Tag Archives: hotels

Who needs a concierge?

In our internet driven and social media obsessed world we can access numerous review sites, read travel blogs, get directions instantaneously and ask friends for recommendations at the click of a button (or face to face if we are feeling old school). With this in mind, I have been questioning the need for a hotel concierge. I mean, what can they tell me that Google can’t?! Especially if they look like miserable, tired, ‘bored with life’ type people wearing uncomfortable hotel uniform…and start to awkwardly twitch as you approach them with a simple question.

image

Yes I’ve experienced concierges like this many times over the past few months, one at a hotel in New York in the summer who even went to print something for me from the back room and never came back..!

Surely hotel owners should be looking for other cost effective ways to help travellers find what they need – internet kiosks in reception or no strings attached free WiFi for example which is increasingly a guest expectation rather than a ‘nice to have.’

That’s what I thought until staying at The Shore Club hotel in Miami. Half reluctantly being led by my hubby over to the concierge desk on our first day we were greeted by Reo, a friendly looking guy in his late 30s wearing a loose fitting, bright coloured shirt. He welcomed us over with a huge smile, shook our hands and immediately complimented my engagement ring. Yes one could argue this was maybe a touch on the ‘false’ side, but I didn’t care. I’m on holiday and this guy was making an effort to make us, as guests of the hotel, feel welcomed and a little bit special.

We got talking about all of the things we could do during our stay in Florida and it became clear quite quickly that he knew his stuff, telling us the best bars to go to, the best Keys to visit, the best restaurants to eat in on each Key and the best day of the week and time of day to go. He was talking from experience, giving us little anecdotes from his own personal adventures. He was passionate and clearly loved his job. Every other guest who walked past gave him a wave. He asked how the things he’d recommended they do had panned out, remembering each person and exactly where they had been without taking any focus away from us. He spoke to us about how he ended up in Miami, having lived in the Caribbean, South America, LA, Australia and London. He randomly switched to the most impressive South London accent I have ever heard an American do which could have fooled even a Londoner into thinking he was from Streatham. He printed stuff out for us from the room behind him whilst still talking to us, rather than doing a disappearing act.

All in all, Reo was amazing and completely changed my view of hotel concierges. We even became the people giving him a little wave the next day as we came back from our trip to the Keys and he couldn’t wait to ask us about it. As we hopped into our car yesterday he bounced over to see us off, asking where we were heading for the day, genuinely caring about us making the most of our trip, telling us ‘I’m here for you if you need anything.’

image

Reo clearly injects his personality into every interaction he has with each guest of the Shore Club hotel, wholeheartedly caring about each individual having the best holiday possible with nothing being too much trouble. But above anything, he has a twinkle in his eye and loves what he does. It’s not so much about what he is recommending guests do, but the way in which he recommends it.

This is absolutely when hotel concierges are worthwhile – when they not only tell you about the experiences you can have, but become part of the holiday experience itself. Anyone can simply look up an address and send something to the printer. Hotels should be looking to only employ a concierge who can naturally do more than this…an individual who is passionate about travel and people…an individual who doesn’t just follow the hotel brand guidelines but someone who does their own thing to make every guest have the best trip they can possibly have.

The hotel mini bar saga

Something I pay close attention to whilst staying in hotels is the mini bar. In fact, one of the first things I do when I check into any hotel room is suss out the mini bar situation. This has become a kind of ritual as I settle in and familiarise myself with my temporary ‘home’, despite the fact that 95% of the time I wouldn’t actually buy anything from it. We’ll come onto that.

The contents of a mini bar can tell you more about the hotel brand and the location you are staying in than you might realise. For example, I stayed in a quirky boutique hotel in Moscow a couple of years ago called the Golden Apple and was amused to discover that vodka was cheaper than water. Got to love the priorities in Russia!

This mini bar in the Eros Hotel, New Delhi also intrigued me in its dominant offering of British branded alcohol:

20140521-231226.jpg

Coincidence? Or a reflection of how prominent British culture is in modern India?

And this picture below taken of a mini bar in the Zetter hotel where I stayed a couple of weeks ago in Farringdon London, has moved away from your typical classic ‘open-the-cupboard’ mini bar to having all the tempting snacks in full display on the unit next to the bed. What is more interesting is the hotel’s choice to supply a product called ‘Faust’s potions’ – a relatively new product on the market, described as a ‘recovery pack aimed at professionals to help you feel your best’… or in other words, to help ease the hangover. Says a lot about the clientele… I had in fact just come from an evening of wine tasting!

