Should you stay at a new hotel right when it opens?
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If you — like many of us at TPG — always want to be in the know about the coolest new hotels, the thought of being one of the first guests to stay at a buzzy hotel may be very appealing — especially if you’ve been hunkering down at home for a while. If it’s a highly anticipated property, the bragging rights alone might be worthwhile. And, of course, many new hotels offer promotional rates that can be very tempting, especially if demand is initially low.
But there are downsides to staying in a brand-new hotel, too.
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Things might not work the way they should
Lights that don’t turn on, showers that don’t drain and air conditioners that aren’t properly regulated are just some of the problems that often plague new hotels. In the beginning — especially if the property is in soft-opening mode — the spa or food and beverage outlets might not be up and running, as was the case with the TWA Hotel when it opened at New York-JFK in May of 2019.
And when The Points Guy himself, Brian Kelly, stayed at The St. Regis Venice just days after its debut on the Grand Canal, he experienced a lot of those “new hotel jitters,” including inconsistent service, lack of signage and a faulty phone system.
“If there’s a hotel that’s really interesting, I will go out of my way to stay there when it’s first opening. If it’s a normal, plain hotel, I will go out of my way to stay out of it,” Bjorn Hanson, hospitality consultant and former dean at New York University’s Jonathan M. Tisch Center of Hospitality, told The Points Guy.
Hanson estimates that he has stayed at about 50 hotels right when they opened, so he has seen many of the kinks that need to be worked out. First and foremost: the punch list. (Think: the little details that may have slipped through the cracks during construction.)
“A drain may have worked fine for a test, but the first person taking a shower ends up taking a bath standing up because it just doesn’t work. Or maybe the cable for the TV doesn’t work. There are little things that will end up being revealed by guests,” Hanson said.
Giorgia Tozzi, the general manager of Rome’s five-star Hotel Vilòn, which opened in March 2018 as a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, agreed. Having come on board before the hotel opened, she worked directly with the architects and was involved in choosing everything from the sheets to the glassware in the bar and the silverware in the restaurant.
She noted that, while the architects and interior designers had a vision and were enthusiastic about creating a beautiful design, they missed details like putting hooks next to the shower so guests can hang their towels, or having plugs right next to the bed so guests can charge their phones. “I was in sales for many years, so for 15 years, I was traveling all over the world and living in hotel rooms, so I knew what I would need,” she said, explaining that she made sure these details were taken care of.
The staff may still be learning
The second area where early guests may encounter issues is staff training. “There may be some problems that come up, and the employees don’t know what authority they have yet. For example, you may have a problem with the room and the employee doesn’t know that they can comp a room,” Hanson noted. While many hotel companies have brand standards, it can take a while to get all the new employees up to speed on them. At boutique hotels, the staff often have a bit more flexibility.
When TPG’s Summer Hull experienced a spate of issues at the just-opened Hyatt Ziva and Hyatt Zilara at Cap Cana in the Dominican Republic, they were compounded by the myriad problems with staff communication and compensation. Management didn’t handle the situation well, employees shared incorrect information and, when it came time to make up for the resort being totally unready, Hull was offered a room upgrade — for her next paid stay at the resort.
Related: The best starter travel credit cards
Should you stay soon after the hotel opens?
So what does all this mean for you? It depends on what kind of guest you are.
“There are two kinds of guests, which I recognized when I opened the hotel,” Tozzi said. “There are the guests that love to (stay) in new hotels. They just love to go in the new bed or new bar and they don’t really care if the service is not 100% or there are some little problems in the logistics and operational stuff.”
Then, Tozzi said, you have guests who “want everything to be ready and perfect,” adding that, “I doubt any hotel that opens from Day One is perfect.”
So how long should you wait to give a new hotel a chance to work out its kinks, if you’re hoping for a seamless stay?
It’s not always easy to tell. According to Hanson, it should be “safe” after about a month, but he suggests checking social media and Tripadvisor to see what people are saying. If you’re unsure if the restaurant, bar or spa will be up and running, call the hotel and ask before making a reservation.
Tozzi gives an even more conservative estimate. She recommends waiting three to six months, though she says, “To be fully on board and fully working, a new hotel needs a year.”
Remember, it’s not just new hotels that can experience grand-opening pains (or simply fail to open on time). Booking a maiden voyage — or any early sailing on a brand-new cruise ship — isn’t without risks. After all, they’re just hotels that float, and they aren’t always ready for prime time when they first launch. Even new theme park attractions, such as Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, can have debut hiccups.
Featured photo courtesy of Small Luxury Hotels of the World
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