Last month, my boss visited Manila for the first time, in order to attend some meetings here with me. The meetings were both in Intramuros, and my first thought was Manila Hotel, but I thought I would browse around a bit and see what I could find that was located nearby. So, when we planned the trip, I brought up Trip Advisor on my computer, and looked around. I noticed the brand new, Hotel H2O, located inside Ocean Park and though, “Ideal… less than 1 km away from each meeting.”
So, I checked the rates, P7,500 per night… About average for Mid-to-Upper range accomodation in Manila. Then I saw the room pictures…
Cool! The walls are aquariums! So I booked it for two nights, thinking it might give him a unique experience in a life filled with hotel rooms that all look the same in every city. I really felt bad after what happened later… Next time, I’ll go with the certainty of Manila Hotel or Mandarin Oriental.
Let me preface a few things here, before you read further. Both my boss and myself are very heavy business travellers. We probably each spend around 150 nights per year in hotels. We have both done this type of travel for many, many years. We KNOW what hotel standards should be. We KNOW how the system works. In my experience, neither one of us are the type who would complain much, except with the most serious incidents or circumstances (In fact, in the thousands of hotel rooms I’ve ever stayed in, only one time was an incident ever serious enough for me to lodge a complaint… The Abu Dhabi Sheraton once overbooked and bumped me, even though my room was pre-paid… The reason why? The damned US Embassy needed the room! F*cking arrogant diplomats!!!! But I digress…And yes, the Novotel they put me in was sub-standard… I’ve refused to stay at ANY Sheraton anywhere since that time). Generally, as long as the room is clean, there is a shower, and Internet access to get some work done, we are fine with whatever we find in any hotel in the world. We both hold multiple frequent guest cards at several chains. We have also each experienced much travel in the developing world, and both expect that in most cases, things won’t ever be perfect.
I say this because if you look on hotel web sites, like Trip Advisor or Agoda, and read the comments, my guess is that perhaps half of the complaints you read are for minor things, or things that a simple call to the front desk will solve 99% of the time. In fact, it is my observation that the cheaper the room, the more complaints, though this isn’t always the case. The point is that something really needs to be serious in order for me to get worked up… Hotel H2O certainly performed on that front.
To be 100% fair, so you don’t think I’m picking on them un-necessarily:
Yes, the rooms are ultra modern, brand new, and totally unique. The location is fantastic, with wonderful views of the bay.
First night, no problems except noisy room. This normally won’t warrant any complaint, since the manager is usually limited by what he can do (Since the aquariums tend to give a “different” vibe, the room next to my boss was occupied by either honeymooners or someone exceedingly horny… Their bed frame kept hitting the aquarium glass and sound travels through water really well… All night long).
Second night, at 1:30 AM, there was an argument in the hallway outside his door. Someone entered his room using a key, waking him and, needless to say, startling the hell out of him. They screamed and ran out after they saw their error. This tells me that one of four things happened:
- The staff were cleaning and, thinking the room was unoccupied, entered the room (Why are they cleaning in the middle of the night?)
- The room keys for that floor were all coded to the same lock (Not impossible… The idiots arguing may have had the wrong room.)
- The previous guest had a key and was entering to rob him (Possible… Why arent they changing codes between guests then?)
- Someone was in cahoots with the staff to rob guests, and staff gave them a key (also possible).
Regardless of the reason, this type of security breach is unacceptable at any hotel. He asked to see the manager about it the next morning, and was told that the manager was “busy”. My boss is much cooler tempered than I am… I would have blown my top at this point, probably getting myself arrested or escorted out, at the very least. He checked out, just wanting to leave. No problem, right? He asked for the receipt for our accountant, since this was a business trip. He was then informed that it was not possible, and he should just use his reservation slip. Needless to say, strike three, idiots.
So, I pick him up, and he tells me this in the car on the way to our meeting. He says that it appeared to be a total lack of staff training. I’m quite irritated by this point. My boss’ first visit here, and he gets to deal with utter stupidity like this. We attend the meeting, and I drop him off at NAIA for his next flight. I immediately call the hotel, asking to speak with the manager, whom I was told was “busy”. (Bringing up the point that he was too busy in the morning to speak and still too busy five hours later? I left my number for callback… Do you think I received a call?) So, this type of incident was serious enough that I decide to contact the international group in Europe, who own the hotel… It has now been one month and I never received a response…. Not even a form letter apology. You might jump to the conclusion that my letter was unprofessional, or ranting… Not so. I explained in a concise, polite, and professional manner what the problem was, and the lack of response. I left multiple email and contact numbers. Strike another chain from the list. Too bad, too… The location was ideal for our business here. Their total lack of concern, or even acknowledgement of a very serious situation cost them a RETURNING customer.
So, as to Philippine tourism, think for a minute. The Philippine government is trying to attract more well-heeled tourists who spend money. He was here on business. He owns multiple companies. He is exactly who they are looking for. This hotel is rated as four stars. It is not the most expensive in the city, but it is certainly not cheap by Manila standards. With any hotel better than a flophouse, you have a reasonable expectation of even basic security on the premises. What is concerning to me is that the intruder had a key… This was not simply some random event. This was not simply a case of bad luck. What makes this worse is that the hotel is located in Ocean Park’s building… One of the premier tourist attractions in the city for families. Note that nobody from the hotel or parent group even bothered to find out what the problem was, apologize, or even make the tiniest effort to correct the problem. I can understand low-level staff who are unconcerned, but that is management’s job!
Unfortunately, the tourism infrastructure in the Philippines is still developing, especially in rural areas with things like reservations and an online presence. Fortunately, not only do I live here, but I’ve used other hotels in Manila before (Peninsula, Mandarin, Shangri-la, Intercontinental, Crowne Plaza, Dusit), so I know that many are very, very good and that this experience is unique. However, were I a tourist on vacation, or a first-time visitor, I would question ever returning here again.
It’s more fun in the Philippines, indeed…