Should you stay at a new hotel right when it opens?

Dec 8, 2019

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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 new hotel may be very appealing. 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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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 new TWA Hotel that opened at New York-JFK in May.

(Photo by Sergey Usik for The Points Guy)
(Photo by Sergey Usik for The Points Guy)

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 Johnathan M. Tisch Center of Hospitality, told The Points Guy.

Hanson estimate that he has stayed at about 50 new 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.

Hotel Vilòn in Rome opened in March 2018. Photo courtesy of Small Luxury Hotels of the World.
Hotel Vilòn in Rome opened in March 2018. Photo courtesy of Small Luxury Hotels of the World.

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.

Related: 5 reasons you might not want to book a cruise on a brand-new ship

The second thing is the 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 travel director Summer Hull (aka Mommy Points) experienced a spate of issues at the just-opened (and not yet open) Hyatt Ziva and Zilara Cap Cana, 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.

(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

So what does all this mean for you? It depends on what kind of guest you are.

Related: The best starter travel credit cards

“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.”

Photo courtesy of Small Luxury Hotels of the World.
Photo courtesy of Small Luxury Hotels of the World.

So how long should you wait in order 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 you make a reservation.

Related: What to do if a hotel cancels your stay because it won’t be open in time

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.”

Now that Hotel Vilòn has been open for more than a year and a half, she reports a marked improvement in her staff, many of whom have been there since the opening. “We still have a lot of things to improve, but I would say the Vilòn has its own identity now.”

(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

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.

So, would you reserve a stay at a hotel on opening day? Let us know in the comments below.

Featured photo courtesy of Small Luxury Hotels of the World.

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