When you check into a hotel room, chances are you look for particular things that are important to you. Perhaps you want a hairdryer, or a bathtub, or an air conditioner. I tend to check the general cleanliness of a room. If it’s scrupulously clean, I’m not so particular about the rest. Staying in the New Suwon Hotel, a 3½ star hotel in Suwon, South Korea, led me to notice some of the details of hotel management that I had never noticed before.
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Don’t get me wrong: this hotel, for the level it claims, 3½ stars, was, on the whole, good. It was spotlessly clean, for example. I’ve stayed in four-star hotels that weren’t as clean as this one.
This might be because it’s quite new. The design is simple and clean, and that also makes it easy to maintain. The room had a big flat-screen TV, air conditioning, a mini-fridge, and a sink with a hairdryer. In a separate little room was a toilet and shower, with shampoo, shower gel and “water soap”: a bottle of liquid soap.
Nevertheless, things didn’t always go smoothly, and I started thinking about the other hotels I stayed in on the same trip, all in Seoul, South Korea, and all, unlike the New Suwon, four-star hotels. Two were chain hotels (Ibis Ambassador Insadong and Best Western Premier Kukdo) and one was independent (PJ Hotel).
I’d like to offer my tips, as a typical hotel guest, for anyone who is planning on opening a hotel.
If you call a room a double room, that means two people can stay in it. It’s okay if it’s small, but just because the room has a double bed doesn’t make it a double room.
My room in the New Suwon had a double bed, but so little floor space around it that only one piece of luggage would fit on the floor. I was fine in that room, but if two people and two pieces of luggage tried to fit, the second piece of luggage would have to stay in the shower, or block the room door.
TIP #1. Don’t exaggerate in your descriptions of your rooms and amenities.
People generally like to wash their hands with soap after they use the toilet. Put some soap next to the sink. When I checked in at the New Suwon, I noticed that, at the sink, which is in the room rather than in the bathroom, the soap was missing, so I asked for some at the reception.
The woman there said no, I could use the bottle of liquid soap in the shower. Fine, but at 50,000 Korean won (about US$50) a night, it would seem to me that the hotel could afford a pump bottle next to the sink as well, to avoid guests having to carry the bottle back and forth between the shower room and the sink. I’ve stayed at much cheaper hotels with fewer stars that still provided both. When I asked for soap anyway, the woman eventually found me a half-used bar of soap from the back room.
TIP #2: Provide soap next to the sink. Otherwise people won’t properly wash their hands. At the 3½ to 4-star level, you should also provide shampoo and conditioner, and the towels should be big and thick.
Practical Considerations About Hotel Amenities
It’s great to provide an electric kettle for hot water, as all of these hotels did. However, if you do so, you also need to provide something to make with that kettle: tea bags, perhaps, or instant coffee, along with cups and spoons and sugar and creamer or milk, at the very minimum. Otherwise, what’s the point?
I noticed the kettle at the New Suwon, and found two mugs in the mini-fridge—I don’t see why they needed to be refrigerated, but anyway, that’s where they were. No tea, coffee, stirrers, sugar. Nothing.
I went to the reception and asked for tea and sugar, figuring the cleaners had just forgotten them. The woman there looked at me like I was crazy. Tea? It took a while to make myself understood, but she looked behind the desk and found a few teabags for me.
I then asked for sugar. Again, that puzzled look. She went into a back room and returned with a teacup, half full of brown sugar. Good enough. I accepted it and thanked her.
Next I needed to fill the electric kettle. But no, I could only fill it halfway because the tap in the sink was too low to fit the kettle under. I suppose I could have filled it by using one of the mugs, filling the mug and pouring the water into the kettle repeatedly until it was full, but I couldn’t be bothered.
So it was half full, and I needed to plug it in. The only available outlet was under the very narrow “desk” along one side of the room. The cord on the kettle base, however, wasn’t long enough to reach to the outlet below. I had to set it on the floor.
Once the water was boiled and I poured it over a teabag in a mug, I realized there was also no spoon or stirrer for my tea. There was, however, a toothbrush and a small sample of toothpaste, something that’s often provided in hotels in Asia. Not wanting to face trying again to communicate with the receptionist, I used the toothbrush handle to stir my tea.
TIP #3: Think about what the fittings, like the tap of the sink, will be used for before you choose them.
TIP #4: Providing a kettle is a good idea. Make sure the guest can plug it in. And, while you’re at it, plan in more outlets than the equipment calls for so your clients can recharge phones, laptops, etc.
TIP #5: Provide everything the guest needs to make a simple cup of tea or coffee.
