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Guests, running late, wake up hotels
Hotels have upgraded their beds, enhanced their technology, added more spa services and become more pet- and child-friendly in recent years. But their wake-up service?
Wake-up calls have come at the wrong time, wrong day, not at all or have lingered from the previous guest, while hotel alarm clocks have often been tricky to operate.
Alicia Rockmore, the owner of a company that helps people organize their lives, said she was thrown into a panic last year when her 3 a.m. wake-up call never came at a hotel in St. Petersburg, Fla.
“I was getting ready to go on Home Shopping Network for a 4 a.m. makeup call time,” she said. “The hotel forgot to put my call in their system and I woke up on my own at 4 a.m. I thought, ‘Oh, my God, I’m going to miss it, and they’ll have to return thousands of dollars in products’ — guests are slotted at 15-minute intervals. Needless to say, I rushed out without a shower, had a touch of makeup but did make the show.”
For business travelers, many suffering from jet lag, missing a meeting or a flight because a wake-up call did not come or a clock malfunctioned is no small matter. Many have pressed their own trusty alarm clock, cellphone, watch or BlackBerry into service.
But some hotels have begun to make changes in both their wake-up call service and in their clocks. “When wake-up service is requested and not provided, it rates as high a level of concern from guests as showing up to find the hotel has no reservation,” said Bjorn Hanson, who leads the global hospitality practice for PricewaterhouseCoopers.
According to a survey conducted in 2005 by Kelton Research for Hilton Hotels, 57 percent of business travelers had worried about sleeping past their alarm, and only 18 percent trusted a hotel clock to wake them up. Many regarded setting a hotel alarm clock as more complicated than filing taxes or programming a VCR.
Peter Shankman, chief executive of Geek Factory, a New York public relations firm, travels with an alarm clock with time zones for 250 cities, an iPod, a BlackBerry and a cellphone. “I set them to both ring and vibrate, and put them under my pillow or next to it,” he said.
Hilton, Marriott International, W Hotels and Wyndham Worldwide are introducing, or have done so, alarm clocks they say are easy to use. Crowne Plaza Hotels, a brand of the InterContinental Hotels Group, guarantees wake-up calls in the lodging industry version of the Domino’s Pizza guarantee — one night free if the call fails to come within five minutes of the requested time.
Global Hyatt permits members of its Gold Passport loyalty program to personalize wake-up calls with a greeting recorded by a family member or friend. The Four Seasons Hotels chain offers iPod docking stations so guests can be awakened by their own favorite music. “Inspirational” calls that awaken guests with a proverb or thought for the day are offered by W Hotels, as well as the Muse, a New York boutique hotel owned by the Kimpton Hotels and Restaurant Group.
And defiantly bucking the trend toward automated wake-up calls, an actual person calls guests in Four Seasons and Mandarin Oriental Hotels, and in many independent hotels. The Adolphus, an opulent Old World-style independent hotel in Dallas that was built in 1912, even sends a security person to a guest’s room if three wake-up calls are ignored.
“I judge my stays by whether or not someone will wake me up in person,” said Richard Laermer, author of “Punk Marketing” (HarperCollins, 2007) and a marketing consultant. “The reason is, everything in my life is automated right now — my music, my delivery of food, buying movie and theater tickets, and I’ve been online since the 1980s. The one place in the world where I don’t want to deal with buttons, bells and gadgets is when I start my day.”
Mr. Laermer said he had quit staying at W Hotels “because they flat-out refused” to have a person make a wake-up call. “A woman there said, ‘It seems a little precious.’ I asked, ‘Whatever happened to the human touch?’ She said something like, ‘We’re human enough.’ ”
Perhaps heeding such feedback, W Hotels, part of Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide, last year began offering inspirational wake-up messages with people saying things like, “The journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.”
The voices of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin or others in the Las Vegas Rat Pack, with matching background music, wake guests at the Renaissance Las Vegas, which is part of Marriott. Comics from Chicago’s comedy club, the Second City, pretend to be Al Capone or other Chicago celebrities at the Renaissance Chicago O’Hare Suites Hotel. Austin Powers (“Wakey wakey, baby — time to let your mojo rise and shine”), Marilyn Monroe (a breathy “Good morning, Mr. President”) and Yoda of “Star Wars” wake guests at the Curtis, a Denver hotel with a pop culture theme that opened in January. At Gaylord Opryland resort in Nashville, wake-up calls come from Grand Ole Opry singers or the “American Idol” finalist Kellie Pickler.
Hilton introduced a three-step alarm clock, with instructions on the clock’s front, in 2005. That year Marriott also introduced three-step clocks with MP3 players. But the clock alarm function was sometimes neglected. “It came out loud and clear in our research that customers weren’t even using the clocks, but their cellphones” and iPods to wake up, said a Marriott spokeswoman, Stephanie Hampton. Now some Marriott hotels offer iPod docking stations that work with the iPod’s alarm function.
If all else fails, consider the “flying alarm clock,” Ms. Rockmore’s clock of choice when she travels. When the alarm goes off, a spinning propellerlike object is launched into the air, and the alarm keeps going until it is caught and replaced atop the clock.
Ms. Rockmore found her clock, the Princess International flying alarm clock, online under the search terms “unique” and “annoying” alarm clocks.
“The flying alarm clock is torture, but not too much torture,” she said.
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