Thursday, 5 May 2011

Hesperia Tower ***** Experience

Nope, the "*****" in the post title is not there to protect the children. The five stars is actually part of the hotel's name, in all their graphic glory. But, unfortunately, those ***** could have easily really stood for an expletive ("shite" comes to mind), and this story will tell you exactly why (you should think thrice before booking a room there).

For a start, just have a look at the picture to the left...

Shocking, really, and potentially in a very unpleasant and dangerous way. That's what the hair dryer power cable connection looked like - and it was in the bathroom, too, right under the (double) sink. But no, let's not get ahead of ourselves. After all, I have discovered the "shocking" wiring only on our third or fourth day (I do wash my hair more often than that only I don't tend to use the hair dryer).

So, rewind...

OK. Now, again, from the top...

We arrived on an early flight for our week in Barcelona  and were lucky enough to manage to get to the free shuttle from the airport that is provided by the hotel. Lucky, since if we missed that one we'd have twiddled our thumbs for two hours waiting for the next one or, more likely, be paying some euro for a taxi. The free shuttle is a very nice thing hotel offers, no doubt about that at all. However, its schedule is severely lacking, or rather generous in its sparseness. But OK, again it is free so one can't really complain. Except it's a five star hotel, and all that...

Anyway, some fifteen minutes later, at the reception desk, trying to check in. One of us, three or four of them. All hunky dory with taking our details (although slooowly). Details taken we are bluntly told that there are no rooms available, reason being official check in is at 3pm and we arrived at 10am. Which is fine. But only provided it is accompanied by at least a feigned sympathy - and a suggestion of what hotel can do to ease our waiting. Only none of it was forthcoming. I felt we were expected to disappear from the reception until such a time they had a room for us - about which fact they apparently didn't intend to even try and inform us. Obviously time for self-initiative, and self-help. Again, in a five start hotel.

So, we politely ask they check again, and if possible give us an estimate of when a room might be available before 3pm. A curt reply is received that the hotel is fully booked and until someone checks out - which they need not do before noon - there won't be any rooms. Which is fine. No problem at all. Only we are again just left to stand there and fend for ourselves. Can we please leave our baggage while we wait? Yes, sure. Excellent. Is there also a hotel safe to put our valuables? We receive a blank expression and total incomprehension of what exactly we want and why on Earth we want it. Can't we just put a grand worth of computing equipment into our suitcase? We give up and decide to lug the stuff in our hand baggage.

So, can we possibly use the hotel shuttle to go into town and come back later when a room will hopefully be available? Yes, of course. Excellent (there's a shuttle in fifteen minutes or so). We leave the bag with, for some reason quite unhappy receptionist, and sit in the hotel bar for a coffee. Luckily, I also go back to reception to ask when we can get the shuttle back from the town only to find that we can't. You can take the shuttle into town, but you can't ride back to the hotel - you have to make your own way. Strange, but true. In a five start hotel.

OK. We manage to get into the shuttle. Yes, manage. Exactly sixteen seats, no standing. If you don't get a seat you wait for the next one. In an hour or two. Or take a taxi. Or a metro. Did I mention the hotel is 10km outside of the centre of Barcelona?

Fast forward through a nice walk though the city, a quick drink or two, a 25 minute metro ride back to the hotel. Action restarts at exactly 2.58pm...

Hello, we are so-and-so, and there should be a room ready for us by now. We did leave our number (taken down reluctantly if I remember correctly - as if receptionist pay for the calls themselves and so don't like dialling international mobile numbers), but nobody called. Sorry sir, but there is still no room available. And that is where we suddenly started asking ourselves what sort of a hotel this is. With disbelief I say, still politely  but with quite some force, that since check in is from 3pm I now expect a room to become available in the next two minutes or we'll expect compensation. Magically, the computer now says "yes". Interesting. But at least we got our room.

Sadly, throughout the ordeal that lasted almost five hours the hotel staff never once even hinted at anything they could do, maybe a tiny bit above and beyond, to make our wait more comfortable. Nope. The only thing we got was not very helpful, and at times not very polite, staff unwilling to even try and depart from some internal process they have obviously been drilled for. And that at a five star hotel. And yes, I know I keep repeating that as some kind of mantra, but I do believe that higher class of hotel is not necessarily distinguished by how it looks (although that is important, too), but how friendly and helpful staff are. And in a five star hotel (the highest official rating available) one does have the right to expect to get more than one usually expects (and often is pleasantly surprised) in a local Travelodge.

Even more sadly, the check-in experience wasn't just a matter of reception staff having a bad hair day. Oh no. There was more, even if we quickly started trying to avoid any sort of hotel service so we can fully enjoy the lovely city of Barcelona. For example, in the hotel bar it is necessary to sit at the bar itself or the first row of tables that are clearly seen from behind the bar, as otherwise it is anyone's guess when - and if - one is going to be served. We never really tested this to destruction, the first two times giving up after 15 and 10 minutes respectively, and then - if we really, really, really, wanted or had to have a drink at the hotel - making sure we sit at the bar or in that high visibility row of seats. Next, the hotel also boasts - and loudly in all promotion material - a top floor, glass domed posh restaurant. A very expensive one. Which is closed on Sundays and Bank Holidays. As is a mid-floor cocktail bar. Which had the cheek to charge 18 euro for the privilege of watching a football game - on TV. Yes, even if you were the guest of the hotel. Ridiculous!

