A Whanganui mother who stayed in filthy accommodation festering with mould and grime is outraged after the motel's management refused to refund her $288 - but the motel is putting the blame back on its guests.
In a video shared to Facebook on Thursday, Karen Nicol captured the state of room number five at the Barcelona Motel, "a three-star hotel" located on Taniwha St in Taupō. Footage of the room shows a mouldy shower curtain and bathroom fittings, stained bedsheets, and filthy surfaces and furnishings, with grime and dirt visible on the skirting, carpet and walls. The video also showed a gaping crack in the front door, allowing in a cold winter draught, and a toilet with a broken seat.
Using a towel, Nicol wipes a number of surfaces, demonstrating the thick grime coating the benchtop and floors.
"It's just disgusting," Nicol says. "It's just gross."
As well as the cracks around the doorway, a socket barely concealed by the TV cabinet can also be seen in a state of disrepair, with tape appearing to hold the power outlet to the wall.
The video, later shared to the Taupō Noticeboard community group on Facebook, has been met with equal outrage by locals, with many calling for the motel to be closed. At the time of writing, the footage has amassed more than 1300 reactions and 1200 comments.
Speaking to Newshub on Monday, Nicol said she and her son had booked a room at the Barcelona Motel online for a one-night stay on July 16 - which cost $288.
Upon arriving at the motel, Nicol said no staff were available on the premises, but a key had been left for room number five.
When they entered the room, she and her son were overwhelmed by a foul stench, she said.
"We opened the door and the smell just hit us," Nicol told Newshub.
After examining the state of the room, Nicol said she and her son had no intention of staying in squalor. They went back to the car to wait for a staff member.
When a woman eventually arrived at the premises, Nicol immediately asked if the $288 she had paid for their one-night stay could be refunded - but her request was refused.
"She [the staffer] pretty much laughed at me and said, 'nope, no refund'... I said, 'okay, you're putting me in a position where I don't have a choice' - I couldn't afford to pay for two motels - so I said, 'I'm going to take this further'," Nicol said.
"She just didn't give a s***. 'No, you're not getting your money back' - real attitude, really rude... I think we had a right to ask for our money back. I asked more than three times."
After several further attempts, Nicol weighed up her options and decided she and her son had no choice but to stay in the room, as she could not afford another motel without the refund.
"We didn't want to be in there, it was just gross."
After resigning themselves to a night in the motel, Nicol said she immediately recorded videos of the dirt and disrepair, the footage that was later uploaded to Facebook.
That night, Nicol said she curled up on the floor in her own blanket after noticing the stained bedsheets, which felt wet to the touch.
"I slept wrapped up in my blanket, on the floor. The bed was wet, it wasn't just damp and mouldy, it was wet," she said.
"I've never seen anything like it."
The room was freezing, so they decided to keep the old heater on overnight, despite the racket.
"It was really, really cold and yuck. We had the heater on all night, on high. It was really noisy, so we had one of two choices - turn the heater off and freeze, or leave the heater on and stay awake... it was yuck," Nicol explained.
"We couldn't have coffee or anything like that because it was just too dirty. We didn't want to use anything."
In the morning, Nicol said they left quickly to avoid further interaction with the staff.
"We just left. I even had to park my car on the road, we couldn't even get a car park. I've never seen anything like it."
Alarmed by her experience, Nicol reported the motel to the Taupō District Council in the hope some action might be taken.
"The council went and had a look and the two things that came out of that were there were 'no health and safety issues whatsoever', and my video 'didn't tell the whole story'," Nicol claimed.
She has a suspicion that staff may have had time to clear the room prior to the council's inspection - but whether or not it was tidied, she says he cannot believe that no health and safety hazards were identified.
"The council said the video didn't [paint a complete picture] of what the room was like, and I believe that's right. It was actually way worse - there were things I could see that didn't show up in the video. It was worse than what you were actually seeing."
In a statement to Newshub, Taupō District Council confirmed an environmental health officer had inspected the motel following Nicol's complaint - but all the rooms appeared clean.
"Council's role in responding to these incidents is to assess for potential nuisance conditions under the Health Act 1956," said the council's chief executive, Gareth Green.
