What hotels are doing wrong

Three years into a job that keeps me in hotels in major metropolises such as London, Hong Kong, Sydney, and Toronto, I can say I am surprised at how far behind hotels around the world are when it comes to understanding the needs of the modern business and work traveler. While this is written, of course, to establishments that sell themselves as the place for frequent visitors to retire for the night, the frustrations expressed here could be adapted for those who wish to please travelers in all areas of the global market.

1. WiFi

I wrote a whole essay once with the title “The case for complimentary WiFi”; but I’ll spare you the bulk and attempt to sum it up. Somewhere, somehow, in some conference, it was decided that swimming pools be carved out, cheap reproducible art be always hung on the walls, and shampoo bottles be provided with no questions asked but Internet—woe to this most used function of modern man!—would remain a pariah of the standard amenities offered at no extra charge. In today’s world of de facto cable television availability and always a hair dryer to be found the realization that free wifi is more elusive than the bar serving your favorite whisky at the average 3-to-5-star stay is absurd. I didn’t ask or even need some of the amenities provided at near-ubiquity but at when internet connectivity translates to deadlines being met, loved ones being alerted, and news sources perused, I have only by force been able to avoid connectivity on a non-vacation trip. Why can’t hotels manage to find a way to incorporate the wifi fee into the flat rate and just save us all the hassle? And I’m even addressing the increasingly old “normally WiFi is [insert-over-the-top-rate here] a night but with this access code the fee is waived”. Why don’t they just go ahead and add “normally we would give you once-used towels but with this voucher you can have clean ones”. Even the thought that a hotel contemplated charging me for what I consider to be a very basic service is enough to get my rancor.

Frustrating WiFi charges

2. Outlets

It’s nice to know I can get a good night’s sleep but it’s also nice — and necessary — to wake up to phones and laptops whose batteries are full. Places to charge electronics are surprisingly elusive, in rooms whose practical updates haven’t been considered since the 1980s, when communication was done by hotel telephone. Outlets are located behind large desks, in far corners behind television stands, and sometimes require lamps to be unplugged.

Travel plug

Very rarely are hotels world-wide retrofitted to include outlets next to bedside tables—where they are most useful, easiest to find, and least cumbersome to be tethered to.

3. And more outlets

If your hotel is a name-brand, sits in a global metropolis, brandishes a multiple-star rating, and caters to even one foreigner a year, it should go without saying that at least one outlet adapted for international plugs should be standard to every room.

4. Valuing customers

It is easy to dismiss complaints from people who patronize the hotel on large corporate accounts negotiated into yearly or multi-year contracts, corporations whose employees have little say in where they get to stay on a work trip. But a lack of foresight into a traveler’s needs translates into loss of revenue in a world where we now have choices about where to stay when we travel on our own time and when bad reviews ricochet through social media. With the rise of Air BnB and other online private-stay options, it behooves hotels to not let any customer leave with a sour taste in the mouth over petty nickel-and-diming and frustrating late-night hunts for electrical outlets.

Customer service

Images: Shutterstock

Comments (19)

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  1. Inadequate lighting is my number one hotel pet peeve.

    Instead of outlets and plugs, how about charging pads or stations (with cords)?

    Newspaper? Who wants a newspaper? Do not auto-deliver the newspaper to my room. Default should be NO paper and I will let you know if I want one.

    Nice to have your “Green Policy” printed on nasty plastic placards in three locations in my room. Then when I follow “your” procedures, the towels are changed anyway. How about you train your housekeeping staff?

    Speaking of towels, does a room with one person NEED four bath towels, three hand towels, and two wash cloths?

    Complimentary breakfast starts at 6:30am? WTH? I need to check out at 5:45 to catch my flight. Oh well.

    Mixing smoking and nonsmoking rooms on the same floor? Precious.

    Shall I go on?

  2. Kerwin says:

    Oh Amy, the WiFi again :-).

    Here’s my take. Be loyal, then you don’t have to pay for it nor worry about it. Yup, that’s blunt.

    Here’s my peeve though, if you the hotel provide free Wifi, it MUST work. Please don’t tell me that there are too many guest on it. You know you have x number of rooms and what percentage of your guests will use it, so figure it out. What you’ve done is added more work for your staff as the guests will call and complain.

    Most U.S. hotels and airports have this figured out so it can be done. It’s when you go outside of the U.S. the issue prevails although some hotels in the U.S. have issues as well. I had such a hard time in Spain recently at a particular hotel. I had to go buy a local Wifi card in order to work.
    I actually do’t mind paying for Wifi if it will be fast and reliable.

