May 2012 - Posts
The good, the bad and Premier Inns (part 2)
This blog follows on from my story about the lift breakdown in the Premier Inn, Cambridge.
I arrived at Cambridge station and was taken to the Premier Inn in Newmarket by a taxi (£35). Who decides where to build new hotels in locations like this should be shot because this location was a nightmare. We went round the hotel three times trying to work out where to stop and unload my wheelchair and luggage. Eventually we were able to ask a local taxi driver who indicated the best place. It was basically a drive way with a dropped kerb but no signage saying it was a disabled drop off point. There was no parking attached or under the hotel and cars were directed to a very undesirable looking location opposite. Surely a minimum requirement for any hotel is a drop off point.
So to my welcome. I was charged for my room despite being told it was complimentary by the Cambridge Premier Inn. Very poor communication between the two hotels meant one receptionist in Newmarket had a queue of ten unhappy people waiting to check in as she tried to sort my room out. Eventually I was given a room key and asked to come back later so it could be resolved. A sensible solution but one I had to ask for.
The room was large and spacious with some nice views of the park opposite. The hotel had been built twelve months ago and had four accessible rooms, two of which had wet rooms. At least that was some improvement, as was the TV that had markings on the front saying what each button should be used for along with a remote control that was working.
The bathroom was not a great success with one screw working lose from the support arm in the shower.
This was an accident waiting to happen.
The shower curtain went down to the floor and immediately got tangled up in the small wheels at the front of my wheelchair when I had a shower the followings morning.
The toilet paper dispenser was one of those locked cylinders that had two separate packs of paper. When one ran out it was very difficult if not impossible to bring the next lot of paper into the dispenser unless you had the key. I had to ask reception for new paper which she provided but what a waste of time when toilet rolls are so much easier to use and cheaper to install. Also if a stroke victim tries to do this it would be very difficult and frustratinbg.
The clothes hanging space was low which was fine for me but utterly useless for a lady to use or any other able bodied person that could be using the room when it is not let to a disabled person.
The good news is that I was asked if I would need assistance in the event of fire.
I have to say I felt very sorry for the receptionist. She was doing her best trying to help, she was very pleasant but on her own in a busy hotel and so many of the issues I experienced could have been avoided.
One lift breaking down has become quite a saga, I wonder if it is fixed yet.
New course on accessibility takes shape
The last week has seen Tourism for All, Westminster Kingsway College, Tourism SE and AVF Marketing pilot a new course covering the issues relating to people with disabilities and the £2 billion market for hotels. The course allowed the students to temporarily experience what it is like if they lost their sight, hearing, and mobility. The students went round the college, ordered their lunch, buttered bread when blindfolded, researched the best accessible hotel in Westminster, found out what the best products were for a hotel to help people with a hearing loss and learn how to take an order and serve a dish to a blind person.
The feedback was that this was the most important learning experience of the course and helped everyone experience firsthand how the different impairments affected people with disabilities. Some people with disabilities do not agree with this type of training. They see it as demeaning and so inappropriate. I could not disagree more. I remember a few years ago reading an article from The Guardian. This disabled person was recommending that all supermarket managers experience what it was like shopping in a wheelchair with a trolley that spent most of its life going sideways.
Nobody knows if and when they will be affected by a long term impairment. There is no point in worrying about what the future holds but if it does happen then the most important thing to do, in my opinion, is be positive. This might sound harsh but there is nothing we can do about yesterday but everything we can do about tomorrow. These students are now more likely to go into the hotel industry with a far better understanding of the needs of people with disabilities. When this course is rolled out across other colleges it has the opportunity to provide a far more positive future for disabled people when they stay away from home. EUREKA!
Automated check-ins, good or bad?
I am increasingly concerned about the situation people with disabilities will face when it comes to a fire. In the last two years I have only been asked twice if I needed assistance in the event of a fire alarm. That represents about 1% of my overnight stays. A very worrying statistic when you still see hotels burning to the ground in both the media and Caterer and Hotelkeeper.
So one of two things is happening, it might be that the person checking me in makes a visual note and puts me on a register of needing help but does not tell me. I doubt this is happening. The second is that nothing happens and it is all left to chance and I believe this is more likely. If I am on a ground floor that is less of an issue but a wheelchair user can’t access the lift in an evacuation.
The situation is made more difficult when you have the Premier Inn automated check-in. Does that automatically place me as an at risk person and if so how does it know what type of help I need. Do I need evacuation by an evacuation chair, or guidance because I am blind, or making sure I have heard the alarm because I am deaf. Is the person that is sent to my room at night trained in how to deal with each of these situations? I hope so but I doubt it. It would be really helpful to know all this for two reasons. The first is that I will feel safer and the second is that if I feel safe I am more likely to return. So it makes good business sense.
