Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Dear Hoteliers, IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS! The story of A REAL SHOCKER of a "Greeting"

No matter how cheap economical or over-priced luxurious a hotel, it’s the little things that stick in my brain. Things like a sensible clock, a variety of pillows, a heating/air conditioning system that doesn’t sound like an off-balance washing machine. Or careless things like beverage rings on the furniture. (I stop typing a moment here to growl since the lowest paid on the totem pole usually delivers the most important impression.) Or bright cheery lighting versus dull light bulbs, so dull I need a minor’s light attached to my head. Complimentary or raping high-cost Internet service. A free breakfast with at least an ounce of protein versus an offering of doughnuts. A lavish manager’s reception, chips plus drinks to order, versus a weeks’-old bowl of dusty apples at the reception desk.

But it’s a hotel/motel’s first impression, especially a bad one, that triggers my high-alert alarm. While a few microns of dust under the television in my room (you know, that line of sight from the prone position?) might otherwise go uncharted, start me off with a bad first impression and I’m gunning for other areas of neglect. Like a few microns of dust under the television.

Mind you, I don’t need a manager’s reception or hot chocolate chip cookies to lure me back to a brand. In fact, I most often can’t afford to stay where they’re offered. And I don’t mind a simple bowl of fruit. No siree. In fact, I sometimes actually take a piece, and—wait for it-- eat it. But gimme that bruised bowl of dusty apples on a check-in desk, sans a desk clerk in sight to greet me, and I get itchy to grab my blacklist pen.

Nonetheless, even when I have to wait a few minutes for an employee to materialize, even if there is no newspaper or juicy morsel to pop in my mouth, if I get to my room and it’s clean, bright, smells fresh, doesn’t have a concave bed, nothing is crawling around on the floor or under the sheets, and there’s a semi-comfortable clean chair and a desk, I’m pretty forgiving about other things. I’m not much of a whiner—although I am one of those people who might have a private chat with the folks at the desk before I leave, especially when things run amuck. 

The following experience garnered a book-length chat, although when I left, I doubted my polite feedback would result in even a hiccup of change. You’ll see why.

For the first time in years, and due to a lack of choices in the rural area, I booked a room at a Super 8, which is now a subsidiary of Wyndham Worldwide

My very first shocking impression (and it went downhill from there) was enough to turn me off from ever booking a Super 8 again. If THIS is how they welcome new guests, I wonder about cleanliness in any other areas, like my sheets, the toilet or the carpet. It doesn't take long to imagine a stockpile of cost cutting shortcuts, inattentive management, germ laden nightmares and creepy crawly things that go bump in the night.

Seriously, this is how they handed me my keycard! Seriously. For real. Front and back. Real pictures. Of real “service” and first impressions. This alone nearly turned me off the entire chain—for the second time in my life.
When George and I married 43 years ago, every trip we took was on a budget nicely matched by Super 8 prices. The chain was founded in 1972 so for the most part, they were not only new, but clean and dependable. When you walked into the lobby and your room, you knew what you’d see, what to expect, right down to the pictures on the wall. I’d compare their initial dependability with what I expect and receive today from Hampton Inns.

We stuck with Super 8--were loyal to Super 8--well into the eighties, at which point reliability started to slip, boredom set in, and our financial situation had upped a notch. “No matter where we go in the country, George, it looks like the inside of a Super 8." Back-to-back stays with cleanliness issues turned me off the chain for good. Right up until earlier this year when I was invited to speak. In a rural area. In a wonderfully friendly little town with a raceway. (Perhaps that explains all the grease on the keycard cover, but it sure doesn't explain why I GOT IT!)

I was told there were only two local hotels in town, and that the Super 8 was recommended. By the locals who booked me. Who ought to know good from bad. Except now that I think about it, they never stay there, do they?

Perhaps I should have heeded a subliminal warning when the woman who booked me to speak invited me to stay in her home. I enjoyed her company, immensely, but not wanting to be "talked out" before I had to present three times in different venues the next day, I kindly declined and made my reservation. After all these years, I felt pretty confident Super 8 had upped their game. After all, they had that Wyndham connection going for them, and they had that whole sort-of-new-logo thing .... And they rebranded from Super 8 Motels to Super 8 International, which sounds way more awesome.

How bad could it be?

In case you missed it, please look at the keycard case pictures again. Don’t you wonder exactly what the desk clerk thinks your first impression of their establishment might be when you’re handed a grody mess like that? My thought was, “Super 8, where we really don’t give a crap.”

I realize this is a harsh way to judge an entire chain, and is in fact an unfair way to judge an international group. I even feel a teensy bit bad for yammering on about it. But ... Seriously? You handed me that? When that's my first impression, and that's all I have to go on ….

But wait, there’s more.

Even though I’d requested nonsmoking, I opened my room door and was nearly bowled over by the stagnant fog of exhaled tar and nicotine. I marched (okay, at my age it's more like a determined saunter) straight back to the desk and asked for another room, hopefully with a fresh keycard cover. “I’m afraid I don’t have any rooms that will be better,” she said, “but I can bring down some spray.” Which she did, which, as you can imagine, accomplished nothing other than to add another layer of stinky yuck.

