Monday, 13 August 2012

A Brick Barn room at The Olde Bell in Hurley

Moments of truth - what are they?

The expression 'moments of truth' was coined by a Swedish bloke who turned around the performance of a failing airline by travelling the world with its rivals and noting what was good and bad about each.

He called each little interaction a business has with its customers a 'moment of truth' meaning that each interaction is a chance for a business to shine in the eyes of the customer or to turn them off the offering, either for the moment or for ever.

Hotels are selling something pretty ephemeral: luxury; sleep; an experience; food; pleasure; location, to name just a few. And so it's important they get these moments of truth right if they want to keep their existing customers and attract new ones:

  • Their website. This needs to work but more than that, it needs to showcase the rooms. I don't know why more hotels don't do this - people don't generally buy things they can't see so why don't more hotel websites actually SHOW you the rooms? It bewilders me since it seems so blindingly obvious to me: people want to know what they'll be getting for their ££££ for the night so let 'em see.

  • Not only should an hotel have a good website but it should work on an ipad. If a hotel site only uses Flash (and as you may know, Flash doesn't work on an ipad) then I generally navigate away to a site that does. And yet another hotel loses my interest and my business.

  • Rates - these should be easy to find and it should be obvious what you're getting for each rate. See item 1 above.

  • Children, yes or no? It should be obvious whether or not the hotel has connecting rooms and accepts children but many force you to call them to ask or to sort out connecting rooms which frankly is bonkers. It's the 21st Century fgs.

And all the moments of truth above are before you've even booked a room or decided to consider buying what they're selling. Once you've actually bought a room (or more than one) there are at least 4 more additional moments of truth before you even get near a bed for the night:

  • The confirmation email. Should be sent immediately (since that's what we all expect these days) and should be literate, charming and accurate.  

  • The welcome when you arrive at the door. This should be by greeting you at your cab (if in London or a major city) or smiling and saying hello and welcome if you're approaching a reception desk in the country.

  • The whole reception / check in experience. This needs to be smiley, professional and friendly. I like hotels who ask "have you stayed before?" and offer a brief tour of the common areas (Haymarket and One Aldwych do this) if you haven't.

  • Whether or not you are offered help with your bags. I wouldn't expect this in a country pub but I would at any decent hotel. Ideally I don't want to lift a finger (other than to beckon a waiter) once I get to a hotel.

So there you go, there are 8 moments of truth, a chance for an hotel to impress you, the customer, and that's before you've even seen the room. See what I mean?

Hotel Crimes

If a hotel commits any of these Hotel Crimes I won't be back:  

  • Crime 1: fail to acknowledge me when I arrive. Basic, you'd have thought. I'm a Paying Customer, be nice to me!

  • Crime 2: fail to smile when I'm checking in. It's not hard, it's free to do surprisngly is not always done.

  • Crime 3: Try to fob me off with a crappy room. I have done my research before I stay somewhere, I know what I want, please don't insult me.

  • Crime 4: Serve me too slowly or with attitude. I can get attitude at home, I don't need it when I'm paying for service and atmosphere.

  • Crime 5: Manage my expectations badly. By this I mean if the pork belly is off, please tell me when you give me the menu. If your hotel is by the sea and my room hasn't got a sea view, tell me. That kind of thing.

A few hotels I want to try - worldwide

For various reasons:

  • The Four Seasons Singapore. This was my father's favourite hotel and they knew him well there. He'd go there to drink coffee, do some marking, (he was a teacher) do The Times cryptic crossword and just be looked after. I think my sister still has some of his ashes and if she does and if I ever make it there I should scatter some at The Four Seasons Singapore.

  • The Crosby House in New York. Because it's a Firmdale Hotel and although I've only been to The Haymarket if that's anything to go by it'll be fabulous. And it's glamorous and quirky. 

  • Carlisle Bay, Antigua. Because it's owned by the people who own One Aldwych so if that's anything to go by it'll be fabulous. And the beach looks gorgeous. I hate the sun but I reckon I could just about cope if there was some shade, a sea breeze, factor 50 and hot and cold running waiters. 

  • Hotel De Crillon in Paris. Because it's such an iconic building, right on the Place De La Concorde. We're going in October, hoorah!

  • I also fancy the Plaza Athenee in Paris but only because Carrie went there at the end of Sex and the City. Which is no reason to book a hotel so Crillon it is. 

My hotel Top Five

There are only a few hotels I truly love, that have really impressed me and made me want to go back again and again. They've all got something special about them and are really worth spending money in and on. Here's the list, more to follow on why they made this list

  • Hotel Tresanton, St Mawes, Cornwall
  • The Haymarket Hotel, Suffolk Place, London
  • One Aldwych, Aldwych, London
  • The Olde Bell, Hurley, Berkshire
  • Le Manoir au Quat' Saisons, Oxfordshire

I really want to stay in these country hotels - UK

Oh there are so many!

I'll start in the UK, because these fantasies are the ones I'm most likely to actually fulfil. So here's a list of where I want to stay and why. 

In the Countryside:

  • Babington House in Frome, Somerset. Because I've never been and it feels like a bit of an omission from any true hotel addict's list of experiences really. Although I do wonder whether it might be intimidating, given that I'm not a stick insect fashionista but it's been around so long it's probably out of fashion now so it'll probably be ok. 

