Hotel Chaos

2013
10.27

Hotels have long been the butt of jokes. From the inn in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, via Regency romps, any number of Victorian hotels and boarding houses, through the seaside landlady, to modern corporate luxury hotels, the accommodations and hospitality industries have been an easy target for jokes. That’s because most of us stay in hotels at some time or other.

I’m from England and I was brought up in the 1960s. Back then,the family holiday of choice would be a week by the seaside. Somewhere like Blackpool, Scarborough or Tenby. Bucket and spade, rain, soggy chips and saucy postcards. In these modern times, we stay in hotel accommodation much more often than our ancestors. Even our Moms and Pops. No wonder we find things to laugh at.

donkeys

I have stayed in hotels that would make anyone laugh. There was one in the west of Ireland during the 1970s that was billed as “the most modern building in these islands” or some such. Everything was custom-built and the media lauded it as the height of cutting edge hospitality.

Even so, the soup in the restaurant was from a packet and still crunchy, the dessert was frozen solid and inedible, and no one was able to work the charging system. When we mentioned these slight problems to the waiter, a cartoon chef emerged from the kitchen, complete with big bushy moustache and  meat cleaver. Worst even than the food (and I won’t even mention the rock-hard egg and uncooked bacon at breakfast),  was the fact that the heating was stuck on “full” all night, with the windows welded shut. The next morning, the manager was in reception, dressed in his frock coat, receiving complaints from a line of guests and handing out free stay vouchers.

“Yes, I know, it’s terrible,” he kept saying. “I really do apologise. We’ve only just opened, and there are one or two teething problems to iron out,” and so on…

The very best series about hotel mistakes and errors must be John Cleese’s excellent Fawlty Towers, which first aired on the BBC in the 1970s. Although only 12 episodes were ever made, it has long been seen as a comedy classic. The reason those of us in the hotel business find it so funny is that it’s so close to real life. For example, the manager may not be a snob and a bigot, but chances are the rest of the staff will consider him stuffy and ridiculous. If not, they’re almost certainly being kind.

Here is a brief section from an episode from the first series, first broadcast on 10th October, 1975. Episode 4 is titled The Hotel Inspectors and is one of the funniest extracts ever. It has been said that if you don’t find the series funny, then either you have never stayed in a hotel or else you’ve got no sense of humour.

These days, standards have changed. I doubt very much if many establishments like Fawlty Towers exist today. Back when it was made, this kind of establishment was, if not common, then still widespread. In the current economic climate, where everyone is striving for value for money, such an establishment wouldn’t last a month.

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Is The Best Hotel in the World in Dubai?

2013
07.07

burj_al_arabCan it really be possible for the finest hotel in the world to be in Dubai? The owners of the Burj Al Arab say it is. And to prove it, they say that their hotel has seven stars. Yes, this is a 7 star hotel.

It’s hard to see how any hotel can be called “7 star luxury”. It’s a bit like Spinal Tap’s guitar amplifier that “goes up to 11″,  and salesmen who claim to give their employers 110%. But Burj Al Arab, described as “the world’s most luxurious 7 Star Hotel” is located in the United Arab Emirates state of Dubai. The stars seem to stem from the hotel’s over-the-top sense of luxury, such as having reception desks on every floor and a jacuzzi in every suite.

Trip Advisor are not quite so generous, but then the people writing the reviews are ordinary people for the most part. Hardly experts on luxury hotels. Burj Al Arab literally means “tower of the Arabs” and, at 321 metres from ground to tip, it has the distinction of being the fourth tallest hotel in the world. You may be surprised to learn that only the top two are in Dubai, the third tallest is in North Korea. There’s a fact to counter the stereotypes!

This futuristic quill-shaped tower was built on an artificial island, within slumming distance of  Jumeirah Beach. This area used to be called Chicago Beach until the powers that be realised that the name conjured up images of Al Capone, stockyards and labour migration among many of the world’s population. In the hotel itself you can expect a very high ratio of staff to customer. Judging by the video, all of them seem to be smiling all the time.

Here’s a promotional video about it. It may shock you (especially if you’re the type who likes to arrive at a hotel quietly and without fuss):

Another surprise is that the Burj Al Arab has only 202 bedroom luxurious suites, over 22 double-storey floors (it’s complicated!). The smallest suite occupies 169 square metres, the largest is 780 square metres. The listed room rate for the Royal Suite is US $18,776 per night, though I am sure discounts can be had if you haggle. There’s a fleet of modern Rolls Royces at the disposal of any guest who would rather not use the private helicopter for shopping trips.

The Burj Al Arab is very popular with the rich Chinese. In the two years since it opened, 25% of the hotel’s booking have come from what used to be Red China. When it comes to opulence and  luxury accommodation, there’s nothing like the nouveau riche, it seems.

