A hotel by any other name

How can a traveller be sure that a hotel is what it claims to be?

The accommodation-booking website Wotif.com sells rooms at a hotel called the “Shreaton” in Khalidiya, a district of Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
Bookings.com calls the same premises the Khalidiya Hotel. Locally, the hotel is known as the Sheraton Khalidiya and, as the photo on the Bookings.com website shows, it has the Sheraton name and logo on the side of the building.

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The man from the Mercure

I’ve moved from the Ramada Downtown and I’m now ensconced at the Mercure City Centre, Abu Dhabi.

As this is an Accor Hotel, I’m on more familiar turf here. The hotel — one of the oldest in the Abu Dhabi CBD (and, I believe, originally The Novotel), is showing a bit of wear and tear, but the experience so far has been very pleasant.

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The key to nowhere

This is a hotel keycard. It’s supposed to let you operate the lift and open your room door. Except it doesn’t always do that.

I’ve been in the Ramada Downtown for a week, and I’ve had to have my card “recharged” or changed four times.  [Update: it’s happened five times in 10 days.] On the second occasion, the very pleasant check-in clerk told me I shouldn’t keep it in my pocket near my mobile phone.

But it’s not as simple as that.

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It’s not easy being green

My hotel room, in common with every hotel room I’ve stayed in in the past 10 or more years, is very “green”. What I mean by that is that it has little notices like this:

There are a few variations, but basically they are asking guests to indicate whether they want their sheets or towels replaced, reminding us of the damage we are doing to the environment by washing things to often. Continue reading It’s not easy being green

The man from Ramada

It doesn’t quite have the cachet of The Man who Lived at the Ritz, but for the next week and a half I’ll be the man living at the Ramada Downtown in Abu Dhabi.

So far, I’ve enjoyed a friendly welcome and I’ve been very happy with my comfy, well-furnished corner room that, among other things offers me a view of my old apartment building.

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We want affordable wi-fi!

There is one area where the hospitality industry has struggled (or is unwilling) to keep up and be competitive: the provision of internet services.

It is ridiculous in this day and age that some hotels, airlines and cruise ships offer near-extortionate prices for internet access (which, according to the United Nations, is a basic human right, no less).

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World’s cheapest, and dearest, cities

Zurich, Switzerland, is the most expensive place on Earth for tourists, according to research by airport transfer company Hoppa.

Sofia (bulgariatravel.org)

And the cheapest of 84 cities rated is Sofia in Bulgaria. The survey threw up quite a few surprises.

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How much for a hotel room?

Here’s a interesting exercise. Go into a hotel without a booking and ask: “How much does a  room cost?” You may as well ask the length of a piece of string.*

How much for a bed for the night?

The answer to both questions is: it depends. In the case of the hotel room, while there is a “rack rate” for each room there are several factors that will influence what you will actually be charged.

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Hotel hygiene 101

It continues to amaze me that so many people who work in the hospitality industry don’t understand the basic rules of hygiene I learned as a child.

And how, despite millennia of experience in creating public buildings, and decades of public-health research, many restrooms (bathrooms, toilets, WCs … call them what you will) are still badly designed from a hygiene point of view.

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Christmas is all around

Christmas markets, Christmas lunches, Christmas shopping … it’s all happening, and not just in traditionally Christian countries.

From Kakadu, Shanghai

Not long after I moved to Abu Dhabi, somebody sneered on social media about  “politically correct” Britain, where some councils had (allegedly) banned Christmas, and then added for good measure: “I bet you’re not allowed to celebrate it in the UAE, either.”

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Is 8 really not enough?

A short time ago, I wrote a blog post about my experience with the Courtyard by Marriott Hotel in Bangkok.


In summary, I filled in an online survey in which, on average, I gave them a score of 8 out of 10. Apparently they weren’t pleased with this, and wanted to know what was wrong.
So I wrote back and said nothing was wrong, I just usually don’t give out marks of 9 and 10.

Now they’ve written to me again, asking specifically about what was wrong with their internet.

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The ratings game

Anybody who has ever travelled has become accustomed to the star system. We use it to rank hotels, airlines and other services, and we generally understand what it means.


Two stars means ordinary; five stars is excellent. Of course, we now sometimes hear of six- or seven-star properties, which is where the system becomes a bit fuzzy.

But these star systems only go so far in telling us what we really want to know.

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Some travel booking tips

As with any other product, the priceof travel can vary dramatically. The same journey — by plane, train, boat or whatever — can cost more or less depending on a wide range of factors.


Of course, prices are affected by the season — ski resorts tend to be at a premium during winter — and other demand factors.

But with price comparison as near as your computer or mobile device,  you might be surprised to find exactly the same journey or stay, at the same time, offered at bizarrely different prices.

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It pays to know the rules

I am a big fan of loyalty schemes, but I’m the first to admit that I’m no expert.


There are entire websites devoted to helping you make the most out of frequent-flyer and hotel memberships, and the credit cards that link to them.

If you really want to maximise your points, and you are prepared to change banks, juggle many cards at once and go slightly crazy doing it, I suggest you check them out. Lucky’s One Mile At A Time blog is a good place to start. You’ll be amazed at how he manages to make the system work for him, often resulting in spectacular upgrades and free trips.  But it’s a full-time job. Continue reading It pays to know the rules

A perfect 10?

After their hotel stays, many guests receive an online survey asking them to rate the service and facilities.

I have a problem with these surveys — they are often too detailed, too long and too time-consuming; they often demand answers to questions that are irrelevant to the respondent; and they require some of us to think in ways we may not normally think.

Courtyard by Marriott, Bangkok
Courtyard by Marriott, Bangkok

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Review: Courtyard by Marriott, Bangkok

The first thing that struck me on arrival at the Courtyard by Marriott hotel, near the busy Siam central shopping district, was the security.

King-size bed, Courtyard by Marriott
King-size bed, Courtyard by Marriott

The taxi boot was checked and I had to go through a airport-style scanner before entry to the foyer.

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Diary: Three days in Bangkok

Given the recent death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, I was expecting the mood in Bangkok to be more sombre than on my past visits.

Bangkok 2016
Bangkok 2016

Indeed, many people are wearing black and dark colours, and many of the billboards on the road from the airport were black, with pictures of the King and plainly written, heartfelt, tributes from companies and government bodies.

However, Thai hospitality persists, and both the taxi driver — who, regrettably tried the old “meter broken” trick (which I handled by offering him the fare I knew was correct) — and the hotel staff were friendly.

I stayed near Siam, at the Marriott Courtyard (more about that in another post) in Ratchadamri near Central World, which is well located for the BTS (Sky Train) and taxis (although the roads are impossibly clogged most of the day and night).

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