Terence Ronson's Inside Look at a London Hotel
|by Terence Ronson, July 2002
While en route to HITEC, my wife and I decided to stop off for a few days in London and visit family and friends. Along with that decision came the suggestion to stay in a hotel since it coincided with our wedding anniversary and we didn’t want to burden anyone with our waking up at 2am because of jet-lag. With both of us being long-time Marriott Rewards programme members and having jointly accumulated many thousands of points, we chose the Renaissance Chancery Court and hoped to redeem some points.
The property opened just over a year ago and has been transplanted into what used to be the Pearl Assurance headquarters in High Holborn, just around the corner to London’s West End and the City – and so location as well as the natural architecture of the old building greatly adds to its attractiveness.
Coming into London from Hong Kong is very traveler-unfriendly since it normally sees you arrive about the same time as the cock crows – 05:00, and by the time you work your way through airport formalities, and then wind your way through congested downtown traffic, you will most likely enter the hotel’s impressive courtyard about two hours later. If you arrive during the week, it would be a mistake to expect your room at £235 a-night + tax and service charge to be ready upon arrival since this is a business hotel, and from a brief conversation with Peter Caprez the GM – the hotel is full (mid-week) most of that time, so expect a couple of hours wait, as we had to do. Arriving on a weekend though, you will be mixing with people wearing shorts rather than suits.
The Receptionist (Isabelle) who so un-warmly greeted us and handled our registration process was even more un-apologetic that we could not go straight to our room, even though we had requested an early check-in. She was so as a matter of fact in processing our check-in, that it might have been better to have had an auto (ATM type) check-in machine. Our reservation had originally been for three nights, FRI, SAT & SUN and was to be charged on the weekend rate of £95++ for FRI & SAT with the SUN being a Marriott Rewards redemption, however, since we could not get into London on the Friday, we had to come one day earlier, and that was £235++ - NO DISCOUNTS or concessions at this place. She did make note though of our request for a complimentary Times newspaper each day – and would enter this into “our profile” on the corporate Fidelio system as she robotly put it.
Isabelle told us that the room would not be ready for at least a couple of hours since they were full the previous night. I then asked (wearing my hotelier’s hat as though I’d been in the business for more years than she had been alive) if the guest had already checked out, and she said – yes. I then respectfully suggested (since she had no further script to follow) if she could check with the floor housekeeping supervisor if there was any possibility they could clean the room now, and although she did, we were told it would still take two hours, and that a nice place to kill time would be the QC restaurant – the hotel’s coffee shop. She said to come back in two hours and it would be ready – so off we went not wanting to be too pushy having just spent 13 cramped hours on a full 747. I then proceeded to wonder how many people had already checked out, and how many people were in the queue before us to get a room – there was no visible queuing system so I could not tell….
OK, so there we are in the hotel’s restaurant, and enjoying a great eggs benedict and poached haddock as one would when its time for afternoon tea back home. The ambience in the room is very nice, since there is a mix of the old architecture, and the newness of modern day chandeliers and chrome fittings plus a background music consisting of SADE and contemporary jazz. Service was impeccable, friendly and helpful in response to some general knowledge questions, and the food standards more than acceptable. At that juncture just one hour after arrival, I couldn’t help but feel that the Food and Beverage Manager had done an excellent job in training his team, and that maybe he should spend time indoctrinating the Front Office staff in social skills – cross exposure I thought would not be a bad idea – and to put the waiting staff behind reception. Why hadn’t anyone thought of that before…?
At around 09:15 and after enjoying our hearty breakfast, we went back to reception and enquired if our room was ready. We were told that housekeeping was only just now cleaning it, and it would take another 15-20 minutes. Strange I thought how long it took housekeeping to get round to an urgent request – if indeed the message was ever passed that we were waiting, or perhaps it’s all part of a larger conspiracy to get an extra $25 breakfast revenue from us – who knows.
Anyway, 30 minutes later having waited in the lounge and with no one coming to fetch us (or giving us a free coffee not that we wanted it) although they promised they would, I went back to see (that) Isabelle again. Foolishly hoping she would remember me having checked me in a little earlier – she did not. So I gave her my name again, and she said – yes the room is now ready and proceed to cut our electronic key cards – I don’t recall her apologizing, or even suggesting we have a nice stay.
We proceeded to the room escorted by the bellboy and luggage, and were pleasantly surprised upon entry over the spaciousness and the initial feel of the room. The bellboy brought in our luggage and asked if we were familiar with everything in the room, and although I’m not sure what he expected as a reply, he got a tired “YES” and tip – he then wished us a pleasant stay, turned his back and exited stage right.
