A Tale of Two Travelodge’s

Posted by admin | January 15, 2010 0

Travelodge are the chain of budget hotels in the UK, Ireland and Spain originally started in 1985 by Forte Hotels in the Midlands of England which are now expanding rapidly under the ownership of Dubai Capital. Like Ibis and Premier Inn they strive to provide a no frills comfortable room and price according to demand using the same “load management” techniques used by the budget airlines. So generally the earlier you book the cheaper the price and with pre-payment you get the best deals. As well as helping their cash flow this simplifies check –in and means customers don’t need to check out. They either offer simplified breakfast catering with the layout pioneered by Ibis of having the Reception, Restaurant / Bar in the same area and multi-tasking staff. As for catering in Travelodge’s there is either a help yourself breakfast buffet and snack machines or a Bar / Restaurant run by a franchisee.

There is nothing wrong with the no frills hotel concept particularly when access and parking are good and Travelodge are very good on mobility issues. Disabled rooms come with a wet room shower in a very well equipped and well thought out ensuite. They simplify the operation further by not providing room service, toiletries in the room (they will sell them to you) or a room telephone and sometimes, car parking. They wrap this up in the marketing tag-line “It is madness paying for things you don’t use.” They also levy extra charges for early check-in and check out and unlike their competitors don’t allow you to store luggage. They run slick marketing and frequent special offers. So how does the delivery compare with the marketing? Well, before and after Xmas I used Travelodge’s in Ireland and England and the feedback will not make for comfortable reading at Travelodge’s HQ in Thame, Oxfordshire.

Travelodge, Dublin Airport

Arriving in Dublin Airport a week before Xmas I was delighted to see that the normal queue for the taxi rank was not there and I got a taxi to go to the optimistically entitled “Travelodge Dublin Airport” right away. That was the good news. The bad news is the Dublin Taxi driver has zero training or customer service ability. His first gambit was a foul mouthed rant about his 3 hour wait for a “job” with the implication that I he was hoping for a longer trip than mine. He also took two mobile calls (he had no hands free), nearly missed the turn off the motorway and clipped the kerb in doing so and took the longer route on the congested M50 Ring motorway instead of the quicker, shorter, less congested route by the back road to the airport. Oh, there was a final racist tinged rant about “foreign taxi drivers” not knowing their way and “Irish girls” not being safe with them. If this is true then this local product has set a high benchmark for them. Did I say a word to him? I did on my Nelly, I am not the overpaid Dublin Taxi Regulator and I was not going to waste my energy. But here as in so many other areas in Ireland they just don’t get the BIG STORY; they are charging too much money for a poor product and the rest of the world has little interest in their self indulgent whinging.

Entrance

So we arrive at “Travelodge, Dublin Airport.” Now as a Dubliner I knew where it was and it was convenient for my parents who I was visiting. However the title is deceptive as it is actually 3 miles from Dublin Airport in the middle of the Ballymun Flats Public Housing Project which is in the middle of redevelopment but still retains a somewhat grim reputation. If you have seen the hit movie “The Commitments” this is where the boy is bringing the horse up in the lift because he gets too tired using the stairs! Dublin Airport is described as a 5 minute taxi ride away – 15/20 minutes and 15 euro is the reality. It is not the only misleading info on the Travelodge website. The hotel number is described as 10p a minute from a BT Line, it isn’t a BT number, it is an Irish Telecom number attracting International Call charges from the UK. It is described as 2 miles from Dublin City Centre; it is actually over 5 miles. An American tourist who had relied on the website descriptions might be confused at this stage by this “Airport Hotel” close to the City?

Drop off areas at Ballymun Travelodge blocked by vans

However first impressions are positive, it is a 4 storey new build hotel open over 8 months which is attractive looking and has fresh interiors. However first impressions don’t last. The drops off areas are permanently occupied by trade vehicles and you have to pull up in the middle of the road with the added danger this entails and difficulty for mobility impaired guests. When we complained we were told that these were guests and the vans were too high to use the underground car park and they had to be parked in sight of reception so they wouldn’t be vandalised – so no proper drop off / pick up bays. Inside the reception is bright and modern but it took 15 minutes for somebody to come to the desk to check us in. We had to change from the first room we were assigned as the shower fitting was broken but the room we eventually got was nice and bright, clean and of a good size with two beds (bigger than older Travelodge’s) and the bathroom was excellent. It also had a TV, trouser press and tea/ coffee making facilities. As we had booked online at 29 euros a night this was a lot of room for the money. However there was evidence that things had been finished in a hurry, spacers left in tiling, floor strips loose, areas being redecorated after only a few months.

