My worst ever hotel experience occurred when I lived in Switzerland.
I had my sister (pregnant at the time) and brother-in-law over to visit and decided, on an impulse, to show off the alpine wonderland at my doorstep. I made the reservation the day we departed.
Then started 36 hours of misery in a hotel with a name worthy of a horror movie franchise: Axalp.
The lingering horror is not that we all ended in the same basement room; nor that this room was an extension of the hotel’s boiler room – dry, ungodly noisy and excruciatingly hot.
No. I reserve my disgust for the hotelier’s cynicism. He took my booking, our money, and, by extension, our options. By the time we arrived late that evening, there simply was no other choice. With gallows humour we embraced the basement.
Indifference does not hide its face for long. Because it is never interested in detail, rarely able to think from any point of view other than self interest, it usually hides in plain sight.
Rather bizarrely, the Arklow Bay Hotel defines its dining area, three steps away from the ground floor reception, as being located on the first floor. Thus, at the top of the second flight of stairs lies the third floor where, if one presses 3 on the elevator, my room, inconsistently numbered 204, was located. Guests wandered aimlessly. One needed an orientation course to stay abreast of it all.
To my disappointment I discovered Room 204 had the level of light one would expect in the inner sanctum of Newgrange during a particularly overcast winter solstice.
Its tiny glimmer came from a side window covered in cobwebs. In addition, Room 204 stank, absolutely stank, of smoke. Several cigarette burns offered evidence in the event one had a cold.
I should have bailed, the signs of apathy abounding, but instead I asked for a change.
My nice, if harried, receptionist lady apologised and explained that she too didn’t like smoke, the hotel was full except for two rooms and, after all, I had booked late.
Her second offer was a room that reeked of mould – an acrid odour so nauseating that I actually had no choice but to return, panniers in hand. But not before discovering rising damp behind the radiator and curtains that were soaked through, presumably from an open-window policy on behalf of Housekeeping, designed to contain the stench.
The receptionist lady, genuinely nice but at the mercy of her system, seemed disappointed in me, but remained ever delightful.
I was finally offered someone else’s room – a late arrival for the wedding which was the origin of this perfect storm of business in the Arklow Bay. My room, 105 (on the ground floor), was adequate; one that I’d expect to pay my budget of €50-€60 for, including breakfast.
I was charged € 110 and any discount was refused by the (unseen) manager.
Me being tired and filthy in that special, grimy way known only to cyclists, I felt I had no choice.
On the 7th day, God created Dunbrody House, Arthurstown, County Wexford. It turns out He was not resting at all, although I assume He took some
scones and clotted cream on the sun deck, having completed His masterwork.
The charming and empowered manager, Olive, offered me a discount by phone if I took dinner in their gourmet restaurant as well. Given I was pedalling 100 clicks on the road that day, I decided I was worth it.
Her uncommonly gracious welcome, the wonderful 1813 building, the willingness to bend rules (in my case, laundering and drying my cycling gear that same evening) stacked up like things of beauty.
As if to remind me that I was in God’s country, Olive invited me for a beer on the house in the hotel’s pub, The Local, newly opened on the grounds.
At every level, here is a hotel (or country house) that knows its business. I felt truly respected as a cyclist (not something I take for granted) and welcomed as a guest. Bed, breakfast and evening dinner together came to 100 euros.
You may be inclined to think this an unfair comparison. After all, Dunbrody is a five star retreat of reputation, Arklow Bay is a three star hostelry on the way to somewhere else. The former had rooms, the latter was almost full.
Yet for me, this is not a question of cost, but of value. It is not a question of service levels, but of ethics. It is not a question of availability, but of viability.
My view is that Dunbrody House understands that success comes from customers who return. The management at Arklow Bay Hotel, on the other hand, acts as though they believe that success comes from customers who get trapped.
May the spirit of Axalp never spoil your choices. Amen.
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