20140521-231511.jpg

So we have lots of different types of mini bars offering a range of different products. But who is actually buying the contents? Apparently very few of us according to TripAdvisor who shared results from a research study conducted for them by Ipsos earlier this year which suggests that mini bars are soon to be a thing of the past. Only 14% of global travellers consider the mini bar an important amenity whilst 63% of global hoteliers have already done away with the mini bar.

This made me question why I very rarely take anything from the mini bar and I came to two conclusions. Firstly, the majority of snacks in a mini bar are loaded with carbs and covered in chocolate. Although I love to indulge, especially when I’m on holiday, I tend to do my indulging when I’m out and about. Snacking on crisps and chocolate is often the last thing I want to do when I come back to my hotel room after a heavy meal, or when I leave the room first thing in the morning. Mashable, in its 15 ideas that would vastly improve travel suggests that healthy vending machines offering olives, dried fruit and organic foods would go down well in hotels and I have to agree…not just for corridor vending machines but within mini bars in bedrooms too.

Secondly, there’s the guilt thing. We all know that the prices of products in mini bars are likely to be at least treble the prices of the same products in the shop just outside the hotel. We have also clocked onto the fact that mini bars are designed to catch us at our weakest moment, with some hotels now (like the Zetter) having their mini bar products in full display, eyeing up their guests and luring them in. As tempting as the display might be, I think that travellers are outsmarting the system and realising that popping down to the 7-11 to stock up on water and snacks for the room is the way to go. People just can’t justify the current cost of products from a mini-bar, even business travellers using the company credit card. We want to feel smart about the choices we make when we travel and spending over the odds for a bottle of water, a packet of crisps and a shot of whisky doesn’t seem so clever. So we’ll apply control, restrain ourselves and resist temptation…or be shrewd and come armed with pre-purchased snacks.

Perhaps if hotels considered significantly lowering their mini bar prices to a level that guests are more likely to be able to justify (with less margin but still enough to make some profit) the impending death of the mini bar might be less of a reality. Oh and they should look to supply some healthier product options. Personally I think it would be a shame if mini-bars ceased to exist. They are an iconic feature within hotel rooms and, like I said earlier, having a look at what’s on offer helps ease us into our temporary ‘home.’

I’ll finish this post with a story of a mini bar incident that occurred on a business trip earlier this year which still makes me chuckle. We were in New York, staying at the Intercontinental Times Sq. One of my colleagues, the newest member of the team who was excited to be on his first trip away for work, started getting to grips with his room. He was intrigued by the bright coloured packet on top of one of the cupboards and upon closer inspection, realised this was a condom pack. He then realised that attached to this pack was a wire and that wire ran back behind the cupboard connecting to something else. By the time he had registered what it was connected to – the mini bar – it was too late. He had nudged the condoms and they had now been out of position for over 10 seconds. The sign next to the bar said that anything out of place for 10 seconds or more would be charged – the bar had a sophisticated sensor system so could recognise this. The panicked expression on his face and shaky explanation to our team of what might be appearing on his room bill at checkout is something I’ll never live down.

Dog friendly hotels

My three favourite things in life (aside from all the things you are meant to say) are travel, food and my dogs! This weekend I was fortunate enough to combine all of these on a trip to Lymington, a small town on the edge of the New Forest.

We (6 adults and 2 dogs) stayed in a dog friendly hotel called Stanwell House, right in the heart of the town.

20140415-173926.jpg

This got me wondering about dog friendly hotels in general, namely how challenging it must be to provide great service, not just to ‘human’ guests, but to those of the canine kind too.

Stanwell House certainly made my two ‘canines’ feel at home right away with the lovely greeting they were given by the staff at reception. I guess the key part of ‘dog friendly’ is the word ‘friendly’ and this was absolutely my first impression of the hotel staff as they stroked and cooed at my two furry boys whilst assigning us to our rooms.

