After a long pandemic, many hotels are run down and in dire need of a refurbishment. If you’re not careful, you can stay in one this summer.
As for spending on hotel development, the US lodging market hit an all-time low in 2020, according to consultancy HVS. Many hotels closed or became apartments as the pandemic dragged on. Construction spending rebounded in 2021, but the lodging industry is still recovering. That said, there’s a good chance you’ll find your hotel room in a state of disrepair this summer.
“Many hotels have been forced to pause their upgrades and renovations during the pandemic,” said Susan Sherren, founder of travel agency Couture Global Trips. “They are just beginning the remodeling or renovation. That can be annoying.”
Sherren recently visited several hotels in Paris. She says owners mothballed the properties early in the pandemic and getting the hotels up and running again has proved difficult — and noisy.
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“On one property, my alarm was the jackhammer being used to renovate an outdoor yard,” she says.
I’ve also had some challenging hotel stays over the past few months. The problems seemed minor. A hotel in Portugal had no hot water. In South Africa I stayed in a property with badly worn furniture. In San Diego, I checked into a resort where the carpet was peeling off the floor. Turns out I shouldn’t have been so dismissive.
But how bad is the problem? Why hasn’t it been fixed yet? And what if you find yourself in a hotel with a broken coffee maker or a leaking faucet?
How run down are hotels now?
Sometimes the hotel looks unlivable. This is what Ron Scharman found out when he recently checked into a boutique hotel in Madrid.
“There was no carpeting in the room,” says Scharman, who runs a specialty luggage factory in San Francisco. “Just cheap looking vinyl. The floor was cold and clammy and the furniture on it creaked when I moved anything. I was shocked.”
Even more shocking, a representative claimed the hotel had recently redesigned Sharman’s quarters. Sharman requested a different room which was carpeted and met his expectations.
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Other issues are annoying but minor. Jill Kaiserman, a retired teacher from Wayne, Pennsylvania, recently stayed at a chain hotel in San Diego.
“When the shower was on, the water came out of the tub faucet,” she says. “Also, it was difficult to regulate the temperature in my room.”
She didn’t bother to ask for a room change, instead asking the hotel to fix the problems before the next guest arrived.
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Hotels cannot fix this problem fast enough to keep their guests happy.
Analysts like Alan Benjamin, an expert on hospitality furniture, fixtures and fittings, have recommended hotel clients increase their budgets by 12% to 15% over 2019 costs — if they can.
But supply chain challenges, higher costs and staffing issues make it difficult to give the green light to a renovation project. Some expenses, such as transportation costs, have risen faster than the rate of inflation. And in some urban markets, which are home to older hotels that need more maintenance, guests have yet to return.
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“Hotels are offsetting these cost increases by charging guests higher rates where possible,” said Kim Gauthier, senior vice president at hotelAVE, a hospitality consultancy.
So the problem isn’t just hotels with serious maintenance issues. It’s that you pay more for your rundown room.
Why should you photograph your hotel room?
Not only do hotels charge more upfront for their rooms. Angela Rice, co-founder of Boutique Travel Advisors, says rundown hotels are more than an inconvenience. If you don’t pay attention to wear and tear, you may have to pay for it.
“Take photos of any damage you find in your room,” she says. “Report it immediately, regardless of whether you care if it needs repairs during your stay.”
She speaks from experience. She recently stayed at a luxury hotel with a broken knob on a window. After she checked out, the hotel sent her a $150 bill for the missing knob.
“Luckily my husband took a picture and it was dated after our arrival time. That gave us proof that the window needed fixing when we checked in,” she says.
Even if the hotel isn’t following you, you should speak up, says Kunal Sawhney, a frequent hotel guest who runs a stock research firm.
“This is not a complaint, just a point of reference for other travelers and a humble reminder for the hotel to prevent a repeat of such mistakes.”
In other words, share these photos with the hotel. And if not, then fill out the comment card. Because hotels should never charge you more for less – pandemic or not.
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How to avoid the disappointment of staying in a seedy hotel
Read the reviews. Research is more important than ever to avoid a rundown hotel. If guest reviews mention red flags like construction noise, ask the hotel about them. “Do your research ahead of time to find out about the quality of a hotel’s staff,” says Sherren, founder of Couture Global Trips. “These questions can be difficult for hoteliers to ask, but most hotels want to live up to expectations.”
Ask about the amenities. Don’t assume you’ll get a bathroom full of soaps and toiletries. “Guests are surprised to see limited items in the rooms, especially items that can be easily contaminated,” said Mahmood Khan, a professor at Virginia Tech’s Pamplin College of Business. “Previously, amenities were made available to guests if they forgot certain items, a service that many hotels are now phasing out.” If you need a specific amenity, call ahead to find out if it’s available.
Adjust your expectations. That’s the advice of Limor Decter, a luxury travel consultant at Embark Collective. She works with high-end hotels, but even those hotels have faced challenges in the wake of the pandemic. “A usual request for an early check-in or late check-out has become more of a challenge as housekeeping needs extra time to clean and disinfect rooms,” she says. “I remind my clients that they may need to practice their skills in patience and kindness.”