    Outlets, you can’t expect the hotels to have a U.S. plug or a plug for Europe, U.K. and Australia in every room, its nice when they do and some do, but just be a proper traveler and take an adapter like you show in the photo. They are relatively inexpensive these days. Again, if you are loyal, typically, those rooms you get have the plugs you desire :-).

    I do agree that they could do better at placing outlets in the public space though. But they really want you to buy food and drinks in these areas as that’s where they make most of the money :-).

    Charles, on the subject of breakfast; the hotels try to set a time that works for the masses. Typically, if you advise you are leaving earlier than the breakfast and ask nicely they will take care of you.

    The towel thing I don’t understand, but I think its based on the number of people the room can hold. So they just have a standard set for the room. It would be a nightmare for the staff if they had towels for one person and two persons check-in to the room and people start calling and you’d perhaps complain why is there not enough towels for two persons :-).

    Two this that hotels can really work on though are:

    1). Allow me to select the room I want; this gets tricky as if I arrive early and the room I selected is not ready then another issue is created. Some brands are already doing this though.
    2). Speaking of arriving early. It is ludicrous when you tell me that check-in time is at 2p and I arrive at say noon, you have a room ready and you won’t give it to me. I don’t get the logic behind that. What you’ve done is make your lobby messy as you have all these people with bags some sleeping and then at your 2p check-in time you have a queue and your staff is overworked. Create a check-in queue and fill it as your guest arrive and honor your loyal members who can check-in at anytime.

    I’ve stayed at some budget hotels like Travelodge and they now charge 10 GBP/EUR to check-in early, which at least gets me in the room. So some brands do try. But why charge me though? The room is already and I did pay for a night’s stay.

    Again, if you are loyal, you don’t have these issues.

    PS: I don’t work for a hotel now or in the past, but have traveled enough to get a fair understanding of how it all works.

  3. Ellen Trotochaud says:

    Just once I would like to have a keycard for my room that works the whole time. I often get to my room on whatever floor only to find the keycard no longer works and I need to go back down to the front desk to activate a new one. How about one that isn’t impacted by cell phones since everyone carries a cell phone these days. How about room entry that is programmed to my mobile device.

  4. Chris Backe says:

    So many issues, so little time…

    ‘Loyalty’ – especially to a overpriced chain with less-than-ideal or overly pricey locations – should not be necessary to receive a basic utility. And yes, the internet is a utility now – a necessary facet of modern life. I have no loyalty to any brands, and see no reason to overspend in the hopes of receiving a “free” night.

    The hotel I’m in right now has precisely three outlets, one of which is borderline broken / loose in the wall. I carry a surge protector, naturally, which is often absolutely necessary for doing more than one thing at a time… For the past couple of days, the maid has opted to open the room’s window – the one that opens directly to a public outdoors area.

    Front desk staff in Europe has generally had decent to good English, but then again our expectations are tempered by a *lack* of expectations. I’d like to think paying nearly 100 € a night for a single hotel room would get us some good service, but we’ve learned not to take that for granted.

    Finally, ‘early’ check-in is just another way to nickel-and-dime. I’ve warned folks that’ll cause their future Tripadvisor review to drop a star, which has caused a couple phone calls to be made and things to be hurried up…

  5. Clay says:

    Agreed. WiFi always seems to be an issue whenever I stay at a hotel. From finding the password (they’re generally pretty good at posting that on the room card envelope) to it being spotty and slow.

  6. Izy berry says:

    Great post !!I share your opinion about wifi is a big problem always and 2015 the wifi is a basic service

  7. MELewis says:

    Am reading this from my hotel room at Citizen M in Glasgow. First time in this hotel and I must say, they have (mostly) got it right.

  8. Barbara Holl says:

    Oh yes, the number of hotels that have poor wifi and outlets but lamps that fail to light up anything. Bathrooms with one single ceiling light and not bright. Rooms with poor seating as well as poor layout.
    I travel with husband who has reduced mobility… why do I need to take all equipment from home to allow him a good night’s sleep.
    Yes we could go on and on….

  9. Yes, outlets… and yes charging stations. The capital isn’t there to rush into new fads, and by the time it becomes a trend, we’re a few years behind. Even then, the early design of mockets and plugs and charging areas was poor, at best, and there are finally sophisticated and well designed options that can be purchased or retrofitted, and you will see them far more often with new capital improvement projects and renovations.

