You could be turned away at SWFL hotels just for being a Lee County resident

You could be turned away from a hotel in Southwest Florida because of where you live.

Lee County residents Bob Buhler and his wife Diane wanted a weekend getaway close to home.

A staycation is exactly what the couple thought they needed. So they booked a room and received a confirmation at the Best West Fort Myers Waterfront in North Fort Myers.

The two grabbed their bags and loaded up the car, but that’s when things took a turn they didn’t expect.

“I gave her my license and credit card and she goes ‘oh, you can’t stay here,'” Buhler said.

The hotel turned them away, with a refund, because of where they live. Lee County.

While it may seem odd, it’s not illegal.

Florida law says hotel operators have the right to refuse accommodations or service to people they find undesirable. But it can’t be based on things like race, color, or physical disability.

This Best Western said, for 17 years, it’s been their policy to not accept reservations from Lee County residents. A policy they say is in place to “Make this a safe and attractive place for families and business clientele.”

But Buhler says the experience has him thinking twice before he books another weekend away.

Buhler siad, “Well now it’s a new question that I have to ask if I book a hotel… ‘do you take Lee County residents?'” something you too may want to ask when booking a room.

Choice Hotels Suburban Extended Stay at 10150 Metro Pkwy in Fort Myers has a similar policy and does not accept reservations from guests who live within 50 miles.

Here’s the response from Best West Fort Myers Waterfront in full:

“When our family purchased the hotel in 2000 it was a mess, lots of local traffic and very little of that was desirable. We had to put some policies in place to make this a safe and attractive place for families and business clientele. I can tell you many stories like the senior citizen that rented a room, we decided to make an exception for, only to kick out her grandson and 10 of his friends having a birthday party later that night.

The News Press did a story July 27, 2014 about this policy and many hotels also have and enforce this policy as well. I personally think this is an example of a few bad experiences have ruined it for all the people that would be just fine.

 We feel blessed to have a place that is attractive enough to want to come and stay, and we are here to bring in new customers every day. Having said that, looking back some 17 years ago now the policy was the right thing to do.

 We do make exceptions; many local people stayed with us after Hurricane Irma, some with FEMA vouchers others we donated, and when the Red Cross called as well as other organizations when are as ways ready to help when we can.

 It is our intentions to be a helpful part of this community.”

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