When I came back the next day after sightseeing, my room had been well-cleaned. Unfortunately, that also meant not replacing the teabag I’d used, not supplying a spoon, and the cleaner had even taken the toothbrush away and provided a new one. Do people use these hotel toothbrushes as disposables, throwing them away each day? I had to open a new one to stir the cup of tea I made with my one remaining teabag.
TIP #6: Learn from your mistakes. If something is missing or broken in a room, make sure it doesn’t happen again.
I realized quite late at night that the remote in the room wasn’t working. There were clear instructions (a good thing!) about which buttons were for the air conditioning, which operated the lights, and which controlled the TV. Only the TV power button and volume button actually worked.
I went downstairs to the reception (again!) to ask for a new remote so I could turn off my air conditioner. It was getting quite chilly in my room.
There was no one there.
TIP #7: The reception desk should be staffed at all times.
This room, like many hotel rooms, had one of those slots by the room’s door into which you slide your room card. This, in turn, enables all of the electrical devices in the room to work. I ended up just removing the card to cut off the electrical supply so that the air conditioning would stop.
In the morning, I took the remote down to the reception and told the woman there that it didn’t work. Her first question was “Card in?” while miming sliding a card into the gizmo inside the room door.
I responded “Yes.”
“I give you new room.”
I said “Okay, but that isn’t really necessary, how about a new remote?” (Though I said it much more simply: “No new room. New remote.”)
She looked puzzled and went into the back room, where I thought she’d be asking someone else for help. Instead, she came out with a different remote and handed it to me. Why couldn’t she have come up with that idea herself?
TIP #8: Check the equipment regularly. Make sure the remote works, as well as any other devices in the room.
TIP #9: Hire personnel who can deal with complaints and think on their feet.
Your Guests and Your Personnel
I chose the New Suwon Hotel because, as far as I could tell, it was in the best location to visit the Hwaseong Haeng-Gung Palace in Suwon, as well as being walking distance from segments of the Hwaseong fortress walls. The only accommodation I could find that was closer to the palace was a youth hostel, and I’m too old for dorm living!
This palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Site: a beautifully restored complex of 600 rooms, originally built in the 1600s. I enjoyed wandering around the many buildings, as any tourist would, admiring the decorative detail, reading the informational signs and studying the rooms that had been furnished to illustrate palace life.
Although it wasn’t busy that day, I saw several other Westerners wandering around the compound. These are the kinds of clientele a hotel like the New Suwon should be prepared to receive. At 3½ stars in such a good location, tourists will stay there.
Tourists, at least the ones who travel independently, are likely to speak some English, the global second language. For that reason, so should the staff of any hotel that is going to cater to tourists. It doesn’t have to be much, but enough to field all of the likely questions, such as “Could I have some tea and sugar?” or “This remote doesn’t work. Could I have another?” And so on.
TIP #10: Hire personnel who can speak the local language and also have enough English to get by.
I also wanted to visit the Toilet Museum in Suwon, so I asked at the reception how to get there. Even when I showed the woman where the museum was on a map, she didn’t seem to have even heard of it, and couldn’t help me at all with how to get there by bus.
I gave up and instead asked directions to take a bus to the train station, where I knew I’d be able to ask the way to the museum from the one English-speaking employee at the visitor’s information office. The directions she gave me? She pointed down the street, then left, and said “Citibank.” Surprisingly, that worked: the bus stop was in front of a Citibank office.
At the four-star PJ Hotel in Seoul, two concierges were on duty one day. When I asked directions to a hospital, they said, in good English, “We’re not from here. We’re from Taiwan.” What’s the use of a concierge who doesn’t know the area?
TIP #11: Hire personnel who are knowledgeable enough to be able to cater to the clientele you are likely to receive.
I’m not involved in hotel management in any way; I’m just a guest. But these are the kinds of mistakes that any self-respecting hotel manager or owner should not be allowing.
I also realize how petty some of these points sound. I don’t know what the difference is supposed to be between a 3 1/2 star hotel and a four-star. In any of these hotels, I could just as well not have had a kettle in my room at all, for example, and I wouldn’t have said anything.
Later, spending a couple of nights in Amsterdam, I stayed at a much more expensive (It was Amsterdam, after all, at a very central location.) 3-star Ibis Hotel. There was no kettle, and I didn’t miss it.
But providing that kettle with nothing to use it for shows a lack of logical thinking and plain old common sense about how a hotel room is used! And isn’t that what the management is supposed to be providing? Details like this should be covered, so your guest doesn’t even notice them.
Perhaps that’s the moral of this story. Good hotel management shouldn’t even be noticeable. You expect the TV to work; you notice if it doesn’t.
Do you have other tips you would add to this list? Please comment below!