Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Welcome to the Happiness Hotel

I'm generally a cheap and cheerful kind of traveller. The old adage of "just a bed and a clean room is enough for me" usually applies – and it's just as well. Most of my personal travel has been on a backpacker's budget as I prefer to spend my money on getting out and doing things rather than paying for somewhere to store my bags during the day.

There's a common perception that you get what you pay for, and it's largely accurate. But sometimes cheap is not always that cheerful. We can all tell horror stories about places we've stayed at – and mine won't be anywhere near as drastic as some, but I'm sure some common themes would emerge. While rude (or non-existent service) has long been romanticised in a Fawlty Towers kind of way, some things just aren't funny.

A while ago, my partner had an overnight stay in Auckland. He found a deal at a budget hotel chain in a central city location close to where he needed to be. It looked fine. He checked in to find an untidy room and someone already asleep in bed – Goldilocks, perhaps? After reporting his finding to reception, they simply asked him who was in the room and did he want a late checkout tomorrow. Really?? The room he ended up in wasn't fantastic but at least there was no-one else in it.

I've stayed in a place with rooms that are so small that there was no room for luggage once we shut the door. (Luckily our large group had booked out the whole place so we could keep our bags outside in the hallway.) Multi-storey buildings with broken or non-existent lifts were commonplace when backpacking in Italy, making the Hotel California in Milazzo not so pleasant.

A South Island motel I stayed for a work trip was so cold that you could see the damp dripping down the walls. The heater was broken and so we opted for an early night, but I was still frozen even while wearing all of my clothes in bed and laying my coat on top of the covers. Then there was the congregation of cockroaches and silverfish hanging out on the wall ... I think this place takes out top prize for the worst ever work accommodation. I guess you just have to put up with what you've got when you stay in small towns with limited (or singular) accommodation options.

But apparently bed bugs also like luxurious hotels and are no longer content to just hang out in cheap dives. And why wouldn't they? If the conditions are basically the same everywhere, you'd may as well take an upgrade if it's on offer. (By the way, how do you get upgrades to better rooms, or even half-decent ones?)

I once complained about being given a tiny room in Auckland that looked nothing like the photo yet was called (and cost) an 'executive' room. It didn't even have an external window (as shown in the photo), apart from a tiny one above head height in the bathroom. The response? "Most hotels have a broad variety of rooms and will naturally display a photo of one of their better ones in a brochure or website." So apparently it's perfectly acceptable to show photos of just one room and customers have to accept that theirs will look nothing like the one they've paid for.

Then there was a place where the extractor fan in the ensuite wouldn't turn off ... until 6 am, when it finally decided to get some sleep. (We'd given up trying long ago.) Also, a hostel opposite a night club in central Auckland where I got a grand total of zero minutes sleep and ended up leaving at 4.30 am to catch the early airport bus, figuring that airport noise is preferable to thumping music and street fights outside my window.

A song comes to mind ...

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