I was used to guests’ reviews in my previous experience as I was active in tourism during a nowadays unimaginable period without internet. I dealt with guests’ complaints by letter. So before we could reply we often had to contact the service provider, airline, hotel, bus operator, etc. We then assessed the claim; most complaints involved a certain amount of refund or compensation, and we replied according to the results of our investigation. We remained relatively detached from any emotional letters, but some were obviously written by lunatics, e.g. the one who complained that there was too much sand at the beach, or the one who thought he could eat in all the hotels we had under contract because he had booked full board.
Now it was quite different, as a hotel owner is more or less in direct face-to-face contact with guests on a daily basis.
My first somewhat critical but not altogether negative review left me a bit perplexed. This was a nice, friendly, middle-aged couple, obviously well-to-do, on their first trip to Cambodia, or SE Asia as they did a typical three-country-sojourn. They wrote in a review that the owner’s frugal attitude could be felt everywhere at the hotel and the breakfast was a joke.
Breakfast was included in the room price and initially was a continental breakfast with their choice of 2 eggs, toast, butter, and jam, coffee, orange juice, and fruit. Now how can this be joke? They paid $35 per night for the room. These guests still gave us a good rating though and would recommend staying there.
Breakfast was a major reason for dissatisfaction. With 16 rooms it certainly is not economical to put on a breakfast buffet. Nowadays, many hotels offer this to save on staff expenses. Our breakfast though was always fresh whereas buffets tend to be rather tasteless once the food had been sitting there for half an hour, buffet dishes for keeping food warm notwithstanding.
We later added to the line-up offering 8 different dishes to choose from and switched to a semi-buffet. Guests would pour their own coffee, orange juice, toast their bread, and help themselves to fruit and additional toast or bread. But you can do what you want some guests found issue with that too. It was remarkable that especially overweight people complained they the food was not enough to be full.
The contrast in opinions about our breakfast couldn’t be starker. Some found it delicious, more than enough, while others thought it poor and definitely lacking in all respects. Now the funny thing is that especially French and Italian guests found fault with it. Considering that French and Italian breakfasts are rather basic in their home countries and nothing to speak of, one could only wonder why they found ours lacking.
At this point a brief rating of nationalities in terms of satisfaction versus complaints.
Most difficult and absolutely the worst: French
Third: Spanish, Finnish 4
Fifth: Dutch, Belgian 6
Eigth: American, British, Irish,
Ninth: German, Swiss,
Guests who had 2 or 3 kids and complained that the toilet would clog up. Sure it would if you use an entire roll of toilet paper or put sanitary napkins in there. Even the dumbest guest must know by now that this simply is not done. Some didn’t know how to operate the shower handle and complained that either the water was too hot or too cold, depending on which way they turned the handle.
We had instructions in each room how to operate the safety box. You wouldn’t believe how many couldn’t even follow these instructions.
Another family that had booked the same room left the next morning claiming they had a death in the family and needed to head back. In their review though they wrote they didn’t like the hotel, it was dirty, the pool was not clean (they hadn’t even seen it). They asked for a full refund, which we refused. Telling lies and then asking for money back is kind of brazen.
Illness or death is an oft-used reason to leave early. So we had this family of 3 that had checked in and came to the reception an hour late they needed to leave again as the wife’s mother in Phnom Penh had died. Again, as per policy we told we needed to charge the full price but would refund it if they sent us a death certificate. The refused and argued back and forth but finally left anyway. When we tried to charge their credit card it was expired. In my book this is fraud.
We had this one inside room with a window that faced the hallway and therefore was never opened. We called it our budget room, and later added the ‘no window’ to the description online. It was priced accordingly – from $25 to $35 incl. breakfast and depending on the season. Well, cheapskates booked that room but complained afterwards saying it was too expensive. The cost for the a/c and the breakfasts was $10 already. What were people thinking? One such person booked it, said he didn’t like it so we offered him a room at the pool for an extra $10. Well, this guest called us cheaters or imposters saying it was a trick of ours to make people book this room so we could then charge the extra $10 for a better room. We had only one room like this. How would this make us rich? Idiot. The best of all were two parties that booked this room knowing it was without window. They then complained that the room had no window. WTF?