Room

Bathroom

However the big weakness is apparent when we came back that night and parked in the “secure” underground car park. We pressed the intercom at the car park entrance and without any conversation or checks we were let in. The car park is shared with apartment dwellers and retailers but there are plenty of clearly marked Travelodge spaces. You need to use your card key to access the hotel (and the lift and your room) but when we got to the “secure” doors they were “open” with the electronic lock disengaged so you could go straight in. Once in the lift lobby you could then access all the floors without a key by going up the stairwell. We spoke to the young receptionist the next morning she said the security lock was due to be repaired and had been out of action for weeks. She also said there was CCTV and there was a security guard in the car park. Well there may be CCTV but there is little point to it if there is nobody at reception to look at it. As for the “security guard” we saw what was happening when we were leaving the next day. There he was in an office in the car park chatting away to a friend and just opening the barrier without checking.

Underground Car Park

The unlocked door from the car park giving access to all the floors without a key

The next morning when we were in reception there was a young German couple remonstrating with the receptionist. Their car had been scraped and damaged on one side. Seemingly when they were entering the car park there was a large van delivering to Travelodge blocking the entrance and they were told to go down the exit road. As they did so the barrier descended and scraped their car. The delivery drivers didn’t want to know and refused to swap details. They then went to reception and they were similarly uninterested and refusing to take ownership. By the time we were leaving the Gardai (Police) had arrived to deal with the situation. A friend of mine stayed in the same hotel over Xmas and when he was checking out on the 27th December there was a couple at the desk whose car had been vandalised in the “secure” underground car par with a Security Guard and CCTV. Once again the receptionist was trying to fob them off telling them there was nothing he could do. The operation of the car park and the security at this Travelodge leaves a lot to be desired and is an area where the hotel management really need to take ownership.

Bar / Restaurant

Reception

When we went down to breakfast the next morning (it ends @ 11) we were greeted at 10.45 with a somewhat uncouth statement “Oh, I was about to close up” To welcome us. The “Irish” Breakfast consisted of bacon, sausage, beans and pudding looking somewhat worse for wear. Coffee and orange juice (no choice was offered) was brought to the table. There was no healthy alternative, no yoghurts, no cheese, no cold meats, and no selections of bread or rolls. There were min-croissants. The waitress was friendly enough but was very untrained with a poor manner. For this you have to pay 9.95 euros directly to the café as they are not part of Travelodge and we noticed heavy layers of dust on the partition beside our table.

Semi-derelict public housing behind Travelodge

The run down shopping centre opposite Ballymun Travelodge

In summary, nice building, poor management, woeful security, good value if you don’t get robbed.

Travelodge, Stansted, Great Dunmow

Heading across to pleasant rural Essex for a wedding at the historic Leez Priory, a Tudor Manor near Chelmsford, in the days after Xmas and before New Year we had a not so difficult choice. To stay in a charming B & B for £85 a night or book into a Travelodge for £19? Even adding on 2 breakfasts it still came to £30 for a decent well equipped room so bit of a no brainer.

Out of Order parking machine

Checking in was well organised as effectively you book online and prepay to get the cheaper deals and all they need to do at the desk is give you the key card for the room. However the picture was not so good when we got to our room as toilet rolls, remote for the TV and pillows were missing – what housekeeping check list were they working off? The rolls and pillows were retrieved from a store by the desk but the friendly receptionist said he’d have to retrieve a remote from another room as “customers keep nicking them.” He then checked it for batteries as he informed us these were also frequently stolen. Not the best customer service behaviour sharing these thoughts with us?

Overflowing rubbish and litter at the front of the hotel

The room otherwise was fine, clean, well equipped and as described. Very good value at the price, being next to Stansted Airport the “turn up rate” is £59. Good storage, good shower, TV (with remote!) and Tea / Coffee making facilities in the room.