And then there's hotel pool and spa. Which is not, in fact, part of the hotel, but as a guest you can have the privilege of paying extra (e.g. 12 euro for the swimming pool and gym - per person, per go) to use the local gym and spa which just happens to be adjacent to the hotel (and can be accessed through the corridor to the back). And even if you are happy to pay, and pay on top of those 12 euro, you are handed the list of services (massage, etc) - in Spanish. By a receptionist who surely must know you are not Spanish as otherwise why on Earth would you be speaking English to her. They did not have a copy in English, apparently. Useless.

I'll cover the state of disrepair of the room towards the end in a handy pictorial (but do hop over to the top for the "shocking" bit). To end the main body of this (almost horror) story I'll tell you that on check out when we returned to reception to collect our baggage, I had the ticket ripped out of my hand without a word or even a glance by a receptionist, then presented with my bag by having it dropped in front of my feet again without word or a glance. In a five star hotel! Unbelievable. And do note that - unlike the hotel staff - we have maintained very British level of politeness (and, by necessity, stiff-upper-lipness). We never gave any reason to staff to treat us anything less than politely since we treated them with respect and politeness throughout. I was actually shocked by this last experience with the bag, and so much that I forgot to comment about it until we were safely on the plane back to Blighty!

Anyway, there you have our Barcelona NH Hotels Hesperia Tower ***** experience. The lesson learned? Never, ever go back there. Not even if it were free. Not if it were the last hotel on Earth. And possibly avoid other NH Hotels, too. From what I've seen, and from my long experience of large companies and corporations, the problem must be systemic. It must be either the Hesperia Tower management that's at fault or NH Hotels management - or both. Or rather, through poor management of NH Hotels poor management was put in place at Hesperia Tower, resulting in lower echelon staff running the service as they see fit - which is usually, if unsupervised, in a lazy and self-centered, rather than guest-centered way. Sad, sad, and thrice sad.

And now, to ease you out of this long rant, here's the promised pictorial, with brief comments and explanations. All photos were taken in our room. None of the photos have been retouched, and of course, none of the damage was caused by us (and sloppy workmanship couldn't have been anyway). So, with no further ado ladies and gentlemen, I give you the horrors of room 2311 of Hesperia Tower ***** Hotel in Barcelona, Spain:

The first few photos are of sloppy workmanship and damage in the otherwise very stylish (but also mildly inconvenient to use) bathroom. At least it was cleaned really nicely every day, and new towels put in (although an option to reuse them would have been nice, too).

One thing I did not manage to capture is how the a slit in the shower cubicle floor which doubled as a plug hole was rather poorly executed so that dirty and grimy bits of waste were clearly visible from quite a few angles. Not good for sensitive stomachs.

Top to bottom: make-up mirror console should have been screwed, not glued in, or excess glue wiped off; rubber along the shower glass doors not only did not run the full length, but was also left hanging, it would have been better to cut off the hanging bit; the soap holder in the shower seems to have been used to hold gold bullion, again this should have been fixed.

And these are from the room itself, again showing damage that could - and should - have been repaired. After all, we also learned that we were in an "executive" room, so it should have been even better than the average room in the same hotel.

Again top to bottom: a door stop which obviously took more abuse than it was designed to handle; scratched bathroom cabinets, plus some dust - obviously bathroom wasn't cleaned quite so well as I first thought; a lamp shade that wouldn't sell even in TK Maxx for two quid.

And now a twenty-first century treat: a hotel information system that isn't. A step by step guide to your stay:

Very nice indeed. Let's see what the "experience" has to offer:

So far, so good. Let's now see how to "enjoy" our stay:


So, there you have it. Hesperia Tower ***** experience in both words and pictures. Really, NH Hotels, one expects something a lot better than this from a five star hotel. And if you need to have a look how things should be done, do hop to a Hilton Ras al Khaimah four star hotel in, say, Dubai. Yes, four star. We've been - and we thought it was actually a five star hotel. Heck, I even thought it was again this morning and had to check. Before I sign off I'll give you just one example from that hotel: we had a 5am shuttle to the airport on our way back; the manager was up and handing out fresh fruit juice, while bar staff were serving cold buffet breakfast for half a dozen of us unfortunate enough to book ourselves on such an early flight. Oh, and after the visit I was politely asked to fill in a satisfaction survey which I did, and then got a personalised e-mail from the manager to thank me and address some comments I had. And that was a service with one star less than in Hesperia Tower. Truly mind boggling.

OK. Enough for now. Until the next holiday...