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News & Advice

Mark Jones: Treat guests badly and they won't come back

The view from here

There are fresh flowers and a bowl of little sweets. A nice lady greets you with a smile and a nice man looks after your bags. Don't hesitate to ask if there's anything they can do to make your stay more comfortable, they say. You won't. Because these people are your friends.

Then the bell-hop activates the plastic key card, shows you into the room and the bitter truth hits you. Maybe the hotel doesn't like you so much after all.

Here's how you know. They've given you a dreadful room. You know the hotel is three-quarters empty, but you still end up with the executive fire-escape view, while a bumping from above and a scraping from the side tells you there are: a) neighbours; and b) inadequate sound-proofing. Why? Because the finance and operations people who commissioned the reservations software know it's more economical to have you bunched with the other guests together on the same wing rather than dotted around the place, consuming staff time as they move between rooms.

They're charging for Wi-Fi. The humblest B&B offers it to you free because, well, it doesn't cost them anything. However, lots of business-class hotels know you want to use your laptop, think you're on expenses, and hope you don't care. Show them that you do.

They don't have real coat hangers. That's because they think you might steal them. And indeed you might. But they still shouldn't put you through the hell of trying to get a pair of suit trousers on a wobbly bit of metal that keeps clattering to the ground. (Yes, I am aware this is what's called a "First-World worry".)

They refuse to give you an iron because of the "fire risk". True, I've only encountered this once, in St Moritz, when I went down to dinner looking like a discarded newspaper rather than pay $25 to have my shirt pressed. But even when your five-star accommodation deigns to deliver the iron to your room, it's often a cheap and shoddy contraption.

They insult your intelligence. "Save the planet – re-use your towel," says the card in the loo. If only it were that easy. What it really means is "re-use your towel; it helps us save 7.9 per cent on our laundry bill". I'm thinking of leaving a card in every hotel bathroom that says: "Please provide a full breakdown of your renewable energy programme, toxic chemical policy and five-year recycling record. Then I might not chuck the towel on the floor."

They've hidden the light switches and made the TV to all intents and purposes unworkable. Every hotel should have an ergonomics expert on staff.

They only have Kellogg's and Tropicana on the breakfast buffet. That's because they have signed some macho corporate purchasing deal. Choice is for wimps. And customer service is a phrase you put on the website.

And what of the hotels that do like you? They have free wine-tasting, high-pressure showers, home-made granola, nice toiletries (which they encourage you to take home), late check-out, decent music and concierges who actually know which city they're in.

Some philosophers espouse the theory that altruism is fundamentally based on self-interest. They should be in the hotel business. It's those small acts of kindness that get you saying nice things on TripAdvisor and make you want to come back. It costs eight times more to attract a new customer than to keep a loyal one. What's not to like?