  • Gidleigh Park on Dartmoor. Because I bet Michael Caines cooking is fantastic and the location is fabulous, on Dartmoor. We're going to scatter my father in law's ashes at some point and as he was a Dartmoor man, we'll stay at a Dartmoor hotel, maybe this one

  • Hotel Endsleigh in Devon. Because I'm a Polizzi fan and I bet the service is tip tip. And it's in Devon and looks peaceful, the sort of place where there's probably a grandfather clock ticking in the hall and a stream gurgling through the garden

  • The Bull in Bridport. Because it gets good reviews and sounds pleasingly rustic but stylish at the same time. 

  • Chewton Glen, The New Forest. Because, and this is really shallow, Mariella Frostrup gave it a fab write up when it first opened and because Caitlin Moran recently reviewed the tree houses which sound fabulous but REALLY STUPIDLY expensive. I want to see if it lives up to the hype really.

Hotels I will never stay in. Probably.

There are a few - well, probably more than a few - but at least 5 hotels below which I will never grace with my prescence. 

I don't generally stay anywhere below 5 star (darling!) so that cuts out a large proportioin of crap hotels in the world but here are a few which will never see my cash. 

  • Strattons in Norfolk, mainly due to this: which is self explanatory. Bad PR, terrible customer service, it would never cross my mind to go there.

  • The Crazy Bear in Beaconsfield. It looks too self consciously kerazee for me. I gather they check you in from an old London bus in the garden which says it all really.

  • Malmaison in Oxford. We went for a drink there a while back and the basement bar was gloomy, the service was surly and it used to be a prison which means the rooms are bound to be small. Maybe that's unfair as I haven't checked it or stayed there but I think there's something a bit spooky about staying somewhere where people were incarcerated. I wouldn't want to stay on Alcatraz either. 

  • Cotswold House Hotel in The Cotswolds. We went for lunch and I asked to see several of the rooms so I can report that they're lovely, sure but they really aint worth the prices they're charging which I assume is a Cotswold premium. Nice gardens, pretty town but overpriced so I won't do it

  •  Fawsley Hall in Northamptonshire. I went there for afternoon tea and the service was dreadful. It's why I don't generally do 4 star, darling.

I really want to stay in these beach hotels - UK

There's something about being beside the sea and as someone who used to live near it in Devon and has since moved to the middle of the country, I do miss it. These are the UK beach hotels I'm keenest to try: 
  • Burgh Island hotel. I've been into the stunning art deco reception area but they are quite sniffy about tourists milling around the common areas (fair enough I suppose, if you're paying nearly a grand a night you might want some peace and quiet) so I've never seen any further. It's a romantic location, across on Burgh Island in Devon and you need to get the sea tractor across the sands at Bantham, which is a great way to arrive anywhere really. 
  • The Driftwood in Rosevine, Cornwall. Their website is a bit rubbish so you can't see how the rooms look and I booked a couple of years ago but then went elsewhere in the end. Mainly because they don't serve food all day and I thought that would be a pain with children in tow. But the location is stunning and they have a private beach and a cabin just away from the main hotel which looks like just the place to take the children one summer. 
  •  The Lugger, Cornwall. Although I went there for lunch with my 2 well behaved children 5 years ago and they were definitely a bit sniffy about kids. But it's right on the edge of the cliff at Portloe and feels like smugglers and treasure and Du Maurier and it's just romantic. So taking the kids is probably where I went wrong if I'm honest.
  •  The Scarlett, Mawgan Porth, Cornwall. This is strictly adults only and looks divine from the website. Sea views from every room, an amazing spa, right by the beach, it just screams grown up glamour. Even the name is quite sexy. 

I'm sure there are more, I'll come back when I think of them. 

What makes a truly great hotel?

Loads of things but, in no particular order:

  • Great service: staff who really care and look after their guests. Getting the right balance and the correct mixture of friendly and unobtrusive is hard but wonderful when it's pulled off.
  • Location, obviously. It's no good staying in Central London if you crave sand dunes and salty air.
  • Fantastic beds and bedding - after all, you're paying for a good night sleep, among other things.
  • Extreme cleanliness. It's only okay sleeping in a bed someone else sweated in the night before if you know the bedding has been changed, the loo's been bleached and the shower's been cleaned. 
  • Great food because who wants to have to go further than downstairs to eat, really?
  • Decent decor. I don't want chintz at home so I don't want it in an hotel either.
  • Extra touches: The Haymarket leave a personal note and a gift - last time I went it was body oil, the time before chocolates. It makes guests feel loved from the off I think.

Confessions of a filthy hotel habit

Why do I like hotels so much? Good question. 

  • I'm incredibly lazy so love not having to cook or clean: leaving a room to go to lunch and coming back to find the bed made, new toiletries and clean towels pleases me greatly.

  • Anyone who has children will understand the monotony of putting food on the table every bloody day, day in, day out, for EVAH. It's tedious and I much prefer sitting at a table with a glass of wine and being waited on. Who wouldn't?

  • My husband and I like being able to have uninterrupted (and possibly loud) sex. We can't do this at home: we have a teenager who goes to bed at midnight and our children are mainly around, making sneaking off for a shag out of the question, even at the weekend.

  • My father also had a filthy hotel habit. He had massive delusions of grandeur and was always delighted when doormen remembered him and waiters knew his name, which they often did as he was charming and a big tipper, despite being mainly skint. He thought heaven was the Four Seasons in Singapore so I hope to make it there some day and have a Singapore Sling in his memory, as he died in 2001.