A good hotel experience is about more than just how it looks!


This week I found myself in Aberdeen, the Oil & Gas Capital of Europe. Once upon a time, getting a hotel room up there was near-on impossible and if you could find a room, you’d be paying through the nose for it.

 

However as you may know, Aberdeen has fallen on hard times. With the oil price at an all-time low, the City is a shadow of its former self.

And so, when I realised that my schedule had me up there 3 days in a row this week, I decided to have a look for a hotel. It would just be much easier and I could get more work done than if I were driving back & forth.

A quick look on booking.com resulted in a plethora of options. I settled on the Park Inn by Raddison on Justice Mill Lane, in the heart of the city. Bed & breakfast, in a clean, modern, stylish hotel for £82 a night. Back in 2003 when I was staying in Aberdeen 3 nights a week I had to book 3 weeks in advance and even then I’d be paying north of £130 for a Premier Inn. Changed days indeed…..

I’d stayed in a Raddison Blue before, but never at their Park Inn brand. From the pictures on the website it looked lovely – modern, stylish, colourful, friendly. Just what I like, as many of you will know from my regular snaps / check-ins at CitizenM in Glasgow / London.

However, what I found once I got into the hotel left me less than amazed. You see, whilst the fabric of the hotel was excellent – nicely designed, quality furniture etc. – the experience wasn’t on a par. The hotel had no soul, and as any of you who’ve been reading my stuff will know by now, experiences are about how a service makes you feel.

On arriving at the hotel I was met with a sign that had been blue-tacked (WTAF!) onto the revolving doors telling me when the doors would be locked (between midnight and 6am in case you’re interested). Not a good start.

Walking through the beautifully styled lobby, I was struck by the fact that the hotel felt cold. Clinical almost. Something just felt wrong.

The girl who checked me in was friendly enough, but I’d have liked to do that myself if possible. The self check-in at CitizenM is one of my favourite things in life!!

I had to move up a couple of desks at the check-in desk, as they only had one card terminal instead of one at each desk. It’s the little things…..

I dumped my stuff in my room and headed out for a walk. It was cold, but good to get out and get some exercise. On my walk I decided to have dinner at the hotel, as I was on a webinar at 8pm and didn’t want to risk being late.

So when I got back, I made my way to the hotel restaurant. Again, it was an underwhelming experience. At 7pm it was pretty empty and everything seemed a little rushed. The soup was too hot to eat. It was tasty enough, just too hot.

The waiter was friendly and attentive, but not in the slick, professional way you would expect from the Raddison brand. Again, it was out of sync.

Yesterday morning I had a similar experience at breakfast. The food was distinctly average, the staff not so friendly, and the coffee was awful. My friend Allan Corfield was snapping from his hotel in Birmingham and the pics of his breakfast left me feeling decidedly jealous!

I finished my breakfast, left the coffee and checked out so that I could go out and find some decent coffee. Again, it’s the little things….

Actually the checkout was a pain, as I had to wait in a queue and I just wanted to get out and get some coffee!

Finally parking. The hotel is above a car park, and yet they don’t have a deal for residents. So I paid full price to park overnight. This wasn’t clear when I booked. Once again, comparing this to CitizenM, they have a deal with local car parks, so it only costs £10 to park when you stay at the hotel.

I realise that this could come across as just a moan. That’s not the point. Let me summarise and give you my thoughts on what went wrong here.

First of all, the hotel made a promise to me with the Raddison name above the door. That set my expectation level given my previous experiences of the brand. What followed didn’t meet that brand promise.

I like the styling of the hotel, but not the way they operate it. The two were out of balance. The hotel is modern, cool, funky even. The operating style not so. It would be more suited to a traditional, older, hotel. For me if you’re going to style a hotel that way, then you go all-in.

By all-in, I mean embrace the technology. Innovate with things like self check-in/out. Provide great food & drink. Think about the atmosphere you want to create. Use the music and lighting to create the right vibe. Employ cool people. Don’t serve shit coffee and average food. Think about, and attend to, the details. They matter.

Now maybe my experience this week was a sign of the times. The other guests, on the whole, didn’t look like the kind of people you’d expect to find in a ‘cool’ hotel. I don’t mean that in a judgemental way, they just looked more suited to somewhere like the Holiday Inn. I suspect the cheap price and central location was what led them to be there (plus corporate deals – there’s still a LOT of that in Aberdeen), and not the hotel itself. That felt almost secondary. If the hotel down the road had a £72 a night deal, they’d have gone there. The brand wasn’t the attraction for them.

If you’re not familiar with CitizenM, then I would urge you to go there. They get it just right. Down to the coffee, which in Glasgow comes from the guys at Dear Green. I love their coffee. I love the self-check-in, I love the friendly, international, staff. I love the brand and everything they stand for.

They’ve become our default hotel when we visit a City they have one in. We’ve stayed with them in Glasgow, London, Amsterdam and then in September we’re staying with them in New York for a week.

We know what the brand stands for and they deliver every time. Park Inn needs to think about this if they want to get it right.

 

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