HOTELS FROM HELL: BUILDERS, CREEPS, WILDLIFE WELCOME

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It is amazing how many international marketers, agency and media execs have survived to tell us about the worst hotels they've ever stayed at.

You've been on hotel airport buses that refuse to go to the airport (in Jeddah, best take a taxi). Your clothes come back from the hotel laundry neatly "washed, still wet, twisted and tied in a knot." (It's probably better to just wear dirty clothes in China.)

In response to Advertising Age International's call for Hotels from Hell, we heard about horrendous food, appalling service, total lack of amenities and downright danger.

Asian hotels generally received praise for pricey but pampering combinations of business services and comfort. China, however, is a glaring exception. Ariel Allen, an intrepid Colgate-Palmolive exec, vividly describes the pitfalls of the New Garden Hotel, an hour outside Shanghai.

Incredibly, the hotel was still under construction when Ms. Allen arrived.

"There were no elevators, only black holes with dangling wires," she said. "There was no lobby. There was no heat-only one small light in some rooms, though some had none. No hot water. Certainly no cunning little silver foil-wrapped chocolates on the pillow-what pillow?

"There was no fourth wall. The construction crew had managed to complete three walls, and then the furniture and fixtures were added to some of the rooms, I guess, as into a doll house, through the unfinished side of the hotel. Some of the wildlife, who wanted to get out of the cold November weather, could be scared away by throwing shoes and loudly banging on the floor. Odd Marat/Sade-like shrieks throughout the night. My fellow travelers were restless."

In fairness, this hotel may have improved-at least slightly-after construction.

At the Norum hotel in Oslo (although we like to call it the No-Room Hotel), "the beds are five or six inches long and about two inches wide, and you only get one blanket," reported Kerry Rubie, group president of Leo Burnett for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. "If you want to stay warm, you have to take the curtains down. They're nice people, but everything is very, very small.

Ellen Bollinger discovered Munich's answer to Alfred Hitchcock's Bates Motel during a sales trip for Institutional Investor. She awoke in bed at the Bayerishehof in the middle of the night to find a young man staring down at her. He left, followed shortly by another man with a key to her room, who staggered in. The hotel's manager later insisted that nothing had happened.

Fortunately, the Imperiale, a hotel from heaven, awaited her at her next stop, Vienna. She enjoyed a glorious suite with pale green silk walls and a marble bathroom. "I now tip when I arrive," she said.

USA Today International's Zoltan Vardy, who has traveled widely in Eastern Europe, singles out the Forum Hotel in Warsaw: "It's supposed to be a top-class Western hotel. The food is horrendous; you lose your appetite at breakfast, and Eastern European service does not put the customer first. The rooms aren't bad; it's the service that's really awful."

In the U.S., Ted Macauley, president of International Media Corp., Atlanta, describes one of Chicago's landmarks as a "Kafkaesque nightmare" for its tiny rooms: "You feel so impersonal."

Mr. Macauley had better luck in Europe and Asia, praising the Berkeley Hotel as an English country manor in central London, the Hotel du Rhone's idyllic Geneva lakefront location paired with Swiss efficiency and attentiveness, and Tokyo's Seiyo Ginza Hotel for combining Japanese high tech with classical elegance. And the Bel-Air Hotel in Los Angeles lets you rub shoulders with the stars while feeling like you're staying at general manager Frank Bowling's own home, he said.

Money alone won't get a room at all the heavenly hotels. First, become a senior exec at Reader's Digest if you want to stay at the lavish private house on the grounds of its headquarters in Pleasantville, New York. And the best way to enjoy Necker, the private island of Virgin Group's Richard Branson (located in, naturally, the Virgin Islands) is to rent the island for a spell.

For long Asian trips, travellers praise Bangkok's ultra-relaxing Oriental. Try their Jetlag Massage.

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