the fact it did not fully represent what you contracted for. In a way, because you did not say something if it was not acceptable, you (not legally but in some sort of principal kind of way) accepted a modified contract by “consuming” the modified product that was presented when you knew it was modified from the outset.

    It’s not like half way through the tour you found out that you didn’t have a driver AND a guide, or just found out that you were taking a tour riding in a POS. You were presented with something different than what you were expecting and contracted for, yet you still went along with it. ( I guess there could be a small argument like you were under duress as maybe you wouldn’t be able to arrange another tour or time was of the essence, but I don’t think that is the case here)

    So can you complain…. yes. But if you aren’t looking for an “adjustment” (as a refund is not warranted since you were given the whole “modified” product), then what is the point. First the hotel is going to say why didn’t you pipe up when you noticed the discrepancies. And lastly they will be like (but not t your face), no sh*t you only got a combo guide/driver, in a POS car, and a guide has been up all week, as that’s what we do here, but we just don’t tell you that in advance. If the hotel was contracting with an outside vendor, then a complaint would be warranted, but if the hotel sets this up themselves, you complaining is going to change their mode of operation.

    And lastly, as you said the only real outcome of your complaining other than a possible adjustment would be for the guide to get crap from his boss since you aren’t telling the hotel anything they didn’t already know, since they arranged it for you.

    I guess the moral of the story is to not be so passive aggressive 😉
    Of course I’ll give you that you are probably more like 3rd world passive aggressive, as I am sure if this happened in the states you’d have raised hell!


  9. I would have given him the full cash cost do the tour as a tip, whilst writing a full complaint to the operator demanding a full refund for the beat up car BUT not critiquing the tour guide…

  10. Sounds like a real low level operation at your hotel by any measure. I would have terminated the tour and returned to the hotel and asked for a refund. I sometimes hire a private driver for “touring” cities in Europe. Usually I get young college guys who take me to restaurants only locals use and other unique sites that professional guides would ignore along with all the important places, stopping for photos, food, etc. They’re not actually tour guides but drivers. It’s a different approach but I like it.

  11. This really comes with the territory as to which country you are in. I know in Thailand or other Southeast Asia countries tours and/or private drivers quality is very inconsistent. If this is a corporate hotel chain, I would complain to corporate instead of the GM at the particular hotel. The GM would probably fire the driver outright without changing their shift policy at all.

  12. you have written many articles about HK, so why is this your FIRST time??? why do you need a guide?

  13. I would have driven the car myself and let the guide sleeping in the back seat 😉 Then would have done the same thing as @Von Schmallhausen suggests.

    By being silent and not giving feedback to the hotel about the fatigue guide, the car, the missing driver, the system remains the same; until either one of the next customers step up or an accident happens 🙁 i’m guessing whether this had happened in UB, during your recent Mongolian trip.

  14. I hope that at some point in time Ben will inform us as to what hotel performed this disservice. I suspect this all happened in Kazakhstan, as I have witnessed similar abuses in the region; i.e., a hotel demanding an employee to work a double shift or to perform tasks that were completely outside his normal duties and beyond his capabilities.

    I wouldn’t have said anything. I would have generously tipped the guy and thanked him for sacrificing his free time to give me an insider’s glimpse of the city.

  15. This is somewhat related but it happens to me pretty often in NYC (where I live) with Uber/Lyft or can drivers. Some of them have been on their shift for God knows how long (one of them was complaining to me that he started 14 hours prior…). Once my cab driver really looked like he was falling asleep and I just got off. Driving in NYC is scary enough.

  16. I would have tried getting a refund for the fact that there was just a driver guide not a driver and guide a step promised by the hotel and potentially said something about the car though i wouldn’t have mentioned the sleep as I wouldn’t want to get the nice guy fired

  17. Lol. Paid the guy for the service rendered and some tip for it. Refuse to pay via the hotel because it was not as promised. Do it at last day or at check out so they can’t throw you out. Stealing from a thief is not a crime.

  18. If you see something wrong, say something. It’s not just for your safety or his, it’s also for the others around you.