So what about this tag as “the world’s only seven-Star hotel”? To their credit the owners of the hotel say it was nothing to do with them. A spokesperson for the hotel’s owners, the Jumeirah Group  said:

“There’s not a lot we can do to stop it. We’re not encouraging the use of the term. We’ve never used it in our advertising.”

It seems that a British journalist on a press trip coined to phrase to describe the zealous levels of service and quality she encountered. Needless to say, when the phrase started t be used by other journalists, the owners could only shrug and modestly claim that the “seven star” thing was nothing to do with them.

There’s no doubt that Burj Al Arab is a leading hotel of the world. It might even be classified as “the best” by some of its customers, but surely when you get to these levels of opulence, the height of luxury can be very subjective. Is it so much better than all the 5 star hotels in Dubai? And are there any 6 star hotels around the block to compete? Probably not, if the story we’ve heard is true. But to be called the “best hotel in the world” is a big ask, even for a 7 star hotel.

Can Burj Al Arab live up to its hype before Trip Advisor fills up with stories about hairs in the wash basin and butlers not bowing quite low enough. Only time will tell.

Here’s another video about Dubai. It’s hosted by British chat show host Piers Morgan, but don’t let that put you off. It was shown on ITV and doesn’t have a bad word to say about the country and its rulers. There’s lots of fun spotting product placement and you can easily guess were Piers and his crew were staying whist in Dubai. Tells you all you need to know about luxury hotels in the modern world:

Hotel Safe Security Warning

2012
01.12

We’ve got to to alert you to an important detail that could potentially ruin your holiday or business trip. Back in September I was looking through Youtube for new cheap hotel-related videos when I came across this video by “Skyrangerpro”:

Since then the staff and friends of this site have visited a few hotels, most of which had safes tucked away somewhere in a bedroom closet or cupboard. The type of safe you’ll in hotels find seems universal, whether you are staying in Bristol, Bangkok or Brisbane, and they all seem to incorporate the same digital locking and unlocking mechanism as shown in the Youtube video. The bad news is that the universal access code “000000″ worked in 24 out of 28 hotels we stayed at. The worse news is that “123456″ worked in the other four!

We would like to hear what you discover when you are staying in hotels. Please use the comments section below. Thanks… and take care.

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Using Hotel Comparison Websites

2011
12.20

Lots of people rely on hotel comparison websites to find the best priced accommodation. This is all very well, provided you take into account that not every hotel or hotel chain submits themselves to this process. It’s also very unlikely you’ll find too many smaller or boutique hotels on sites like this. Personally, I only use them if I don’t have time to do a proper job as described elsewhere on the Bargain Hotel Finder site.

So, assuming time is short, here are some tips on ways to get the possible possible deal. As you’d expect, some of these sites are better than others. Unfortunately which is the best will vary  all the time. Because they’re basically ways for the owners of the hotels to shift rooms for the highest possible price, everything depends on what deals they are authorised to offer at any given moment. Prices vary all the time and can even fluctuate several times during a 24 hour period!

You really need to know how to take advantage of “the system” to make it work for you. Here is my personal guide to getting the most from these types of accommodation websites.

Bargain Hotel Finder

Step #1:  Find Your Hotel

Assuming you know your ultimate destination, the next thing is to decide how much you want to spend on your accommodation. Begin your search by using a hotel comparison website such as Hotels.com and Expedia.com and look and see what the prices are for like for your chosen destination during the period you want to stay. It often pays to be flexible as to travel dates, if you possibly can. Don’t forget, your aim is to get the best room at the cheapest price.

Don’t pay too much attention to the hotel’s star rating, as these vary from country to country and are often self-rated – which means that the hotel decides how many stars it should have! See other articles on this website for further details on how the star rating system works.

Step #2:  Check Trip Advisor

Tripadvisor is a worldwide phenomena on which real visitors and travellers review places they have stayed at, and includes photographs taken by past guests. You can search for hotels in various resorts and cities to see whether they are top-notch or tips. Trip Advisor is the most accepted website of the moment. Pick your favored hotel and have a reserve standing by. Part of getting the very best deal involves a little flexibility!

Remember to take what the reviews say with a pinch of salt. Often it’s a question of reading between the lines to work out what actually went on. For example, some people only post great reviews, others only feel stirred into action to post terrible reviews. Check out the poster’s previous reviews to see which they are. Because Tripadvisor’s customers are not professional reviewers, often their knowledge is lacking. I once read a restaurant review that moaned about the gazpacho soup being cold, which it’s meant to be. Another reminded me of a scene from the BBC TV programme Fawlty Towers, when the reviewer gave a bad review because there were no boats in the harbour she could see out of her window!

hotel_website_01

Step #3:  Check The Price Offered By The Hotel

This can either be via the hotel’s own website or by telephone. I suggest you try both as special offers and bargain deals can be found on either. Two-for-one offers, free breakfasts and gratis parking are usually reserved for personal customers only. Remember that comparison websites are usually reserved for getting rid of surplus rooms and that a premium often has to be paid to the website operator, so it’s not surprising you can get better deals direct.