    Wifi: unrestricted access leads to illegally downloading and hogging of bandwidth by small % of hotel guests that really slow down the experience for others, so hotels, currently, have little option but restrict bandwidth. I was just in Maui, and both the Montage and Four Seasons have painfully slow “free” luxury internet, but for the movie watching bandwidth you want, there are now tiers of access that hotels charge for. It’s a complex problem, and I think it’s typically the guests that don’t understand that point. But it isn’t lost on us, which is why tiered bandwidth is now available…. however annoying that may be. The typical “free” internet is basically good to check email, and that’s about it.

    Newspapers being delivered is part of these arbitrary standards for Forbes and other specific requirements to get listed amongst specific partners. You should be able to opt-out of course, but global standards are being created, so hospitality expected in Dubai or Macau is altering the genuine hospitality in the US.

    Agreed on the towel placards. We have an elegant solution in one property, but it’s still a piece of paper.

    The multiple towels are about labor. You put the towels needed for full occupancy, not single occupancy, because it costs too much to have a bellman / housekeeper spending the whole night running up extra towels to rooms. There is a cost of washing used towels, but not as much as paying someone to keep replenishing.

    If you need an early breakfast, ask the desk upon check in. Any good hotel will accommodate you, but it doesn’t sound like these are decent hotels….
    I don’t know any hotels with smoking rooms, so I can’t comment on that.

    I don’t know one single hotel that wouldn’t check someone into a vacant and clean room. That’s just a poorly run hotel. There’s no reason to deny that… it causes problems, makes the guest unhappy, etc. It sounds like a grumpy FD employee… but this is not something I experience.

    I think you get what you pay for. Groupon destroyed people’s idea of value. $200 a night can have far more value than $150 a night…. most of these complaints sound like cheap-o motels run by out to lunch non-hotelier.

    Keycards: RFID has less moving parts, and doesn’t demagnetize. As someone who has built multiple hotels, and read all the studies, and heard all the urban legends about why they fail…. there isn’t any real consensus on what’s happening there, IMHO. It’s frustrating, but typically… if you want to know the truth, it’s not the card, but user error at the front desk. That’s training. So is early check in as a way we can extend ourselves to our guests….

    Training issues…. like those housekeeper training issues of washing towels when the guest didn’t mean for it. That reason is that houskeepers are SCARED TO DEATH of making a mistake… and it’s far more likely they will “hear it” from a guest about not having new towels, than taking a chance and proactively replacing / washing them.

    But good read, I thought I would chime in…..

  10. NB: this was a luxury travel blog, so I was surprised about some of these complaints. Typically, none of these are issues in well designed mid range to luxury props. If you are seeking the lowest rate and lowest price out of habit, treating a hotel like a commodity of price and location, this will always be your experience. Spend a few extra dollars, and you will be blown away.

  11. Hugh C says:

    I stayed at a huge brand hotel a couple weeks ago in the US, and I was highly disappointed when I didn’t have wifi in the room,except for an additional fee. Yes, I’m a member but I don’t rack up a ton of points because most of my travel takes me places I don’t find a suitable property that they own. So, do I get punished for not being “loyal” enough, or should it be included as a utility. I mean, it’s one utility, like electricity, that most everyone expects when staying at a hotel. Don’t tell me I have to sit in your lobby (common area) to have wifi on the house.

    I’ve stayed in hotels where I had to unplug the TV to plug in my adapter so I could have multiple outlets at my disposal. Ridiculous!

  12. RobRob says:

    Great reply from Michael Hraba. Thanks for that. I would like to point out, though, that some of the best values, guest service, and design (comfortable working space with convenient outlets, thoughtful bathroom arrangements) have come at value segment hotels. I generally have a better Wi-Fi experience there, as well. Why is that?

    My theory is that they cater to business travelers who rely on this, not luxury travelers perceived to be more concerned with towels and thread counts. And this is where I think the disconnect is. I’ve stayed in far too many luxury properties that don’t address the expectations of the modern traveler. They are resting on their laurels, banking on being defined as a luxury hotel rather than striving to satisfy their guests’ practical needs. Luxury is not just window dressing – and far too often it dissipates when you open the curtains.