"In response to a complaint received, an environmental health officer carried out random inspections of four rooms at the motel, including the room that had initiated the complaint. This also included inspecting bedding and mattresses. At the time of inspection, all rooms had received a deep clean and had been aired.
"While there, the officer discussed the issues raised and also supported management to help identify the kinds of things that need to be addressed in cleaning the rooms and recommended that they add a deep clean cycle to their cleaning procedures.
"Council will also continue to conduct random inspections to follow up."
'Customers do make a mess'
But a staff member of the Barcelona Motel Newshub spoke to - a man who did not identify himself, but is understood to be the owner - claimed the room had been dirtied by Nicol herself.
Speaking to Newshub on Monday morning, the man said he was aware of Nicol's video, and said the police were "dealing with it".
"The police will take it down," he said. Newshub attempted to verify this with police, but did not receive a response due to privacy concerns.
The man also alleged the squalor had been "created" by Nicol and was not an accurate representation of their accommodation.
"The lady came, she was in the room for four hours, and then she went to reception to try and get half-price. They stayed the night and in the morning they did this video. The room she showed online is the room she created, so this is falsified information. The council has inspected the room, and the council has no problem with it," he said.
"If the room was like that in the first place, she would not have stayed there."
He admitted the wall plug was broken - "there's no excuse for that" - and that it "should have been covered up properly", and said the stains on the bed ("someone may have spilled a drink") may have been "an oversight" by staff.
"It's not as bad as what this lady has done," the man said. "About 10am the next day, she's done all of this. Those blood and things on the pillowcases and sheets, it's inappropriate."
He then went on to claim that customers had been responsible for mess in other rooms.
"All the rooms are like that when the guests have checked out - even yesterday, I went through the rooms, taking pictures [after] guests' stays, and they stained the blood and everything. We have proof of everything. The council has been and we have no more to say about it."
When Newshub pressed that reviews dated from six months ago expressed similar sentiments to Nicol, the man said "everyone is entitled to their views".
"We have no issue with what we have. The customers do make a mess and we do take pictures from now on to show people that the customers leave these kinds of messes in the rooms."
'By far the worst motel I've stayed at'
Reviews of the Barcelona Motel appear to reflect Nicol's experience. The motel currently holds a 2.9/5 "fair" rating on Google based on 152 reviews.
A review uploaded via Google one week ago complained the room was terrible.
"No towels when we stayed the first night, cockroach in the bathroom and heaters were noisy and faulty," the woman wrote. "Our first night was terrible, we were distraught and not happy with the room."
Another review, published via Google just a day ago, branded the accommodation as "absolutely filthy".
"Cockroaches in the kitchen, mould over all the walls and the shower curtain. The bed linen was just absolutely disgusting! Never staying there again, I warn anybody else who wants to stay there… don't."
A second review published a day ago also supported Nicol's claims of no parking, filthy surfaces, and a lack of staff on-site.
"No one to greet us, reception was closed for 30 mins until they returned from picking their kid up from school. The room was filthy, refer to photos. It looked like a run down druggie pad. Mismatched curtains, stains on the floors, overpriced, condensation on windows, no insulation, it's freezing, it's paru (dirty), parking is a nightmare," the person wrote.
A review from six months ago says: "One star is [too] much for this s..t-hole, you are better off sleeping in your car. If you think you have seen it all, think again. Don't pay any attention to photos if booking online, this place looks nothing like them. There is absolutely no redeeming features about this place or the owners/management/staff [sic]."
And another reviewer from six months ago called it "by far the worst motel I've stayed at".
"Room was smelly, carpet was stained, I had to be forced to sleep in the bed by my partner as we had been travelling [for] many hours. The room was in a bad state of repair and in need of some much required renovations to bring it up to an acceptable condition. As we had already paid and did have prior plans for the next day I reluctantly saw the night through until the morning but packed the car and got out of there as early as possible leaving with a sick feeling in my throat, vowing never to return to such a dump even if it was the last motel room available [sic]."
Other reviews within the last year also complained of the price, staff and state of the rooms, however others noted the motel's good location, with older reviews appearing more positive.
At the time of writing, a one-night stay for two guests at the Barcelona Motel costs $242.
Now, Nicol is hoping other people do not suffer the same experience. Although financial compensation "would be nice", she is not holding her breath.
"If I had my refund, this would have never happened," she said.