  19. How I would handle this depends on how much money the tour (or a comparable one) costs. If not too much (less than USD200) and I really liked the sleep-deprived tour guide/driver and I don’t want to jeopardize his/her job, I would pay the guide/driver, tell him/her to go home and sleep, and book another tour for myself.

    But if it was a specialized and high-cost tour, I would ask for another driver/guide (and make it as clear as possible to management that I did NOT blame the driver/guide).

    Either way, I wouldn’t feel comfortable going forward with the tour.

  20. Your fiancé has access to all Virtuoso On-sites — typically NET is much better/cheaper than hotels

  21. You should NOT proceed with the “tour” once you realized the “tour” the hotel sold you did not as promised – not a guide and a driver – plus the guy while very nice, was not really a tour guide and the car used sounded not being a car used in a “tour” business.

    I am sorry to say you have done the WRONG thing in this situation.

    When you turn down the service because it is not what is promised, I dont think it would cost any trouble to the guy who seems being told to do this – but if the guest does not like being cheated, what would the hotel could do?

    I hope this is not happened in Hong Kong given you use the picture of Hong Kong as the background of the city. You have been in Hong Kong so many times I seriously doubt you would need a private tour in that city.

    But why would you not reveal the city and the hotel?

  22. I agree with @David’s suggestion. Finding a different excuse to talk to the hotel (in this situation—-ask for a driver) so that your guide won’t get in trouble.

  23. Lucky I see your dilemma, and while I understand why you can’t provide the location, without that context it is hard to judge (e.g. was this a first world country where the vehicle was obviously substandard or a developing country where beaten up cars may be the norm?).

    Having said that, I personally would have halted the tour at the time. If not when the car and the lack of guide failed your expectations, certainly when the driver made clear he had not slept. I have been in and seen too many car accidents to take chances like this.

    As for what action to take now, if it was a corporate chain can you contact a central customer service rep and bypass the local hotel manager? If this was an international chain it’s utterly unacceptable and I think you are obligated to say something to prevent others (hopefully) being put in the same situation.

  24. Why would you stay at a hotel you fear will retaliate against an employee simply for asking to honor the terms of a purchase? Doesn’t the manager deserve an opportunity to rectify the situation and show customer service skills and philosophy?

  25. If I’d paid for a guide AND a driver, I wouldn’t have started the tour without both. But, to be honest, I never would have gotten anything arranged through the hotel. The price will always be significantly higher than a privately arranged guide from a reputable local tour company. If this were a high end hotel I’d absolutely complain to corporate.

  26. OMAAT knowingly supports driving while fatigued, risking the lives of innocent people on the streets pass it on

  27. Sounds like Tunis to me….reminds me the movie with tom hanks, in KSA, ” a hologram for the king”…

  28. I wouldn’t do anything about it. You got your tour, the guide was a nice person and nothing bad happened. There are worse things happening in the world every second.

    Complaining now will only lead to trouble for the employee, especially if this was in a developing country with lax labor laws.

  29. One thing i would say is that I am not at all sure the hotel management created this situation. It just sounds too basic.
    If I had to guess this is an arrangement your guide/driver has with the concierge, without the hotels knowledge. If the hotel were to arrange something like this, at the very least they would arrange a nicer car and ensure the guy keeps his mouth shut. I have seen hotel employees do this a number of times before, and given their typical wage- I can’t blame them.
    Having said all that, I probably would have pretended to get a super urgent work SMS and ask to be taken back to the hotel. Then file it as one of those incidents you learn from and move on.

  30. Duty of care to report. If you look the other way and don’t report, the next poor person could get killed.

  31. Let it go. You did the tour, you liked it. Why complain? Some people are stronger than others and don’t need much sleep.

  32. The time to raise your beef with this “tour” was BEFORE getting into that car when it became clear to you that you had not gotten what you thought you’d paid for. You don’t order a vanilla ice cream, get a chocolate instead, eat the chocolate and then complain after the fact that you’d ordered a vanilla!