I thought about the personal invite I’d declined and quivered at the thought of what the other motel in town must be like that was not recommended. But the hard cold reality: I was tired, I needed to get both some rest and some sleep, and it was too late to reinvite myself as a house guest.

Holding my breath, I checked the bathroom. My assessment: dated with smidges of moldy grout but otherwise “clean enough”. I removed the smoky smelling bedspread and checked the sheets. Paper thin but mostly white. Nothing moving. Flat pillows, but oh well, my only other option was sleeping in the car.

I moved to the small fridge, which I appreciate in a room. Score one, Super 8! When one travels on a budget, one doesn’t waste food. I always seem to have a doggie bag hermetically sealed to my fingertips when I walk into a hotel room, which I did after that day's five-hour drive.

Wow! Head start! Someone had left a Styrofoam carton containing a chocolatey dessert in the handy-dandy fridge. There didn’t appear to be mold around the edges (why do we risk taking a look?!), so perhaps it was from last night’s guest? (For the record, I've experienced this same Refrigerator Surprise in extremely expensive hotels too.) For a misguided nanosecond I considered downing it to calm myself and receive the benefits of the chocolatey *polyphenols that combat heart disease and may influence metabolism, therefore making me slimmer, not to mention the wonders of antioxidants and flavonoids, which … do something good. Instead I ceremoniously—as in STRIKE THREE!—marched (no hint of saunter) the container to the front desk. Where it was received with a smile, an almost-but-not-quite apology, and where it quickly disappeared to a back room.

Oh, boy.

Before reluctantly crawling into bed that night, I turned the fan on high, closed tight my eyes and said my prayers. Big time prayers covering all types of requests that I please be spared from contracting all kinds of stuff. I finally dozed off. I didn’t bother with the free breakfast the next morning because, well, KEYCARD COVER, and by this time I was afraid I might find a chocolate dessert cut up in little squares passed off as breakfast bites.

Ending on a positive note, during my stay a carpet cleaning company busily spruced up the hallways and empty-room carpets. At least I witnessed that.

My one regret is that I didn't come home and send a letter to the highest people I could find at both Super 8 and Wyndham. But honestly, after an experience like that--my overall first impression of Super 8s after nearly a thirty-year absence--I just blacklisted them from my realm of options.There was no way for management to undo that which was already done, starting with the littlest thing: the keycard holder. I'd rather add a hundred more inconvenient out-of-my-way driving miles next time rather than risk another gross experience. 

I understand my decision to just Let The Whole Thing Go. These days I strive to conserve my energy for ongoing battles that must be waged. But blacklisting an entire chain after one experience also makes me kinda sad. Sad for other Super 8 establishments and their hard working careful employees who I'm sure must be out there. In fact, if you’ve recently experienced a terrific Super 8 stay(s), please post about it here in the comments. I’d like to know there is another side to this chain, one that might—might—lure me back on a tired night on the road.



Anonymous said...

I definitely agree about cleanliness and care that's shown. And it doesn't have to be an expensive hotel to get that.

But I have a question. I've recently stayed at a "boutique" hotel and then a chain hotel (Indigo) in a large city (Chicago) that didn't have full-length mirrors in the rooms. It annoyed me mightily, but I have no idea if anyone else cares, or if it's a trend I should watch out for. Anyone know?

Charlene Ann Baumbich said...

You are right. It doesn't have to be expensive to be clean, and expensive doesn't necessarily guarantee you won't find some grime, although it does seem to up the odds.

As for the mirror thing, I don't recall a hotel without a full-length mirror, but absence of one wouldn't sit well with me. I'm a speaker who needs to check all of my apparel. At the very least to make sure my shoes match my outfit, but moreover, to make sure my hemline isn't stuck up in my pantyhose. :)

I'd definitely be leaving feedback on that. I'll be curious to see what others have to say. How much can they save with half a mirror? I'm assuming it's a cost-cutting measure. Or was there something about configuration that made it impossible? Can't imagine what ...

Thanks for the input and the good question.

Stewart said...

It is a shame to blacklist a whole chain because of one property, however in my experience, if one property is badly managed, then most of the same brand tend to be. It comes down to lack of interest from the owner of the brand and their franchisees. In the US, I avoid Ramadas like the plague. In the UK, Travelodge. I've had too many bad experiences at both brands to risk staying again.

Anonymous said...


With all due respect, I've encountered disastrous properties that were totally inconsistent with the rest of the chain. Let's not forget that it's difficult for chains (especially lower-cost ones) to regularly monitor every property with any regularity... so guests' feedback is especially important for them to identify -- and HOPEFULLY address -- problem properties.

(Disclaimer: No, I don't work for any hotels/chains; I'm just a frequent(ly worn-out) traveler.)

I hope you changed your mind and either contacted or flagged this post to Super 8's HQ. Their response (or lack thereof) would be VERY interesting -- and help us all decide whether it's the chain itself or just this one sorry property.

Anonymous said...

Your comments are exactly on par with 2 other Super 8's we've unfortunately stayed at - at opposite ends of this country! Never again!

Charlene Ann Baumbich said...

@anonymous #3 (if I counted correctly), I decided you were right. As of five minutes ago, I shared the link to this post with Super 8 HQ. I'll let you know what happens.

Thanks everyone for your feedback,