The welcoming feeling continued as we moved into our room to discover some dog treats and a blanket laid out with an accompanying note:

20140415-180150.jpg

This was a lovely, unexpected surprise and in fact more satisfying to receive than the pack of shortbread biscuits laid out for myself and the hubby, knowing the hotel had cared enough to consider that a happy dog means a happy owner.

I have stayed in ‘dog friendly’ places before where, although dogs were technically allowed, this wasn’t really publicised. This resulted in us feeling like we were doing something wrong during our stay whenever other guests saw our dogs.

Let’s face it – even the most well behaved dog will bark, smell, knock things over, chew stuff, slobber, whine, growl, pee on things – you name it…these are the things that dog lovers let go over their heads. So a ‘dog friendly’ hotel has a big challenge on their hands – striking the right balance between making guests with dogs (and the dogs themselves) feel at home whilst keeping their other guests – those who couldn’t care less about dogs or those (I hate to say it) who detest dogs just as happy.

Stanwell House got this balance spot on. There were no traces of ‘doggy smells’, the hotel was immaculately clean with lots of doors to access the garden areas and there was even a separate eating area for those with dogs which, importantly, didn’t feel cut off from the rest of the dining area.

It’s a lot of fun travelling with your dogs, but my family and I often find it tough to locate half decent accommodation where having a dog on display in a hotel doesn’t offend other guests and make the hotel staff feel uncomfortable. I’d like to hope more of the places who claim to be ‘dog friendly’ follow the example of Stanwell House. Rocco (below) certainly slept very peacefully:

20140415-182855.jpg

And if you’re wondering about my other love – the food – this was absolutely exceptional. It was beautifully presented and tasted delicious. These pictures don’t do it justice:

20140415-183108.jpg

20140415-183714.jpg

Hotel website: http://www.stanwellhousehotel.co.uk

Larry David’s take on the travel customer experience

I am a massive fan of Curb Your Enthusiasm. While some may find him irritating, I can’t help but think that Larry David’s experiences in hotels, restaurants and on aeroplanes beautifully capture some of the anxieties and inconsistencies we endure as customers of travel.

If, like me, you think Larry David hits the nail on the head, take a look at some of my favourite LD clips here:

Larry David on tipping a bellboy

Does a thorough tour of the room really deserve a $20 tip or is it an unnecessary waste of time?

Larry David on sticking to your cabin
The unwritten rules around sticking solely to toilet usage in your own cabin.

Larry David on how the chosen attire of other passengers can affect the in flight experience
How the hairy legs of the guy next to you can be a rather unpleasant distraction on board!

Larry David on sample abusers
How far is too far when it comes to ice cream samples?

Another great Social Media example

Thanking my friend Alice who, after reading my post this week about Social Media shaping our travel experience, shared this with me:

IMG_5359

It seems Tripadvisor are going to new lengths here to encourage in the moment feedback via QR codes and the Cullen hotel in Melbourne is working hard at reminding people to go and shout about their experience on Google, Facebook and Twitter. This certainly helped prompt Alice to share this status with all of her Facebook friends:

alice

Hotel Secrets

I really enjoyed watching the first episode of Hotel Secrets currently being shown on Sky Atlantic which saw Richard E Grant visit some of the world’s most iconic hotels and meet the people associated with them, from the extravagant guests to the likes of Donald Trump!

grant and trump

Richard is a great interviewer and his witty style gave me an insight into what it’s like to be a guest at one of these places. I was able to imagine what a night’s stay would be like in the world’s most expensive hotel suite, the Ty Warner Penthouse Suite in the Four Seasons New York (which costs more than $40,000 a night and includes free WIFI!!) – what I would do to have a few minutes in there just to see that view alone!

877x658

A particular highlight of this episode was his visit to the Barkley Pet Hotel and Day Spa in Los Angeles which provides 5 star treatment for dogs, cats and beyond. Not sure I’ve quite got my head around the fact that a market exists for people who’s pet customer experience matters to the extent of their beloved dogs requiring a bedtime story read to them and Michelin Star quality steak delivered to their kennel. More money than sense or extreme dog lovers?! Fascinating viewing either way.

homepage_banner_july2013_3

The next episode ‘Living and Dying’ which sees him check into the hotels where the rich and famous have lived, died and fallen in love is being aired at 9pm on Sky Atlantic this Thursday evening.

I can’t help but think Richard E Grant might have had the best job in the world when filming this series!