Next morning we went down to breakfast in the relatively small café area which is too small for the number of customers. All the tables were smeared and uncleaned. Once again the staff on duty were young and were obviously struggling to cope but really it became apparent that the problems were caused more by poor management than by the generally helpful but untrained staff on duty. The beverage bar ran out of cups four times during the 30 minutes we were there for breakfast. It turns out they were short of cups and had to keep washing ones when customers were finished. Once again we were told this is because customers steal cups and their General Manager hadn’t authorised replacements (!!). When cups were replenished the coffee machine had run out of water so no coffee. The hot offering consisted of bacon, sausages, scrambled eggs and beans. At various times these ran out and it was up to customers to find staff and tell them and then wait 5/10 minutes for fresh supplies by which time something else had run out. Bread ran out for toast – the only choice offered was white sliced and there was a single 2 slice domestic toaster, hardly sufficient for hotel catering. Plates (unheated) and glasses were put on the reception desk to maximise confusion, these also kept running out. There was also the delicious moment when a customer took one of these glasses and put it down telling the receptionist it wasn’t clean. The receptionist was helpful; she held 4 glasses up to the light before giving the fifth one to the customer as a clean glass. There were no teaspoons (yes, you guessed, the enemy – the customer, keeps nicking them) and no stirrers either so you had to use soupspoons or forks but these kept running out. We could have been annoyed at this Marx Brother’s impersonation of a breakfast service but like all the customers we just laughed as we had gone through the pain barrier at witnessing the truly shambolic organisation and eating off dirty tables. Like all Travelodge’s it also only stocks sugar so if you are the 10% of the population who use sweeteners this “luxury” item is also not available.

Brittania Parking Sign

Outside there are notices telling you that the car park is managed by “Britannia Parking Services” and hotel customers (including disabled drivers) have to pay £3.00 to park. Britannia here is in the form of a burly man in a van with clamps in the back. However when we arrived in pouring rain the machines were broken and the hotel took your registration number. This charge is not obvious or highlighted when you book but can only be found under the information for this hotel under the car parking tab. This fee doesn’t extend to keeping the car park clean. It and the front of the hotel were in fact strewn with litter from overflowing bins which very obviously had not been emptied for some time. The food and snack vending machines in the hotel lobby were also in need of a visit with 3 out of 4 out of order.

So there you have Stansted, Great Dunmow, Travelodge. A nice modern building, well located, with good disabled access and very competively priced if you book online and pre-pay. It doesn’t have enough cups, plates, glasses, pillows, remote controls, teaspoons etc; for all its customers / rooms and appears to be mis- managed remotely. It is a pity to build a good facility like this, to market it well and then let yourself and your customers down (and undermine your demotivated staff) by not equipping and managing it properly. Hardly a winning customer service proposition?

Village, Great Dunmow

Travelodge, which operates hotels in the UK, Ireland and Spain, was sold by its private equity owner Permira in 2006 to Dubai International Capital. The Dubai firm said it would invest in Travelodge with the aim of making it the UK’s leading budget hotel operator by the 2012 Olympics. It was originally set up by Forte and was then part of Granada and Compass Group. The lack of proper training and management systems is painfully and embarrassingly obvious particularly when you compare it to a very similar 2 star budget chain like Ibis run by the French Hotel group Accor. In Travelodge you are continuously faced with disempowered, untrained juvenile staff and poor management systems and processes and non-existent customer service values. Contrast Travelodge with the cheerful and well decorated Ibis Hotels, The Ibis “If we can’t fix it in 30 minutes the room is free” promise, the excellent and healthy breakfasts they offer, the “Breakfast Non-Stop” and the 24 hour snack availability not to mention the contrast in the customer welcome then by comparison Travelodge is a very poor customer service proposition indeed.

It is a great pity that Travelodge’s management is not as good as its marketing. The chain badly needs to be back in the hands of somebody who understands the hospitality industry, treats customers and their staff with respect. The buildings (if they are maintained) are not bad but need to aspire to something better than the atmosphere of the local A & E Department. As their better managed competitor Ibis Hotels demonstrates you can be BOTH cheap and cheerful and with happier customers achieve a better price point.

Travelodge, Dublin Airport

Shangan Road, Ballymun, Dublin, 9. Ireland

Travelodge, Stansted, Great Dunmow

Chelmsford Road, Great Dunmow, Essex, CM6 1LW, United Kingdom

http://www.travelodge.co.uk/

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