Wednesday, 22 December 2010

An outstanding hotel!

I know I always post a blog related to postnatal issues but just for once indulge me in this one!!

I am a firm believer in giving credit where it is due and to this end I would like to share my experience at the Salthouse Harbour Hotel   in Ipswich.
A couple of years ago I was invited to speak at a Mental Health Carer’s event in the town and stayed at Salthouse Harbour Hotel  for the first time.
Since then I have stayed in many other hotels across the world and still have never found anywhere that compares. One of my former colleagues used to say ‘never go back’ to somewhere that you had really enjoyed as it often fails to live up to your first wonderful time. Sadly this can often be the case.

Then as luck would have it I got the chance to return to Salthouse Harbour Hotel last week. Clive, my partner had been booked to speak to a client in Ipswich and as he was still unable to drive following knee surgery, I was required as chauffeur. To say I was delighted to be told we were staying at SHH was an understatement!

I wrote to the hotel and told them how pleased and I was and on arrival our reservation had ‘complementary upgrade’ written at the top. Whether or not this was due to my email I do not know, but either way we were pleased! Such as gesture is always appreciated. Likewise the warm and smiling reception we received when we walked in. On arrival I had been indecisive on where to park so we parked outside the hotel, not sure if we actually could or not.  When the porter pointed out that we would have to move he simply told me ‘No problem – I’ll move it to the car park for you’.  I got my keys back later with a neat key ring with our room number on it. Small touches – big difference.

Salthouse Harbour Hotel is a converted warehouse on the marina at Ipswich (yes it does have one!). Our room directly overlooked the yachts, boats and water from the large windows. The room itself was spacious with a huge bed but the ‘piece de resistance’ was the copper bath in front of the windows! Wow! 

The room was furnished with the best of linen, artwork, ornaments, and a stunning combination of traditional, new and quirky. A hotel room with character! That is rare!
The flat screen TV, Bose music system and even lovely chunky mugs and cafeteriere on the tray were all touches of luxury. Likewise one of the tables in the cosy seating area had some books on it. The overall feeling is one of TRUST. Even the hairdryer, which in most hotels is so often fastened to a wall by a chain big enough to restrain a guard dog yet so short that you are required to squat to use it, wasn’t fastened to anything. How many places have you stayed in where it seems everything is tied down? There were EIGHT, yes, eight pillows and the quality of the towels, toiletries gave the whole room an air of abundance that is usually completely missing in hotels. The trust and abundance builds mutual respect and relaxation. To top it off Clive announced that the wi-fi was also free and instantly connected with no messing about which for business people today is an absolute god send.

Other bits of an abundant policy was that if you left your shoes out in the corridor the night porter would clean them for you – and he did, beautifully! No doubt that task helps fill his small, wee hours but gives him a purpose too. You could order a full breakfast in your room and have the restaurant menu as room service AT NO EXTRA CHARGE! Fantastic!
Of course I had to use the bath! I have never before immersed myself in such luxury and was even able to watch television from it!

Dinner was of a high standard and served in the restaurant which is also filled with quirky and interesting ornaments including two pot zebras in a bird cage! There is something to look at every angle in this hotel. Even by the lift is a huge suit of armour – wearing pearls and necklaces! I remembered that the room I stayed in on my first stay had a stunning hand carved bedstead, so I am assuming that each room has its own quirks.
The bed was one of those you sink into and the goose down duvet and afore mentioned sumptuous pillows made it a very difficult bed to get out of.

The bathroom added to the feeling of luxury with a huge walk in shower with the biggest shower head I have ever seen plus and small spray. I could have stayed in for hours! The grey slate floor was so warm to walk on. Even the toilet seat had the gentle, no rush, take your time closure on it! The toilet paper and tissues were also lovely and thick unlike the wafer thin stuff you normally have to put up with. 
We went down for breakfast and explained that Clive had to go but that, once I had dropped him off, I would be back– our request for me to return later was greeted with the same positive reaction that all our requests had been met with. I took Clive to ‘work’ and I returned to a leisurely breakfast. I had decided to use the morning to write my Christmas cards but check-out was at 11 a.m. I asked if I could have an extra hour in the room and was offered three! At no charge of course! Yet another Wow!
When I checked out I explained I wanted to go into town to shop and was instantly handed a map, advised where the best places were and also told I was welcome to leave my car in their car park as it would be just as easy for me and, you’ve guessed it, NO CHARGE!
With an extremely contented but sad heart I left Salthouse Harbour Hotel . I want to go back!!!

We could not help contrast this experience with another hotel we stayed in at the previous weekend with the same 4* rating yet in a different league.
As professional speakers Clive and I are privileged to stay in many, many hotels, most are adequate but rarely do we come across two such extremes. This is the first time we have felt the need to feedback on what could have been a pleasant experience if only someone had bothered to give a damn about customer care.

* On arrival the 'doorman' greeted us with growls and complaints about waiting for someone “for the last 20 minutes”. Not exactly the smiling first impression we expected.
* The long walk to the room was through endless doorways, and in particular one doorway to an outside corridor didn't even have a handle on it and the bracket was hanging off the top.
* On first glance our executive room looked nice, but once in the bathroom the shaving mirror was hanging off the wall.
*The water from the shower was lukewarm to cold and the thermometer control fell off!
* Once out of the cold shower (I had closed the door) I was faced with a flood as it had leaked. I had to use the towels to mop up for the sake of safety.
* On going down to the event we mentioned our problems to the over-worked receptionist who took a note of our room number and request for clean towels and extra pillows. When we returned to our room four hours later neither aspect had been attended to.
* The food at the event was good for 'mass catering' and served swiftly and efficiently.
* The sound system in the event room was dreadful - muffled and then too loud.
*Breakfast in the room was an extra £10 ‘Tray change’!

The hotel has an air that there are plenty of staff but smiles generally are very thin on the ground which does not encourage you to return. When basics of customer care and service are grossly ignored recommendation is impossible.

This second hotel would do well to take a leaf out of Salthouse Harbour Hotel’s book! Care, trust, abundance and attention to the small details can make an ordinary stay into a magnificent one.
We have no hesitation in nominating Salthouse Harbour Hotel for a Customer Service Award. 
Somehow the other hotel is not yet ready for this!

Elaine Hanzak

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