Facilities wise, the room is well kitted out. It had a very comfortable bed, a sofa, coffee table and small arm chair. The desk was of a good size and had a nice lamp and a two line phone. Power points were close-by to the desk, although the unique 110v power outlet labeled “Computers” was tucked away behind the heavy drapes and only discovered by accident, although in fairness it’s mentioned inside the guest services directory for those who actually read it. Personally, I preferred to scan through the six coffee-table magazines.
Disappointingly, there was no HSIA (high speed internet access) only ‘analogue access’ as the section in the directory refers to it, and to access this you are told to prefix your dialed number with a ‘9’. Local calls are not cheap, and charged at £0.60 for 1 Min and then £1.55 for 5 Mins and £2.55 for 10 Mins. I’m not sure what happens after that, but I better find out by checking my bill on the TV since each time I went on-line it was for no less that 20 minutes. Calls to AT&T and Collect calls are charged at a flat rate of £2. The closet is well lit, although the ballast for the fluorescent lamp needs changing since it makes a horrendous noise – one would have thought this would have been obvious to the housekeeper. There is a spare power socket behind the night stand, but you will need to be desperate and quite strong if you need to access it. The night stand sports a rather nice lamp which covers half of the painting on the wall behind it. As to whether or not this is a design feature – my wife and I are still deliberating.
The hotel is equipped with an On-Command system which provides in-room movies at £8.75 a view, on-screen internet access at £16.95 for 24 hours, and the PlayStation console is £6.15 per hour (I guess that’s cheap if you need to keep the kids quiet). An infra-red keyboard is provided for the internet access, but no laptop port. I did not try either of these facilities, but I can imagine how well they worked. There was not much else high-tech stuff in the room, of this so-called business hotel that is apart from a volume control in the bathroom, but no knob so you can turn it up or down. Quite frankly, I am not sure if this in intentional or just missing.
The marble bathroom is of a very acceptable size, well lit, and has an old fashioned tub with built-in shower and two hand-basins which admittedly was handy for us so we could have a his and hers situation. Unfortunately though, the black marble surrounding the wash basin was quite badly water stained, and in need of a good polish – strange though this being the case after only being operational one year. The shower head could also do with a good de-scaling – but then again London does have a lime-scale problem. The amenities were very basic for a room that costs close to US400 a night, and ours did not even come with cotton buds (yet they were on the maids trolley) or a toothbrush, then again these were probably on sale in the lobby shop – at a price.
There is an in-room safe, and an extensive mini-bar which contained such exotic items as Jelly Beans and a replica toy London bus. One of the neat and useful items to be found here was a plug adaptor which I guess could be used (freely) while in the hotel, but sold at £6 if you wanted to take it away. Tea and Coffee making is standard complete with 4 types of tea, two types of coffee, and also Swiss Hot Chocolate – perhaps a personal recommendation of the Swiss GM. The closet contains an iron and ironing board for last minute touch ups for your starched collar before heading down the road for that all important business meeting. Whilst there is a master switch for the lights, someone forgot to include the bathroom on the circuit – so you have to get out of bed for this annoying chore.
The business centre is open from 0700-2100 M-F, and 0900-1800 SAT & SUN; it was helpfully manned by a staffer who efficiently processed my request for some photocopies and the transmission of a local fax, which turned out to be without cost since I was a resident of the hotel. Pity they could not do that for the local in-room calls while accessing the internet. The Business Center has a computer you can use and is supplied by Telstra with a system called Hotel Portal and this allows you to surf the net via an ISDN line, do emails, Word processing and some other standard applications at a cost of £5 for 5 minutes, or £8 for 30 minutes. The staffer said “it could be faster”.
The lobby sports two vertical 42” LCD panels nicely housed in a steel shell, and these are used to display the day’s events and some advertising of hotel facilities. They are quite eye catching (especially for a techie like me), but someone needs to pay more attention to the spelling; for example, the day I looked at the panel, it showed the times of the World Cup football matches and someone must have said England vs. Brazil – seven thirty until nine thirty” which was then written as “07:30 – 21:30”. I know this was to be a tough game, but not with that much overtime or penalty shoot outs – surely.
Our first night was very comfortable – we enjoyed the quietness of the room, and the supplied mineral water helped us wash away the bitter taste of the bad handling of our check-in. The newspaper arrived nice and early and we could concurrently read this as we surfed through multiple TV channels including CNN and numerous European offerings. But since the armoire is incorrectly placed, and the arm supporting the TV does not extend far enough, you may miss half of the show as you can’t fully see it from the right side of the bed. My solution – listen to one of the 5 radio stations plumbed into the TV. When we came back to the room later that day, we found it nicely serviced – perhaps due to the fact I had left a crisp £5 note under the pillow for the maid…With hindsight, perhaps I should have repeated that practice on the succeeding days…
The second night also passed by uneventfully, and we again enjoyed the supplied mineral water along with the good night chocolates.
