Sunday, October 24, 2010

burnt fingers, but ok now

Now, I don’t want to open a Pandora’s Box here about poor hotel accommodation, I’ll leave that to Darren at - a blog I wish I’d found months ago, as it would have prevented a lot of stress.

London Olympics
I really want to warn readers that with the Olympics coming up, to be very wary about booking accommodation in and around London, even if it is though your usually reliable travel agent - particularly if they haven’t visited the hotel personally. They’re relying on information given to them by their suppliers, and we international guests trust that this will be accurate. I’ve just had my fingers burnt, and as a result am significantly out of pocket after finding alternative accommodation at the last minute. But at least we were able to find somewhere else to stay - I doubt this will be possible during the Olympics.

The hotel room
On arrival last month at a ‘Two Star’ hotel in London, (booked weeks ahead through our usually trusty Travel Agent in Australia) we were horrified to find that the hotel room was smelly and dirty, with one broken window latch and the other missing entirely, split wood on the internal very dirty toilet door. It had toothpaste dribbles down almost the entire length.

A grubby tiny bathmat doubled as a fragment of carpet squeezed between the foot of the bed and the shower cubicle.

The ensuite: This area could have been a module, possibly designed for a trailer-home and seemed to have been added as an afterthought to the room. It was raised about 10 centimetres above the original floor, so you had to step up into the cubicle to use it.

The toilet roll was balanced on the miniscule sink, which abutted the toilet, and the shower curtain draped over you when you sat down.

The toilet: There wasn't enough room for your knees between the toilet and the door for it to close comfortably.

I suspect a man would need to have straddled the toilet if he wanted privacy to urinate. The toilet roll was balanced on the miniscule sink, which abutted the toilet, and the shower curtain draped over you when you sat on the toilet seat.

The shower: My suspicion is that you would have to have stepped outside of the cubicle to dry off after showering as there was so little room inside. I was unable to spread my arms out from side to side of the ensuite as it was so tiny, the shower recess was approx 15 inches wide.

On either side of this module were small alcoves, one with a short exposed metal rod (the wardrobe) underneath which was a chair. The other had a compact TV high on a shelf. (A short person like me couldn't have safely manouvered it to a more suitable viewing position).

Next to this was a grubby window looking out on to the street with a venetian blind covering the window with the one missing and one broken latch.

Presumably because the ensuite had (apparently) been added as an afterthought, it made what appeared to have originally been the central lightshade balance against the module door.

The desk

The bed appeared to be an old steel camp style that squeaked when you sat on it. It was pushed into a corner of the tiny room, so that the person on the wall side of the bed had to climb over it to get to their side.
I have never left a hotel in disgust before, but apart from the dilapidated, dirty presentation of the room I felt very unsafe as the room was on the ground floor and as I’ve mentioned the window didn’t latch securely.
The young man at the front office area said we could change rooms, “but they’re all the same, I’m sorry”.
My rationale in booking accommodation through a travel agent was to ensure that we had a relaxing start to our holiday and for reassurance that things would go more smoothly than if I'd tackled the complexities myself. I expect them to take the stress out of travel bookings. London was a new city for me, and I was relying on their expertise (and that of their professional partners in the UK).
Star Ratings: how useful?
My expectation of two star accommodation is much the same as appears on the website:

"If you are looking for a unique holiday experience, 2 star hotels are just perfect. 2 star hotels in London can be found in most areas and always offer the same high standard of hospitality. If you ever stayed in a 2 star accommodation before you know what you can expect. 2 star London hotels won’t disappoint and their outstanding charm never fails to impress". ([]Accessed 24 October 2010)

So, it seems that both my expectation and a published industry expectation of a two star hotel is very similar: clean, no frills and well run. Sounds good to me!
Other 2 star hotels we stayed in later in our holiday in Paris, Vienna and Milan were good, perfectly suitable for our needs and even better than described. I booked these through a hotel booking website recommended by a colleague in Germany. It was easy to use and hotel descriptions and customer ratings were reliable and clearly presented.
Pam Foden the Operations and Industry Engagement Manager at VisitEngland says in a comment on that“ Having an official star rating helps potential guests know what to expect.” [] As a consumer I expect the rating to be reasonably accurate.
Google search
Since arriving home, I’ve had time to look at information from a few sources regarding a hotel, and I certainly wish I’d done this prior to booking, but even so the information seems inconsistent and isn't always easy to find. (But isn't that why I consulted a travel agent in the first place?)

The following 3 sites make for interesting reading.

I've discovered that makes it easy to assess if the hotel is what you're after.

But look at this one from a United Kingdom website. The words under the TripAdvisor logo read: "Sorry, no reviews are available for this property". No TripAdvisor Reviews? Really? We consumers really have to be vigilant and on the ball

And a comparison with an Australian web site - same hotel. There are 2 green dots next to the TripAdvisor rating, and you can click to get to the reviews and customer photos.

Confusing isn’t it.
But at least from the Australian I can easily click through to TripAdvisor’s most recent reviews and photos and find information that would have influenced my booking. But I notice that no information is given about the rooms under "Information".
But what if I'd only looked at the UK site? There is some inconsistency in the amount of information offered.
What do TripAdvisors' travellers actually report?
By now, thoroughly intrigued and wondering what else I'd find, I went directly to TripAdvisor. I hadn't used TripAdvisor prior to this as I'd assumed hotels would post positive comments about their own establishments and scathing ones about their competitors. I also figured that there could be grumpy people who could post malicious unsubstantiated comments. I was skeptical.
But here’s a shot of what I found for the hotel in question, and when I started reading those 59 reviews it made me angry.

