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Hotels to offer a good night's sleep by Iain Aitch

Call me old fashioned, but when I pay for a hotel room I generally assume that I am exchanging my money for a good night’s sleep in comfortable surroundings. Sure, I did once book into a Brighton guest house knowing that I was actually paying the landlord in the egg-stained vest for an almost uninhabitable bedroom. But in that case I was going back to show my girlfriend just how unbelievably bad it was. She never did thank me.

Since this incident I have been relieved of hotel selection duties, so instead of choosing the first bed and breakfast displaying a ‘vacancies’ sign the Internet, The Good Hotel Guide and travel supplements are all consulted before I get to pack so much as a pair of socks. This tends to cut out the £12.50-per-night boarding houses I have favoured in the past, but it does, thankfully, almost guarantee a lack of tinned tomatoes at breakfast or the need to use the kind of grubby communal toilet (replete with pornographic magazines) that we had in Brighton.

Sadly though, such judicious selection does not always guarantee a good night’s sleep, as I discovered on two recent trips to design hotels. The UK hotel industry is now full-to-bursting with these boutique hotels, which offer modern cuisine, designer bars and copious amounts of scatter cushions but it seems that standards don’t always live up to that of their more traditional forebears.

The Good Hotel Guide warned us that the Lace Market Hotel in Nottingham city centre was no country retreat and that some street noise was inevitable in rooms at the front, but what it didn’t tell us was that room 39 overlooks a large selection of air conditioning and refrigeration units belonging to a neighbouring business. Of course, the droning, grating noise of industrial fans did not become apparent until we returned to our warm room after a night out. We tried closing the windows, we tried tissue paper in our ears, but the loud bass hum easily cut through both.

After an hour of fitful sleep I called reception to see if anything could be done and was told that the noisy neighbour had gone home without turning off the units and had been called back to do so.

About two hours later the hum stopped, only to be replaced by the more high-pitched sound of the refrigeration units, which it had obviously been masking.

Staff later told us that the noise was an ongoing problem and that local residents had approached the council to deal with it. A hotel spokesman confirmed that this was the case, but did say that it was only ongoing for just over a week. Though this does beg the question why the Lace Market was booking guests into these rooms without warning.

Reception were only too happy to grant our request for a change of room the next morning and promised someone would move our bags while we were out. They were true to their word and moved us to a charming, if somewhat smaller, room overlooking the hotel’s own air conditioning units. Again we called reception and we were soon on our way to a room at the front of the hotel. After our previous night’s lack of sleep the sound of drunken revellers working their way home from the plethora of bars that surround the hotel sounded almost like a lullaby and we were soon snoring blissfully.

Also snoring blissfully were the couple in the neighbouring room on a recent visit to Exeter’s Hotel Barcelona. I hardly begrudged them their sleep after the noisy and obviously pleasurable performance they put in upon returning to their room at 2am, but I did begrudge forking out for a room which had walls so thin that you could hear them snoring.

This, combined with the high-decibel wailing of trapped air in the water pipes every time anyone in a nearby room made a nocturnal visit to the toilet, resulted in the worst night’s sleep I have ever had in a hotel. I finally dropped off at around five o’clock, only to be woken at six by the alarm, which had been set by the previous, early-rising guest.

Hotel Barcelona marketing director Rupert Kenyon agreed that snoring should not be audible through hotel walls, though offered little in the way of hope for anyone unlucky enough to stay in room 203 in the near future. He said that a good deal had already been spent on soundproofing and attempts to solve the problem of the noisy pipes and it seems that no more maintenance is planned for the immediate future.

So, at least for the time being, guests may just have to use the hotel’s Gaudi-inspired scatter cushions to cover their ears and simply hope that the next room is occupied by an octogenarian spinster with a strong bladder and not a honeymooning couple with sinus problems.

Don't be afraid to complain
Us Brits have a terrible reputation when it comes to complaining about anything from inedible food to dirty bed linen, often leaving it until the situation becomes unbearable and provokes a heated argument, or just inwardly fuming until we can get home and fire off an angry letter. Good Hotel Guide editor Caroline Raphael has plenty of experience of complaining and she suggests that being on the defensive from booking to bedtime is the best (and sometimes only) way to ensure that your stay will be snag-free.

“I think when you are shown to your room you should take a good look around to see if there are rubbish bins that are going to be collected at four in the morning, if it’s on the main road, look in the bathroom,” she says. “One has a tendency at the end of a long journey to walk in and say ‘oh that’s fine’ without checking, but I think it’s important.”

If all is not well Raphael suggests discussing matters calmly and negotiating a change of rooms or reduction in room rate, without raising your voice. Walking away and moving hotels should be the very last resort, especially as some hotels will still charge your credit card for the room you have booked.

“I think if you are unhappy and there is a dirty room or something don’t put up with it,” she says. “I don’t think you should read to the end of a book if you are not enjoying the first chapter, I think don’t put up with things that you are not expecting.

Obviously if you are very picky you need to discuss this in advance when making your booking. You will get a good idea of the hotel’s approach if you have a positive discussion on the phone.”

25 October 2003.

All content copyright © 2012 Iain Aitch


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