If only it happened.
Are evacuation chairs the best option?
Once a hotel puts an accessible bedroom on the first floor or above they create themselves an issue. They need a way of evacuating people in a wheelchair from their room when the fire alarm rings. The lifts should be isolated and return to the ground floor. So what do you do with the person in the wheelchair.
In my view there are four options. The first is leave the person in the room and tell them you are doing so and that the fire brigade will be informed as soon as they arrive. The second is you place the person in a refuge area that has been specifically created for this situation. The third is you have a lift that has been protected so it can operate in the event of fire for use by people with disabilities. The fourth is you use an evacuation chair. This means training members of staff to use the chair safely and I believe it needs two people, one in front and one at the back. This is is my least favourite option for several reasons. They can be terrifying for the disabled person as they are tipped backwards and forwards fearing for their safety and the safety of the staff.
So what does the industry do? You’ve guessed it, I see more evacuation chairs creeping onto stairways in new build and renovated hotels. Accidents will happen, injuries or worse will occur and this will result in costly court cases.
That money could have been so easily diverted into one of the other solutions. The first of which costs nothing but I am sure needs agreeing with your local fire brigade. But is you have a 45 minute protection from fire on the bedroom door isn’t this the safest and best option?
The story of the good, the bad and Premier Inns
What would you do if your lift broke down on a Friday and it could not be repaired until the following Wednesday?
How many of you would look at the bookings ahead and see if you had any guests due to arrive in a wheelchair?
Then what would you do?
Congratulations to Premier Inns for identifying, in advance, that I would not be able to get to my room as the above had happened. If it was when I was a hotel manager a senior manager would then be expected to phone the guest, make alternative arrangements and either offer complimentary accommodation, a discount, or a free dinner. This would recompense the guest and compensate, in this case, the guest’s taxi fair to Newmarket.
A receptionist was given the job and just offered an alternative room in Newmarket. He was not empowered to discuss anything else with me.
So what did I do?
I realised that this issue was nothing to do with the receptionist and in my mind he should never have had to make the call. I asked for a senior manager to contact me as I was not happy about having to pay the extra for a two way taxi between Newmarket and Cambridge.
In fairness, the front of House Manager, called me to see why I was still unhappy. He did the very sensible thing of asking me what I would need to resolve the situation. This is a clever way to resolve the matter and a technique I have often used. I went for broke and asked for a complimentary room. I would have accepted a free dinner. However, I was delighted to accept the offer of complimentary accommodation when it was offered and I trust I will enjoy my stay in Newmarket.
But how would you have handled this situation because it must happen in lots of hotels? I look forward to reading your comments.
The difference between constructive comments and complaints
A few months ago I had a very interesting experience at the Holiday Inn, High Wycombe. I arrived back from a cruise, returning early morning to Southampton, so we wanted to check in early. I realised I might have to wait but instead I was told the charge to check in early was an extra £25. I was flabbergasted because this has never happened before. I complained bitterly and said I was not prepared to pay it. They then checked to see if the room was ready and it was. So all that unpleasantness could have been avoided.
The receptionist was very polite and understanding and we struck up a good rapport and discussed how well the hotel met my needs as a disabled person. Well in simple terms it didn’t. For example the accessible room featured a bath. And as the receptionist said, “My auntie could not use that bathroom and it is not suitable for a disabled people. I thought that when I was first shown the room on my induction but my comment was not listened to”.
I was eventually given an eight page questionnaire that in all the time the receptionist had been there she knew only one person that had ever filled it in. Is that any surprise when the first question a hotel guest has to answer is – Where are you located most of the time? The form continued in the same theme and quite honestly was a joke.
I continued my discussion with the receptionist and told her how you could not read the restaurant menu because of the level of lighting and design of the menu, that the bed was far too close to the door and so it was difficult to get in. I politely kept her up to date as she wanted me to. She was really interested in learning more.
Much to my surprise and delight I had a call from the front of House Manager on the Saturday night. She asked if she could have a chat and I was pleased to accept. We then went through a number of points on how the hotel could improve its customer service to people with disabilities. It was a friendly discussion and at no time did I complain. It is my effort with the Ramp It Up campaign to increase understanding in hotels when I stay in them.
So imagine my surprise when I get a letter a few days later from the General Manager relating to my complaints. Worse still it was about what the hotel had done instead of listening to the customer and take on board their constructive comments. The letter was designed to protect them from further action but I could not be bothered as I will just not stay there again.
Perhaps the most concerning issue is that Holiday Inns are promoting the fact they are supporting the Olympic and Paralympic Games. I just hope that the Paralympians that stay do not receive the service I did.