The next day came and things started to take a dramatic turn for the worse starting with the fact that the newspaper had not been delivered, the shower soap was not replaced although by now it was already transparent, and the mineral water (apart from that in the mini-bar) had disappeared altogether. I was not happy with this believing that the service levels were starting to be in direct proportion to the amount of money we were paying, and so made a point of complaining to the front desk staff as I went to the bar at 18:30 to meet some friends. They were also staying in the hotel having had made a special journey into town to meet us. I told the Receptionist (not Isabelle since she’d disappeared like the newspaper) that my wife was in the room, and that they could remedy this after 19:15 when we had gone out. No, they did not do that. Instead they called my wife who was sleeping and insisted on justifying the company policy why the soap was not changed and why there was no water delivered. This phone call did not please her in the slightest. After dressing up, she proceeded to take the sliver of soap to Reception and show them why it HAD to be changed. I believe they were unapologetic which did not baud well with this very frequent full-rate traveler.
After returning from our dinner and along with our friends we returned to the bar for a nightcap, and opting for Chamomile tea, this was appreciatively accompanied by a nice plate of chocolate chip and macadamia nut cookies. Going back to the room, although the soap had been changed, there was no mineral water, nor newspaper, but Peter the Duty GRO had (kindly in his mind) sent us some chocolates – how wrong he was thinking that such a sweet gesture would heal our sore wounds.
The next day arrived, but again the newspaper didn’t. So off I went and complained again. I was told that specific instructions had been given to the concierge (and that it was in our magic profile) to make sure our paper would be delivered, and so someone was obviously stealing ours. Why ours I thought? Was it so special especially when there were so many others to choose from. Anyway, that was his excuse as he pulled me aside from a meeting with my friends in the lobby. He also told me that after 9-11 only certain guests receive water, and from what I could gather – we did not fit that profile now being on a weekend rate. My wife and I then left the hotel around 10:00 and only returned around 18:00 for a quick freshen-up before meeting another set of friends for dinner. To our dismay upon returning to the room, there was a DND sign on the door, and the room had not been cleaned. There were however, three important things to note: the first was that a card had been slipped under the door saying that someone had tried to deliver our laundry, but could not so because of the DND sign. The second was a voicemail from Housekeeping again about the DND sign, but the third baffled me; a newspaper had been delivered into our room by someone who had left it half hanging off the desk chair and yet there was a DND sign on the room door – or was there when at the time they entered? The mind boggles…
I called the Duty GRO and let loose a list of reasons why I though the service in this hotel (undergoing its renaissance) was less than satisfactory culminating in this stupidity. He apologized, and said he would get onto it right away – starting with interrogating the memory of the electronic door-lock to see who had entered the room – cool answer I thought but did this type of lock actually carry an audit trail. I said we were shortly going out and for them to take care of it while we were – he agreed it would be done.
We returned around 23:00 and again stopped off for a quick Chamomile Tea in the bar as I had so enjoyed the previous night. Only this time to find out, after the tea was served, that there were no more cookies. It was a Sunday night and the kitchen was closed. But I could come back in the morning and get some.
Further disappointed, we returned to our semi-cleaned room. I say this because it just looked like the duty housekeeper spend 8 minutes tops cleaning the room; the wastebaskets weren’t even emptied, the towels look like they had been re-folded, the bathroom supplies e.g. toilet paper had not replaced, and neither were the tea and coffee making facilities replenished.
So the morning of departure finally came, and I decided to review my folio on-screen from the TV. I found a £55 charge for a limo from the airport which we never took having driven in by a hired Hertz car. I complained and it was removed. At checkout, the PR Manager met us, and apologized over the lack of service – or as I would more aptly put it, a comedy of errors. She said that £15 for our breakfast had been removed from our bill being a gesture and that our profile had again been updated should we ever decide to again stay in this hotel.
I wonder how the F&B manager feels about this? He seemed to have such a good team, and yet his revenue was now being penalized for the bad performance of others – in my mind, that action is more of an insult. Checklists are a good idea providing they have the right things on the list, and are followed. Reception has them, but I did not see the inclusion of “smile, look at the guest, and be nice at all times”. Housekeeping could definitely use them, and the chef who is off on Sundays could also make one.
This hotel would definitely take the biscuit – if you can find one.
© firstname.lastname@example.org June 25, 2002
2/F, 22 Stanley Mound Road,
Stanley, Hong Kong SAR
Telephone: +852 9468 0848
Fax: +852 3010 0124
UK: (+44) (0) 207 681 2647 (Fax and phone)
|Also See||Shanghai Surprise: Update on Hotel Technology at Grand Hyatt Shanghai and The St. Regis Shanghai / Jan 2002|
|Welcome to Tomorrow’s Hotel / Terence Ronson / Aug 2001|
|Customer Is King - Long Live the King! / Terence Ronson / Nov 2001|