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How You Can Tell You Are About to Stay at a Bad Hotel: A Quality Assurance Auditor Reveals RED FLAGS

Bruce Claver | Insightful Service | January 17, 2023

Olivia T. asked Insightful Service how to tell if you are about to stay at a bad hotel? It's not always obvious considering that booking sites will display glamour shots of properties and they are meant to attract customers, not give them a reason to book elsewhere. Traveling can be full of anxiety and it starts the moment you begin looking for that perfect hotel to rest your weary head. So how do you know if the hotel you are booking is a dud or not? Let's get into the mind of an expert...a person whose job it is to inspect and grade hotels then advise & coach the executive management teams that are responsible for operating them. This would be your "friendly" Quality Assurance Auditor; every General Manager's best friend or worst nightmare. What is the auditor looking for and what are the red flags that scream, "Don't check in here?"


As a QA Auditor for a major international resort company, the very first thing I would do upon arriving at a resort property was to begin a macro evaluation by driving around the property and seeing what stood out or grabbed my attention while inside the car. Usually, the condition of the parking lot was a telltale sign as to whether I was in for a long audit at a badly maintained hotel or a short audit at a well-managed hotel. I could literally know what the next 24-48 hours were going to be like based on the condition of the parking lot. For example, multiple oil stains in the parking spaces were enough to consider whether the property had an active preventative maintenance program in place. Weeds and cracks were always a sign of neglect. After I finished my drive, I would walk around the entire property and again, look for condition issues such as visible rust, broken chairs or broken anything, burnt-out lightbulbs, cracked sidewalks, peeling paint, etc, All were signs that the property was not being maintained. Those are red flags because it begs the question, "What else is not being maintained by management?"

After an exterior walk-through, I’d look at the condition of the lobby starting from the main entrance, just like guests would when they arrive. An entire walk-through was done. I’d look at the condition of the carpets, look for dust buildup and dirty windows and doors (palm prints on windows), ripped or threading carpets. My pet peeve was unpolished bell carts which was a clear sign that the property leadership took no pride or concern for its aesthetics. All these are signs of larger problems yet undiscovered but awaiting my discovery.

Next and probably more important than condition & cleanliness, is the staff interaction with guests. For example, are guests proactively greeted? Are employees bunched together in private conversation, cracking jokes while ignoring approaching guests? What about the uniforms? Are they wearing ties? If they are, how do they look? Are they tied properly? Are their shirts wrinkled? Does the front desk agent or other employees have attitudes such as acting annoyed or bothered when a guest asks them a question? Is the desk agent too loud so everyone hears the details of your stay? What do the desk area and lobby look like? Is there clutter anywhere?

rusty sign

Everything mentioned here is a sign, a red flag because it all speaks to the nature of the General Manager and how s/he prioritizes problems that need addressing. If the property is falling apart, that could be a sign that the property is financially strapped which begs the question, what else and where else has management cut back on guest comforts and safety? Is there a rodent or bug issue? Will hair from other guests or mold be found in the bathrooms? Are the bed sheets clean? I see it no differently than an HR Manager evaluating how a candidate is dressed and presents themself in a job interview. Sloppiness is always a red flag for possible bigger issues down the road. Sloppiness defines a sort of attitude. While some issues can be considered isolated, generally speaking, many issues can be systemic which is no different than when you consider the purchase of a pre-owned home or car. When you find one issue, what will you find when you keep looking?

What else? How about staff chit-chatting with each other in groups of three or more and staff with aggressive attitudes or apathetic attitudes, all of which represent a hotel that generally lacks disciplined management? Phones excessively ringing and not getting picked up in 3-5 rings is not a good sign. That means they are probably short staffed but more importantly, they are ignoring guest calls. What will happen to you when you need something or have a question and nobody picks up your call?