  13. Michael Hraba says:

    I will not name the resorts, but I was recently at two luxury properties, and that tiered bandwidth thing is baffling to me, and I am a guy who understands the back end complexity and issues. But, YES.. I consistently have frustrating bandwidth and load issues at nicer props. I also get baffled by that. But we’re always 10 years behind…

  14. brian says:

    A few ground level observations.
    Most hotels are branded and have to conform to the standards in room design by the brand. Any additions or subtractions to said plan can cause point loss in inspections and healthy “reinspect fees” to be incurred. Complaints of layout natures are better directed at the main brand than the franchises if you notice a trend.
    Early check ins: Several factors here, I generally stick solid to the 3pm check in time we have set, all reservations are made aware of this time. Anytime before 3 there are housekeeping carts on the floor, maintenance is doing their rounds as well, it can lead to increased liability, as well as, possible miscommunication about which rooms are ready or not. Our check out time is not until Noon, so 3pm is pushing it sometimes.
    Wifi…we offer it..some brands still charge..that’s a brand thing again.
    Towels and washcloths..linen is set for a 2 adult 2 child stay as a norm. This prevents guests from having to ask for additional linen.
    Online reviews…well the system gets abused so much and used as a threat against the business it is ridiculous. Legitimate problems, I have no issue in making an adjustment, but if you notice a problem, and do not inform us until you check out…well it must have not been that big of an issue. Report an issue when you discover it so it can be logged, we want to know about potential issues so we can take care of them.
    Respect…it goes both ways. I care not if you are a doctor or a ditch digger, I afford you the same respect, treat our staff the same way, or you’ll find your stay to be a brief one. Hotel staff isn’t there to be your outlet for a bad day.
    How do I handle guest complaints?
    Legitimate ones get handled immediately. A room move is usually the fastest way too accommodate this if it is a serious issue. After a couple of times of trying to fix an issue, if it’s clear that we are at an impasse, I will reverse check in and allow the guest to find accommodations more to their liking elsewhere without penalty.(Please also be informed on the processing difference of credit cards and debit cards.) Noise, if you disturb other guests, you get one call…that it is..we are grown people, act like it or leave without a refund. I have 62 other rooms to be concerned with. Now, some will read this and go, my word, he sounds rude. I am not, I am firm, I give you an answer when you ask me a question. I do not pass the buck, run it up the pole, we handle it then and there, but that might just be a Southern thing. Second comment, I bet you get lots of complaints?? Nope, in 10 years I think I’m still under one handful, and two of those came from the group of 12 rooms I had to remove from the property. Loyalty customers…half of you are great, half of you I’d like to strangle..if you gained all those points at another property and haven’t spent a dime with us, well pudding don’t come in acting like King George toward the Colonies…respect.

  15. Ciara Reilly says:

    Drinking water is an absolute must for me in every hotel room. The combination of over zealous air conditioning and dehydration after a flight means I am always beyond thirsty during the night. Do not understand why hotels can’t provide a simple bottle of water for guests!

  16. Merx says:

    I have payed for wifi (London), i have sat in the lobby for wifi(Mallorca), i have used password protected wifi in rooms, that did not function at all(Italy)…etc.The best is always having high speed connection in rooms. Yet ECJ laid the law that every free wifi provider must use password to protect the free connection…so i would rather use phone data roaming instead of wifi, if only the prices would go down to normal rate in foreign country.

    Hotels don´t have to equip their rooms with international plug options, but they could have switches in the repetition, i can borrow. That simple.

  17. Anne Grethe Holmen says:

    Another mistake: When a couple stay at a hotel, two proper chairs should be provided!Why do the hotels think it is ok with one, single chair to relax in when you are two people?

  18. Sfseltzer says:

    I triied CitizenM at CDG recently. Ugh. Did not like the millennial set up. The tin can small narrow room was claustrophobic. WiFi good BUT not worth the rest of it. Such a fake atmosphere. Good try.

  19. Laurent says:

    Great article and so many things to comment upon. But i’ll give my comment on early check-in only. I’ve been working in hotels for ages (5* hotel lately) and it has always surprised me how guests take early check-in for granted. When a guest calls in advance or send an email asking for an early check-in, we often reply that we grant early check-in upon availability. And this is not just words. There are many reasons why a hotel cannot grant early c/i
    1/ more often than not, guests ask to do a late check-out. We try to be nice and more often than not, we say yes
    2/ when we’re full and check-outs vary from 7am to noon, it is often difficult or impossible to give early check-in (even though guests complain that they’ve had a long and exhausting flight)
    3/ sometimes the guests don’t even advise Front Desk that they are extending their stay, they were supposed to check-out and they wait last notice, let’s say 1 or 2pm, when we finally manage to reach them, they say, we will stay another night, we will not move to another room thank you
    3/ the rooms available in the morning might not be the category you booked
    etc.
    The only option to guarantee the early check-in is to book one night before and trust me loads of corporate guests have their companies choose that option.
    But rest assured, we often allocate a room early in the morning, free of charge :)

    To make it short, it is nice to see things from another point of view, the staff’s. The guests is the key to our business but they forget that there are terms and conditions :)

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