The consistently negative reviews go back to July 3rd 2005 – that’s 5 years with 76% of customers not recommending the hotel. This isn’t an isolated grumpy person, but a pattern of scathing/shocked/horrified/distressed/disbelieving comments - whatever word you choose to use, there are many, many unhappy guests.
How is it possible that with 5 years of consistently negative comments many relating to the issues we confronted, that this accommodation was referred to my travel agent as an option? I don't object to the hotel's existence, it no doubt serves a purpose. I do object to the (dare I use the word misleading?) description passed on to me, and the fact that the 2 star rating description quoted above is so woefully inappropriate in this instance. It's not that the hotel has had a sudden change of fate, and recent sad things have happened, this is ongoing history. Off the top of my head I can't think of any industry where this kind of "service" would be tolerated and apparently condoned.
5 years of consistently negative comments is a fair amount of time by anyone's assessment. I thought there was a code of conduct amongst professional travel agents? What is going on in the hotel industry in London?
It seems we need to do a lot of independent research to find ... what? How do we know what's true, and what isn't? who's being open, and who's withholding information? and how far do we need to search? Which country's websites should we use? If you're moving to a new city every 3 or 4 days, this level of research would eat up a huge amount of time,and that's not why you're travelling is it?
Every cloud has a sliver lining J The young man at the hutch-like reception area kindly found the phone number of a major hotel chain and allowed us to use the phone to book through them. There was ONE room available within cooee – and what a room.

Chalk and cheese Just thinking about Hotel Indigo in Paddington is relaxing. Have you heard of the Golden Mean? The hotel is designed along those principles. It’s amazing!
Thank goodness we hadn’t yet maxed out the credit card as this put a serious dent in it. Sadly, it’s not the sort of place we usually stay in. Our budgeting is tightly controlled, and living simply is second nature. But as a salve to soothe the jetlagged, frazzled, frayed and jangled nerves, this was just the medicine!

The welcome was warm (I wonder if I exuded distress and the concierge took pity on me or if all guests are treated so kindly?) the room small and space was used well. the towels were huge and deeply fluffy.
Although the rate was 'room-only', we were given a breakfast voucher (the breakfast was lovely, generous helpings, and GOOD coffee!), and a discount voucher for a main meal. The staff were courteous and welcoming and so we naturally returned for the discounted meal later in the week.
(We then found a significantly cheaper chain for the remaining days – a long way out, but still just barely affordable - there was little choice available for an on the spot booking. An Ibis Hotel, we've stayed in them before: reliable, consistent clones, predictable, and an ok place to spend a night or 2.)
I’ve been known to get on my soapbox about different things from time to time, and a recurring theme is the ethical behaviour of companies as well as values and integrity. Many of my clients confront these issues at work - and I'm thinking a lot about them too right now.
I wonder what it would be like working in these two different establishments? I know all workplaces have their ups and downs, but ...
Back to the theme:
Do your research (whether for a career or hotel)
choose carefully and appropriately for your current needs
enjoy the journey!

photos were all taken by the author: September 13th 2010
websites were accessed and screen shots taken: October 24th 2010


Michelle said...

oh dear.
I swear by Trip Advisor, I wish we had a convo about accommodation I would of pointed you there. The travel agent has a lot to answer for. Personally I prefer to research myself but like you say it's very time consuming and that's what travel agents are meant to do on your behalf! Annoying. I hope you lodge a complaint! Love the silver lining, make sure you leave a Trip Advisor review too (on both of them!)

Anonymous said...

Excellent post, Sue. We are just back from London and had a similar experience.

sue said...

Anonymous, thanks for the compliment, it's nice to get the feedback. Unfortunately I keep hearing that hotels like this are relatively common in London. It's appalling.
I hope your trip didn't suffer too much as a result.

Michelle, I've received a full refund. My agent was really distressed, and has been in contact with a personal apology since we got home. She has complained to her London supplier - but it doesn't excuse that the place was advertised as one thing, and was quite different. They really need to get their act into gear.

Anonymous said...

It is poor your Agent did not check the hotel before recommending it. London and New York hotels are very expensive and poor compared to the rest of the country they are based in. Often as an agent I tell customers to spend 40-50 more to get a decent hotel, but am ignored.

Leone said...

Such a horrible experience for you ..... I swear blind by TripAdvisor. I check them all the time for 'possible' desinations and hotels ... each person (submitter) obviously has their own interpretation of what a good hotel might be, but with 76% consistantly giving 'bad reviews' on the above I imagine most are correct!

All travellers have to 'rely' on information that is given to them .... but when incorrect it just makes you wary for 'next time'.

But hope your 'next time' is a far better experience!

sue said...

Anonymous - I suspect she'll be very vigilant from now on. But even so, shouldn't she be able to rely on a recommendation from her professional colleagues in another country for decent accommodation?

I see your frustration with customers ignoring your advice - are you able to "strongly recommend" ... and that you suspect something they are looking at might be of doubtful quality? Would you feel comfortable directing them to my post?

Leone - good to see you back :) Yes, I've become a bit of a fan now too. Once bitten twice shy. And I'm definitely looking forward to next time, I'm pretty resilient. Just need to get over the jetlag - bleh

But I still believe that a hotel, whether in a big city or not should comply with certain standards of hygiene and maintenance. Why should the cities be exempt from this?

If the big online booking companies refused to advertise places that had consistent negative reviews (say 55% negative over a number of years - and I believe that's being VERY generous) it might begin to freeze out the substandard players. I can see the pitfalls, but the situation as it stands is unsatisfactory.

sue said...

an interesting article about Trip Advisor, and how hotels and restaurants can use the reviews to their advantage by responding constructively to valid criticism.