I suggest you avoid giving personal details about yourself until you find out what the prices are. I’ve known people who have been denied deals because they’d already agreed to a higher price. It’s worth remembering that a hotel room is not like a pint of milk or a packet of cigarettes, there is no set price. Any prices posted on a board near reception are likely to be the maximum the hotel expects to receive. It makes people feel good if they get even a penny knocked off!

Step #4:  Spend A Little Time & Find The Best Deal

Do some searching. Check out online ads and do some searching to find the best price, but make sure you are comparing like with like. Check the standard of room and whether breakfast is included… and watch out for hidden extras such as booking fees and local taxes. Remember, the person who finds the best value hotel accommodation is the one who wins!

The crucial thing you have to remember is that all hotels are looking to be as full as they possibly can be. The clever traveller has to exploit this knowledge in order to find the best possible deal.

Here’s a useful video about Travel Safety. In it Harry Smith speaks to CBS News travel editor Peter Greenberg about hotel security concerns and tips for staying safe when traveling around the world:

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Hotels Survey

2011
11.06

It’s easy to exist on assumptions, which most of us do. When businesses take the trouble to ask their customers what they actually think, many get a shock. Very often the way we assume people think and their actual opinions can often be a very wide gulf indeed. We were certainly surprised by the results of our own survey.

When we asked a sample of 100 hotel guests why they had chosen their particular accommodation, 61% of them said it was because of the hotel’s location. Price had very little to do with their decision. So what price cheap hotels now?

Survey: Location Said To Be Main Reason For Hotel Choice

We discovered that only 21% of the guests we sampled over 12 London hotels in early November 2011, cited cost as their primary reason for choosing a particular hotel. This I find very surprising. But I don’t know why I continue to be amazed: whenever I stay at a hotel I am always shocked that other people are paying wildly differing prices for essentially identical rooms. Because I am “in the cheap hotels business”, I know how to get a very good price, but I’ve known other guests pay as much as five times (yes, 5x) the price I’ve paid for rooms practically next to each other. Other articles on this website reveal the secret methods I use, whether you’re booking cheap weekend breaks or a round the world trip.Bargain Hotel Finder pie chart 001

Another interesting result in the Hotel Finder Survey was that five out of the 100 guests said that their company had booked their accommodation for them. So, surely the company would be looking to find the best possible rates and using their corporate clout to reduce rooming costs? Not in my experience.

A few weeks ago I stayed at a Hilton hotel at a university town in England. I paid £98 a night for my fairly comfortable room (just don’t ask what the cost of the wi-fi was! Ludicrously expensive). The six rooms next to mine were occupied on a medium-term basis by visiting software designers (or something) from the USA, whose company had a research deal with the university. Even though they were six people staying for almost seven weeks (a total of 40 night), their rooms were being charged at £175 a night each. That works out to a massive 79% more. And their firm had signed an exclusive deal with Hilton in order to get the “best” prices!

I find that this is the problem when it’s someone’s job to book accommodation in a business environment: unless it’s their money they are spending, cost does not become a primary concern. Let’s assume that you and I are spending our own money when we book hotel accommodation and that we want the best deal. That’s what this website was set up for: to help you find the cheapest hotel bargains.

Survey: 5% of hotel guests are “return customers”

Of course, cost should not be the only reason for choosing a hotel. Anyone who booked a flea-ridden room a hundred miles away from where they want to be, would be a jerk. The real secret of getting cheaper hotels is to be flexible. Weigh up the three primary factors – location, price and quality – before you make your booking. Personally, I always aim for 4-5 star quality at 3 star prices.

Random Thoughts on our Hotel Survey

I’d like to make one or two brief comments about this, our first ever survey. For a start, it took a lot more time and effort to complete than we initially thought it would. Even though our sample of 100 travellers was fairly modest, picking a representative sample of London hotel guests and getting them to answer questions was not as easy as we thought. Roughly half of the people we initially approached refused to speak to us at all, assuming we were wasting their time or had some hidden agenda. Only 80% of the first surveys were made were actually finished. This meant we had to go out and find more people willing to answer our simple questions.

hotel_reception

If we’d stuck to visiting American male businessmen, we’d have finished the survey in record time. Practically all the ones we approached agreed to answer our questions. The hardest to persuade turned out to be female business-people from the USA and everybody just about from China, Japan and Singapore. These take up a significant number of visitors using hotel rooms in London, but we had to approach literally hundreds before we could get anyone to talk.

The results of the survey are good news for those of us who are looking for he best hotel prices. Because the majority of people do not consider cost to be their primary concern when booking into a particular hotel, it means that the rest of us have the opportunity to get the better deals. The great think about being able to sniff out bargain hotel rooms is that it’s like playing a computer game – and when you get a really good hotel really cheap, the buzz is terrific!

Here’s a funny video of Gordon Ramsay talking about hotels. He’s plugging a TV show, but it’s still fun to watch.