US TV channel Fox has commissioned a second series of Hotel Hell, the reality TV show in which chef Gordon Ramsay takes on under-performing hotels. It's fascinating viewing, particularly for a hotel blogger - but are there any lessons for London hotels?
There's quirky - and then there's unsaleable. I'm a great lover of London's quirkier hotels, like Hazlitt's Soho and The Rookery. However the owner of the Keating Hotel (San Diego) who got his chef to make a strawberry-chocolate-bacon pizza needs to understand the word ‘gross'. I'm not quite sure which side of the divide Rough Luxe (Kings Cross) falls, but its quirkiness generally gets good TripAdvisor reviews.
Dirt and pongs are never good. It's intriguing that though the failures inHotel Hell had different reasons - a bad real estate investment, an opinionated owner with bad taste, a micromanaging GM, complete amateurs running the show - almost all the hotels looked both dated and dirty. Judging from Tripadvisor comments there are still a few London hotels which need to sit up and take notice.
Basic expectations are where the bad hotel falls down. Having enough towels. Safe, well-lit entryways. Doors that lock. Plumbing that works. That's where budget hotels like Tune, which have an obsessive regard for the fundamentals, do relatively well - they offer the basics but with 99.99% reliability, not ‘sorry-the-night-shift-girl-was-ill-yesterday' reliability. A hotel need not charge the earth to get it right - in the past at LHI we've analysed the best cheap hotels in London and we believe there are now decent choices out there for all budgets.
Like most hotel news media we get excited about new openings. But it'smaintenance that really makes a good hotel. So many of the Hell Hotels just need new linen, towels that aren't threadbare, a fresh coat of paint, basic maintenance, a décor refresh every 10 years or so. It's not glamorous but it's essential. Perhaps as a blog we should go back to every new hotel on its 1st birthday and see what's changed and just as importantly, what hasn't. The £45m renovation of the Royal Garden Hotelshows how an established hotel can be given a new lease of life.
Repeat business is incredibly important. There was a telling moment in the second episode when Ramsay got the Juniper Hill Inn's customers together and asked them if they'd stay in the hotel again. Not a single person raised a hand. It only takes small attention to detail to get repeat business, not all hotels have to offer a VIP service for your pooches like at the award-winning Chesterfield Mayfair! Repeat business is also key to the success of some of London's best luxury hotels including the current number 1 hotel on TripAdvisor (Hotel 41).
Interestingly, there's a big message that hotel managers need to get out more. They need to network with local businesses and basically need to have a life. It's all part of the job of staying in touch with current fashions and customer requirements. That's something I've noticed London hoteliers and hotel staff are actually pretty good at - chefs who eat out at other hotels and restaurants, mixologists who visit other cocktail bars, conciergeswho know their opposite numbers.
Finally, a big message from the show is the importance of all hotel stafffrom the GM all the way down to the porters and chambermaids taking pride in their work. Well that's something I can certainly bear witness to. One of the best things about being a hotel blogger is the chance to meet the housekeeper, concierge, general manager, chef, bartender and to talk to them about their hotels. The enthusiasm they show is pretty much the same, whether they're working for the cheap UK hotels run by Tune or a well-run five star property like The Stafford.