Most of us enjoy a hotel stay but how do you make sure you get the most out of your trip? Julia Thornton, director of Glasgow-based hospitality promotions company Hotel PR, represents hotels, serviced apartments and restaurants from Inverness to the Cotswolds. She says the overall quality of UK hospitality has improved in leaps and bounds – particularly in Scotland – since Hotel PR was set up in 2001 yet much mediocrity remains and hotel stays can be fraught with unexpected complications. Here she gives tips on what to do before booking your accommodation.
Your relationship with a hotel generally starts with the reservation.
Most bookings are done online, directly or via an agency like booking.com.
Agencies take commission so the hotel either earns less for your stay (and can cut some of the frills as a result) or puts the price up to pay for the fee. Book direct when you can. Booking with a chain often means dealing with a central reservations department which may not know much about the particular area or establishment you want and is unlikely to have flexibility on rates. Try the independents which can be more interesting anyway.
Beware of being hoodwinked by nice photos which may not be of the actual hotel.
Should you use a guide book? I recommend the Good Hotel Guide (GHG) and Michelin Guide. The book Scotland the Best has plenty of information on hotels but is only updated every three years. Hotels do not pay to go into the GHG’s print edition but pay for inclusion on its website. Be careful about websites promoting ‘luxury’ hotels. They’ve probably paid to be included.
Should you trust TripAdvisor?
On balance, yes, but remember that guests are often moved to contribute a review to lodge a complaint. In general, people take a good experience as a given. TripAdvisor has done a lot to stop malevolent manipulation but this still happens.
How to get the best room?
You can pay a premium but this doesn’t always work. De Luxe and Superior can mean different things to different people. Check the small print. Some of the best independent hotels, like those listed in the GHG, give the owners’ names. Call them direct. In principle, family-run hotels are a good bet but remember that the chef or other key members of staff may have got the job mainly because he/she is family.
Does the hotel’s website have a weddings section?
How many does it host a year? Some hotels only have them as exclusive use but you don’t want to be staying in one when there’s a wedding on. If a hotel claims to have a spa don’t assume this is relaxation Heaven. Smaller hotels buy in the services of a therapist when there’s demand and the ‘spa’ may just be a treatment room or two.
Consider a self-catering serviced apartment.
These tend to be more spacious, sometimes with a lounge and fully equipped kitchen so you eat when you like and not just during the times fixed rigidly by many hotels. The better operators give the size in square metres. Serviced apartments are particularly suitable for females, including business executives, travelling alone since they have more than a bedroom to which to invite friends or business colleagues. They’re especially good for families too. Check if it’s a member of the Association of Serviced Apartment Providers (ASAP). Be careful about being swayed by the establishment’s awards. Many are run by organisations saying the finalists are chosen ‘by public vote’ and make money by selling them tables for the presentation dinner.
During your stay, check the quality of the furnishings, fittings, technology and staff. Hotels which invest in these are successful and likely to remain so. More and more chain hotels and serviced apartments are moving to self-service check-in – very well if you’re tech-savvy but I find it impersonal. The value of a warm personal welcome and a show round of your room or apartment should never be under-estimated. The quality of the ‘goodbye’ is important too. If they want you to come back one of the hotel staff should tell you so.
And after your stay?
Give written feedback. Complain if you have to but give praise as well. The best hotels and apartment operators thrive on honest feedback.