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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?

Let's not overlook however, that the front desk, bell desk, or any department for that matter can get overwhelmed with guests at times, even at a five-star hotel which is why I have to emphasize that it is not one red flag that indicates a bad hotel, it is a collection of flags. I’ve audited plenty of hotels that have passed audits with scores over 90%, but no hotel is 100%. There will always be something, but that something does not necessarily mean it is a bad hotel. Anything can happen, even at the very best hotels.

Everything mentioned above is a small example of how well a hotel is managed. That's important because it defines the culture set in place by the General Manager and/or the owner. That will ultimately translate into the guest experience. The culture will dictate other areas that directly affect the guest experience. How about your safety? A uniformed security person posted right at the entrance in the middle of the day could be a bad sign of the area you are staying in. What will happen when you walk out, past the security guard, unprotected? Will you be safe? On the other hand, it can also be a sign that management is engaged enough to acknowledge that daytime security is a necessity to protect guests.

Complaints happen, even in luxury hotels, so it would be a mistake to judge a property or any business harshly based on one or two mishaps. This is why patterns of behavior from management can tell you the real story and can tell you if you are about to stay at a bad hotel or not. After auditing hundreds of resorts, I learned that the property is a reflection of management’s ability to manage, and rarely did I ever feel I was going to have a great experience when the facility was in shatters or the staff lacked a hospitable character.

Hotel & retail owners who are resolute in immersing their team in a predisposed culture entirely focused on the relentless and unwavering pursuit of exceeding the customer's expectation & experience with the products, services, and employees encountered, must have documented & measurable standard operating procedures that clearly define the owner's mission & expectations. However, even this is not enough. Leadership must at all times, lead by example, not just by words alone.

Thanks to Olivia T. for this week's question.

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