    Even discounting the above, I believe that you could have expressed your displeasure to the manager without getting your driver/guide in trouble. First, because the manager was without a doubt in on the scheme and, second, because you would have made it clear that the driver/guide was superb and your beef was not with him, but with the scheme itself.

    Lastly, I have taken a lot of tours through hotels where I have stayed overseas, most of which have usually been hotels on the high-end side, and I have never gotten anything that was not a well polished tour, none of which were run by the hotels themselves. The hotels simply served as front ends to real tour operating companies.

    It seems that from the start, you got a bad deal, and I am not even sure complaining would have amounted to much. They would have apologized and then turned around and conned the next guest…

  33. That’s a picture of the iconic Hong Kong Harbour. I hope it does not suggest that the incident occurred there because it would be so completely uncharacteristic of the proud business people of HK that I would be willing to bet that your “ordeal” had nothing to do with the hotel. You simply got conned by the concierge and your driver/guide, in which case regardless of how “nice” the driver/guide was it would have done a lot of good to alert the hotel manager, because your driver/guide would then be just a con man who would deserve whatever punishment he got if you exposed his con game.

  34. I’d have tipped the guy and then argued with the hotel for a discount. By paying the full price you didn’t really help the guy out – he didn’t get the money.

    I’d send an email to the hotel corporate chain so they can review policies for this kind of thing. You don’t need to mention the guy’s name to do this. I would expect the car to be a livery vehicle type standard hotel car and of course a well rested person.

  35. This is the time you said ” sorry I left my wallet or cell phone in my room, could you drive me back to the hotel. It won’t take long.” Then you went back to your room to call management to get refund or arrange other options.

  36. Your life shouldn’t be put at risk for going sight seeing. Tell the driver to go back to the hotel and get a refund.

  37. Off topic..news about Amex Business Platinum

    I got email last night of offer for 50,000 MR points..40,000 for $5,000 qualified spend and another 10,000 for another $5,000 in period July 15 – Oct 15.

    There is no enrollment required. This is awesome 8 MR points per $ spend on first $5,000

    Note,, Plastiq spend does not count as ‘qualified spend’ by AMEX as considered a cash equivalent. I discovered this on my Everyday preferred as they don’t count towards 30 charges per month. Although you still get MR points, but I don’t know about the 50% extra on those charges

  38. I can understand your paying the bill and not writing the GM as you didn’t want to cause any difficulty for the “guide.”

    However, I feel the ultimate responsibility here falls on the GM who is overseeing an operation, including a Concierge desk, that is not providing the services contracted. As others have said, I’d go higher up the corporate food chain here.

    If you booked this with points, contact someone in management at the hotel’s brand.

    If you book this through a TA (i.e., Ford), I’d have Ford make the contact.

  39. @Ben. Sounds to me like the tour was ‘off the books’. If I had been told the driver had been up in Access of 24 hours I would have terminated the tour at that instant. For you readers talking it up about the guide/driver only being up for 24 hours, it’s interesting to see that you are willing to accept less than 100% for your paid service. :p

  40. This 100% happened in the Middle East outside of Israel. Right?

    If yes: complain, but do so to a higher level than you’d normally go with. Any complaint directly to the hotel won’t do anything.

  41. @anonymous “I probably would’ve told the guy to get some rest and meet me a couple hours later cutting the tour down to maybe half a day.”

    Without being there to get a read on the situation, yeah, probably. When the guy shared that he’d been without sleep, he was opening a dialogue to allow for this. Certainly, I’ve had a guide pull over to the side of the road and get some sleep before. I don’t know that any guide has told me he was kept up overnight working, but a couple of them have shared they were having trouble sleeping because of economic concerns. Maybe more than a couple, now that I think about it. Maybe I have one of those faces where I look like I’ll understand.

  42. Now I re-read the write up, it dawned on me that the guy probably tried subtly informing you,
    1) He is NOT the tourist guide, but just an employee at the hotel.
    2) He just came off his night shift and was not really wanting to do this but he was told to do so…

    He was HOPING you would return to the hotel and take it up with the concierge. He did not want or could not say so outright.

