First, let me disclose that I’ve never been a fan of “chain hotels” particularly when I’m in a country other than my own and even then, I’d much rather stay at a locally-owned boutique with the same star as a chain, regardless of the quality. That said, when you go very high end, it’s hard to be disappointed and the Four Seasons never has in my dozen or so times staying at them around the world.
There are people who are addicted to the Starwood system for the points and I’ve never been one of them, largely because I don’t really have points that are worth anything and have never received any benefit from the random number of times I’ve stayed at a Starwood property over the years.
I recently stayed at the Sheraton in Prague for about a week and while there were many “disappoints,” one of them was NOT the staff. The employees I dealt with were nothing short of professional and courteous and went out of their way to make my stay an enjoyable one. So what went wrong?
Part of the problem when an American chain hits Europe or anywhere for that matter where other things don’t work or infrastructure hasn’t caught up, your overall experience isn’t going to be what it should be, yet you’re still paying inappropriate prices regardless.
The Sheraton in Prague is on a fairly busy street that lacks in ambiance and the lobby while “nice” isn’t particularly special nor is there anything 5 star about it. The same applies to the overly priced restaurant which was outrageously expensive for the results. I went to a handful of top-end restaurants in Prague over the course of the week and the prices were less or about the same as the Sheraton’s restaurant (the wine was less everywhere I went than the Sheraton’s restaurant by a lot). And the experience was about half as good. The food was good but not great and yet the prices shouted “5 star experience” – ambiance, wait staff, quality et al. They also charged a wopping $7 to bring a tray around the corner and up the stairs to my room and remember this is Prague, not Paris, Singapore or Tokyo.
The spa was “nice” but again, not a top notch experience and while the massage therapists were sweet and gave it their all, they were young and petite so an hour sign-up would fall short for a large muscular man or person on business who needed deep body work. The sauna albeit complimentary was only turned on from 5-9, the same time just about everyone would be having dinner. They had an outrage (a quiet one) when I asked for a cup of tea to go from the dining room even though I didn’t partake in over half of the complimentary breakfasts while I was there.
Then there’s the noise. I was upgraded to a suite on the 6th floor. If you do end up having to stay there for business or are one of those Starwood addicts and feel that you have to stay there, avoid the sixth floor, particularly near the stairs. While the hallways are carpeted, there are patches that are not (marble floors) so when the vacuum cleaner gets dragged across those areas, the clanking can be heard in the early mornings. (the patch of hallway in front of my suite didn’t have carpeting so I heard the clanking every morning).
There’s also a 7th floor and while I’m not sure if the rooms on that floor are for guests or not (double check), you can hear what’s happening upstairs as if you’re staying in an apartment in an old building in the Bronx or close to it. (I could hear coughs, heals on the floor, door slams, creaks in the ceiling as people made their way across the floor – 1 am, 6 am, 8 am) and on at least six occasions, I was woken up from the 7th floor noise.
Alas, the Internet. While many hotels in Europe still charge for Internet access, a growing number are not, particularly lower-priced hotels. (if you’re paying more, in theory, shouldn’t web access be inclusive? Why is it always included in cheaper-priced hotels?)
C’mon global chains and 4 and 5 star boutique hotels – don’t you care about your customer experience? Make it easy on them and enjoyable as if you’re taking care of things for them rather than having them think about the extras – again and again and again. Sheraton’s charge for Internet access is 450 kronas per day ($29 U.S. or $203 for the week), which btw, had to renewed with a code DAILY by calling the front desk. It meant that I was bumped off the Internet every day and had to reboot for the code to be accepted likely because of some firewall issue. When you have as many tabs as I do open, it’s an extra 20 minutes of time that I spent on this daily and sometimes, the code didn’t work so I had to call the front desk AGAIN to get a new code. It was tedious and left a bad taste in my mouth every day as I had to go through this time consuming process.
Then finally the trip to the airport. I went through a lot of banter about ensuring that things were charged correctly to a pre-authorized amount on my room, including a car shuttle to the airport at the ungodly hour of 5 am, which meant a 4 something AM wake up call. I must have re-confirmed putting the car to the airport on the room charge four times with various front desk folks to AVOID any issues on the morning of given how tight the schedule was.
When the car came for the 20 minute drive to the airport which Sheraton charged 950 kronas for ($62 which is higher than what I paid in Paris recently and 30% more than NYC, Los Angeles, the list goes on), I confirmed with the driver that this was sorted in advance and pre-charged to the room which he nodded. When we got to the airport, he asked for a form. “What form?” I asked. “It’s on the room charge,” I replied. Then he decided to get nasty and yelled at me, “you have to have a form,” at which I replied, “talk to the front desk about this – it was taken care of.” This made him even angrier as I stood there after 2 hours of sleep at 5:20 in the morning, worried about missing my flight, knowing that I had sorted this out countless times IN ADVANCE to avoid this predicament. Of course the hotel had forgotten to charge the room causing aggravation and stress for a customer at a time when any delay could have resulted in missing a flight.
Really, Sheraton? Can’t you do better than this?
Renee Blodgett is the founder of We Blog the World. The site combines the magic of an online culture and travel magazine with a global blog network and has contributors from every continent in the world. Having lived in 10 countries and explored nearly 80, she is an avid traveler, and a lover, observer and participant in cultural diversity.
She is also the CEO and founder of Magic Sauce Media, a new media services consultancy focused on viral marketing, social media, branding, events and PR. For over 20 years, she has helped companies from 12 countries get traction in the market. Known for her global and organic approach to product and corporate launches, Renee practices what she pitches and as an active user of social media, she helps clients navigate digital waters from around the world. Renee has been blogging for over 16 years and regularly writes on her personal blog Down the Avenue, Huffington Post, BlogHer, We Blog the World and other sites. She was ranked #12 Social Media Influencer by Forbes Magazine and is listed as a new media influencer and game changer on various sites and books on the new media revolution. In 2013, she was listed as the 6th most influential woman in social media by Forbes Magazine on a Top 20 List.
Her passion for art, storytelling and photography led to the launch of Magic Sauce Photography, which is a visual extension of her writing, the result of which has led to producing six photo books: Galapagos Islands, London, South Africa, Rome, Urbanization and Ecuador.
Renee is also the co-founder of Traveling Geeks, an initiative that brings entrepreneurs, thought leaders, bloggers, creators, curators and influencers to other countries to share and learn from peers, governments, corporations, and the general public in order to educate, share, evaluate, and promote innovative technologies.