What Price Tranquility?

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It struck me, as I lay on a chaise longue at the Conrad Bali trying to filter out the drone of the jetskis, that hotels are selling a complicated product. My wife, for example, loves the clean, crisp white sheets and thick feather pillows of a king-size bed. Others go for the food, some for the ambience, some for the adventure, others for the sun, some for the service.

But in this stressful age, money increasingly buys and hotels sell tranquility: a chance to relax, zone out, be pampered, wander around in a bubble of soft footfalls, bubbling little fountains, soft tinkling music and the absence of intrusion. Of course, there are different grades of tranquility: If you want total silence, you go to an Aman resort; if you want tranquility plus active night life you go to Seminyak or Kuta. Tranquility is actually quite a sophisticated product. You don’t actually sell it directly, but it’s implicit in every photo and description of your hotel: But it’s also, it struck me, more or less the one thing that hotels can’t guarantee.

Tranquility is the result of effort and a complex management of logistics behind the scenes: You can train staff to keep voices low, to not intrude upon guests, to keep the sound of crockery being piled high to a minimum. But there are events you can’t really control. Like, in the case of the Conrad Bali, jetskis swarming the beach in front of the hotel like Sioux around a wagon train.

“It’s beyond our control,” I Wayan Sumadi, the assistant manager, told me. Although the Conrad has a cooperation agreement with some of the jetskis operators–you can rent one from one of the poolside booths or from a guy on the beach sporting a Conrad-logoed ID card–the hotel, Wayan says, can’t prevent them from dominating the seafront. The result is that no guests venture into the water and a drone that can be heard from the hotel lobby.

I’ve seen this problem before in Bali, but usually the hotel is smart enough to find out a peaceful coexistence that doesn’t annoy the guests (Wayan says I’m by no means the first to complain.) Of course, public spaces are public spaces, but clearly the jetski owners rely on guests from the hotel, otherwise they wouldn’t parade in front of them all day.

I feel for the guests who have come thousands of miles to buy some peace and quiet, and have to retreat to their hotel rooms to find it. I feel, in a way, for the hotel management who don’t seem to have figured out that–despite an otherwise beautiful hotel and good service–the jetskis undermine the very product they’ve tried so hard to create: tranquility.

If I was the Conrad I would put this to the top of my agenda on Monday morning, and not rest until the situation is resolved. For more than a few guests, I suspect, tranquility is non-negotiable.

How Reliable Is Google Maps?

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Was looking for a Singapore hotel this morning on Google Maps, which would seem to be a good place to start, and was perturbed to find it flagged in five different places, most of them several streets apart (above). These are all links from companies advertising rooms. So you’d think they would try to get it right. (Amusingly, the sponsored link at the top is for a hotel of the same name in Vancouver, which is slightly further down the road and across several oceans):

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So, some ways to go, I suspect, before the era of ubiquitous searchability and and mobile findability, or whatever it’s called.

The Hotel Wi-Fi Pit

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I’ve never had a really good experience with hotel Wi-Fi. The connections are slow, inconsistent and quite often just not there. Seems like I’m not the only one. Why is this? And why do hotels persist with offering only wireless when most of them are fully equipped with cable outlets too? How can you tell before you check in whether a hotel’s Internet connection is worth the name?

Hotel Complaints, Blackmail and Bribery

Why is it that big chains in the service industry assume that when you write to them complaining about something that you’re just out for a freebie? The thinking seems to go: this person is trying to blackmail us. So bribe them.

Case in point: Just got back from a weekend at five-star hotel in central Java. I’ve been there plenty of times before; it’s a quality hotel, very well run and the only big name chain in the area. But while they’ve done a great job of creating a serene ambience — a view of a volcano as you enter the lobby, a gorgeous garden and golf course, the trickle of fountains mingling with the tinkling of Javanese gamelan along the walkways — they use a system of summoning drivers and taxis that is usually seen in a mall.

It’s basically a tannoy system, a request for a driver or taxi puncuated at beginning and end with a distorted xylophone scale, climbing and ascending like a man riddled with gout. It’s normal stuff in Indonesian office blocks, urban hotels and malls, where few people actually drive themselves, but thoroughly out of place in the paddies of central Java. If it was far from the hotel it would be bearable, but It’s sufficiently loud to be heard in at least a third of the hotel rooms, starting early in the morning until late at night.

So, we complained, quietly and reasonably, to the front desk and resisted their invitation to change rooms. Why should we when the solution was as simple as turning down the volume of the loudspeaker? Anyway, they promised to look into the problem, but of course it was never resolved, the xylophone rising and falling from early in the morning, so I fired off an email to the chain’s U.S. head-office. Nothing too harsh, but making it clear that it was undermining our confidence in the hotel that something so straightforward couldn’t be addressed — or a reason given as to why it couldn’t be fixed.

Upshot: an email from head office that didn’t address the source of our complaint at all. Instead:

I would like the opportunity to restore your faith in [hotel chain deleted] by offering you a complimentary one room upgrade the next time your travel plans include a [hotel chain deleted] hotel to compensate you for what you encountered. We ask that you make your future reservation for a standard room at the lowest rate you can find. Then contact the [hotel chain deleted] Customer Service office with the confirmation number, and we will upgrade you to the best available room that the hotel has to offer, based upon availability. Please let me know if you would like to accept my offer.

No mention of whether they’re looking into the problem we raised, or asking for more information about it. Just the simple assumption that an upgrade would shut us up. Sure, we’ll take the upgrade but why won’t you take our input seriously, at face value? Why is customer feedback considered a threat, assuaged by a freebie?

Lesson for today: Maybe feedback is just that. We customers want things to be better next time we stay; that’s why we let you know what’s right and what’s wrong. Not all of us are trying to blackmail you. We just want a nice place to stay.