    Yet for whatever reason the seemingly smart person like you, completely failed in this situation. Not only you just meekly accepted the poorly delivered “product”, but then instead of taking it up with the hotel later on, you wrote this blog and did not even have the courage to reveal the hotel – instead you use a picture of Hong Kong for this article which I dont believe has anything to do with what has happened.

    And you wrote it as if you did not say anything was all because you did not want to get the employee in trouble. To that I say it is a total BS from you. Had you not taken the “tour” from the beginning, NONE of this “dilemma” would ever happen.

    This is truly a very disappointing article from you.

  43. i believe you should have said something. I am a restaurant manager, and if i get a complaint, i tell the customer, thank you for letting me know, because i cant fix what i don’t know is broken

  44. I believe, that once you knew all the facts, lack of sleep, nodding off while driving, one person paid for two, you had a responsibility to suspend the tour, insist to be returned to the hotel, and alert management of a dangerous situation, they allowed to take place.
    What if, he had crashed and hurt someone other than you? How would have felt at that point, I would guess you would have felt responsible that you hadn’t acted before someone got hurt.
    Hindsight is 20/20 but so is forethought.
    [email protected]

  45. Ben,
    You received alot of very good advise. We certainly have had our share of tour experiences and as many have said, you gotta get it right from the start.

    A driver and guide promised, then take nothing less.
    A crummy vehicle, then back to the hotel for new one.

    We were just in Cappadocia Turkey and had a long distance trip. The hotel booked a taxi they know, assured us it was very good. Only on the highway could we know the engine was weak, bucking up hills, buses, trucks passing us, oil smell coming thru the vents. Really in the middle of mountains, not a good place to break down.
    We prayed and by the grace of God arrived.
    But we were very upset with the hotel and complained.

    Taking tours is like taking a boat trip to the ocean. Gotta make sure the boat radio is working (test it). Gotta make sure enough life preservers for everyone, and other safety equipment, flare gun. Got stuck with boat engine failure, radio failed, only 2 life preservers 10 miles out. Not a nice feeling.

    We cannot let tour operators or hotels slack off, as many readers up have said, safety first.

  46. I believe that you should have went back to the Hotel and immediately informed them that you paid for a driver and a tour guide . That way the guy wouldn’t have gotten into trouble . Also by not complaining you just allowed a scam to continue . Possibly the guy hinted and was hoping you go back to the hotel and complain yourself as he may have been forced to take you around or be fired . That’s just my thoughts BUT I would have went back to the Hotel and complained / demanded a refund . That way an ongoing scam could be stopped and someone else could be saved.

  47. Honestly, I think your first mistake here was arranging a tour through the hotel desk rather than taking 10 minutes to Google a reputable tour operator and calling them up instead. In most/many cities, you can even book such tours online through Tripadvisor or other such sites.

    As it happened, I probably would have just done the same as you, as I hate confrontation and would also be loathe to waste precious hours standing around complaining and fighting when I could be out touring the city.

    Unless it was clearly and explicitly stated that you were getting two people, a driver and guide, rather than a driver/guide, I don’t know that you have much of a leg to stand on in that regard. And honestly I’ve had plenty of good tour experiences with just one person who is both driver and guide, so I don’t know that I’d even have a preference for two people versus one. (That’s twice as many people to tip, anyway!)

  48. Hopefully it wasn’t the same hotel I had an issue with… mine fell asleep entirely at a train crossing and didn’t wake up when the cars behind us started honking. My friend and I had to repeatedly tap his shoulder and call his name to wake him from his slumber. He apologized profusely and asked us not to report it, and pulled over to get some energy drinks. Later he cut off another car and that driver got out (when we were stuck in traffic) and opened the driver’s door (not sure why it wasn’t locked) and dragged him out of the car and threw him into the hood. He was in the hotel uniform with cap and all and begged the other man not to do this in front of the hotel guests… and the guy eventually released him after yelling and pushing him around some more. I too felt awful that the hotel was overworking him and didn’t say anything, but booked a tour company instead of the hotel driver the next day….

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