One evening a lady came in looking for a better room as she was not happy with the one she had booked at another hotel. We had just one room left. She wanted to take it and left to get her bags from the other hotel. By the time she came back an online agent had booked it which we were obligated to honor. You can imagine what kind of scene she made. If she had paid a deposit to hold the room which we had advised she wouldn’t have had the trouble. Quite a few guests say they will take the room and never come back. She called us dishonorable online.
A couple of people wrote reviews calling us frauds without even staying at the hotel. One had inquired about the rates and had gotten the rack rate. He had also met a guest and asked her how much she paid. She was a long-stay guest so had a very favorable for the budget room. Well we were the fraudsters charging two different rates for different conditions.
Air conditioning was another main beef with our guests. Some found it too cool, although they could regulate it. Others found it too hot but still used blankets!!! Some expect room temps to be in the teens, which is virtually impossible to achieve unless one uses a 5 hp unit for a room of 25 m2. We used only 1 hp which is normally really sufficient to bring the temps down to 24°, which is considered a comfortable room temp. But some guests wouldn’t be happy with that. I often wondered why they traveled to a tropical country, a third-world country at that. They must know that the standard is not comparable to highly developed tourist destinations, e. g. Spain, Turkey, or Thailand. We try to do our best but there is only so much we can do here. We installed a second unit in our family room and the room facing south to alleviate that situation.
A/C units break down, which they quite frequently did. If we couldn’t get a hold of a repairman right away, there is really not much how we can change the situation other than serving free drinks.
Our hotel was a non-smoking establishment as we wrote in our room info and on the internet. We also had no-smoking signs in the rooms. That didn’t keep some guests from smoking in there anyway. When we pointed out our policy they generally obliged but some became really militant. We had this Russian couple who had booked a full month. When the husband found out our policy he couldn’t smoke in the room, never mind that it was published on our agent’s website, he made one of the greatest ruckus I had encountered in those 4 ½ years. He insisted on smoking in the room as he used to watch TV in bed smoking. We told him absolutely not possible. Fearing that they would not pay their bill we charged them after 2 or 3 days for the full amount of their stay. They were Russian and the ruble was at an all-time low so most Russian guests paid cash, which they had converted on the black market. Of course, credit card charges were billed at official rates. So this made them even more furious. The relationship with them got so bad I offered them a partial refund if they left the hotel. They wanted to do that and started looking for another hotel. We were pretty much the only one in our category near the beach so he came back and said they couldn’t find a suitable one and were going to stay. They clearly wanted to get back at us by trying to influence other Russian guests at the hotel. We then asked a friendly guest to tell the obnoxious one that we would report him to the police and have him removed from the hotel if he didn’t stop this. And they ate as much as they could for breakfast as it was free, especially the wife who was overweight at that. Other than that they didn’t have one drink or any other food at our restaurant. As a response to their review we wrote we were glad they were gone and that they are a disgrace to the Russian people. I recently read a Greek hotel had responded in a similar way to an obnoxious guest’s review.
The biggest draw of destinations like this is price point. If people only want to spend $30 for a double room with breakfast they can’t expect a luxury hotel with luxury amenities. We rated ourselves a 3-star hotel since we had a pool, a full-service restaurant and bar, room service, 24-hour attendance (although that was hardly ever necessary), a tour booking option, etc. We did start out in the low $30 range shortly after opening but gradually increased our rates to the $40-$50 range, commensurate with our standard and service offerings. But generally, guests expect Cambodia to be cheap no matter what they book or buy, starting with the cost of a drink to hotel rooms.
Concluding I should say that the vast majority, about 95% of our guests were satisfied with what they got. But there will always nags and curmudgeons with pet peeves. Some come in with the clear intent to get discounts. They complain about the prices of tuk-tuks, even if the fare is correct. Then some blame us for that. The same goes for tours, the a taxi driver drives, etc.
The way things are in Sihanoukville now I don’t expect anybody to open a hotel or guesthouse here anymore. Chinese investments have made it a huge construction site, harming the environment, polluting the sea, among others. Only a fool would come and do business here.
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