I am a very patient woman. I can forgive most of the common mistakes I encounter around the country in my role as Channel Five’s Hotel Inspector, but the one I can’t abide is the inexplicable disconnection between how some hotels perceive themselves and the service they provide and how the ordinary customer sees them.
If there is one thing I have learnt from my family – from Rocco, my mother (Olga) and my grandfather (Lord Forte), it is that you are only ever as good as your customers think you are. And the only way to improve is to listen to what they say, take on board their complaints and try to learn from your mistakes. For it is often attention to the little things that can turn a disgruntled customer into a loyal visitor.
Here are my 10 biggest bugbears:
First impressions are never eradicated: exteriors of hotels should be immaculate, windows polished, pavements swept clean of cigarette butts, blown light bulbs immediately replaced, plants watered and looking healthy.
There is nothing that deflates a holidaymaker’s excitement more than a tatty frontage, but you would be amazed how often I’m confronted by this in my line of work. And often a tatty exterior can be doing a disservice to what’s inside.
Take my recent visit to the Godolphi n Arms in Newquay. My first impression could not have been worse: a squat ugly building on a main road, draped in tatty Sky Sports advertising, it didn’t seem to have a single redeeming feature. I knew that it was one of those hotels aimed at coach companies, and that the owner provided dinner, bed, breakfast and evening entertainment for the princely sum of £14 per person, per night.
The admittedly tiny but immaculate rooms and bathrooms were the first surprise; the three courses of proper food made in- house from real ingredients were the next. It was lovely to be reminded that in unpromising surroundings you can find value for money and a hotel owner who cares passionately about her guests. Still, those qualities are even more reason to tidy up the exterior.
I am never without a novel when I am travelling, and I am often astonished at how many hotel bedrooms are bare of any alternative light source to the main ceiling light, at least in the kinds of places I stay in.
I have encountered fluorescent strip lighting at the Mansion Lions in Eastbourne, and the single-switch option of the Oakland Hotel in Essex, which forced me, after I had turned it off at the door, into a rather tentative stagger to bed, hands outstretched in the darkness. I’m equally irriated by the well-meaning but ineffective use of lots of low-wattage bulbs, which may well be saving the planet, but at the cost of my eyesight.