In this installment my pet peeve with my life as a hotelier – guests’ reviews and behavior – will get an airing. When we opened up we had generally good reviews, which was reflected by our average score of 9.1 out of 10. This slipped to 8.7 and 8.6 after a while which was in part due to the scoring system the online agents used. I had touched on that in part I.

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                                

                                                                          Overseas Cambodian       2 out of 10 – 10 being the best
A close second:                                                   Italian                              3
Third:                                                                 Spanish, Finnish               4
Fourth:                                                               Austrian, Vietnamese         5
Fifth:                                                                  Dutch, Belgian                  6
Sixth:                                                                  Russian, Japanese             7
Seventh:                                                              Scandinavian, Chinese       8
Eigth:                                                                  American, British, Irish,
                                                                          Cambodian, Thai               8-9
Ninth:                                                                 German, Swiss,
                                                                          Australian, New Zealand    9                                           
Needless to say this is a very subjective rating list. I am personally particularly sorry about the French as I like their food, their country, and generally the people but as hotel guests they are simply a pest and just horrible (with exceptions, of course). I wouldn’t rate any nationality a 10. Although Asians generally do not complain and are not in the habit of writing reviews, at least not in my experience, but they are a sloppy lot. They leave everything lying around, tissues on the floor, towels are used to shine shoes; when they check out their rooms generally look like a bomb had exploded in there.
We had two different kinds of accommodation. The front building was 10 years old when we took it over. It had been rented to the Australian consulate general while there was one in Sihanoukville. The furniture was a little dated and of the traditional Cambodian style. The advantage though was they were all triple or even quadruple rooms. As price points were rather attractive they were well booked. But the downside was it dragged our rating down. The majority of guests just didn’t like rooms. They didn’t have a veranda, or a balcony, it was strictly a place to sleep. 3 were suites with a separate room for watching TV. The quadruple room for families of 4 or even 5 was booked heavily but still got its good share of negative reviews.

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.

One family arrived later in the evening. They entered the family room, didn’t even properly look and although they had checked in yet left. They wrote it was dirty. It was over the New Year holidays too. Good luck finding another hotel. We did charge them though as per our policy, which didn’t sit well with them at all.

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.

One of our rooms in the front building faced south. During high season it got really hot in there. We drew the curtains, aired it out in the mornings while it was still a little cooler, but this had only a minor effect. The a/c usually took about half an hour to cool the room down to tolerable temps. We had this one family who left a/c running when they left the room so it would be cool when they returned after 8 hours or so. At the time we didn’t have the automatic shutoff yet when people left the room. So our housekeeping staff was under instruction to turn all a/c’s off when they were cleaning the room When the family returned to their room it didn’t take them a minute to come rushing down the stairs yelling at the receptionist how we dared turn off the a/c. Again, we have an explanation in our room info that in order to conserve energy and for environmental reasons we turned all a/c’s off when the guests were not in their room, not to mention the cost of electricity which is not cheap in Cambodia. That didn’t impress them one bit. They kept hollering and even insulted the receptionist throwing our mobile phone on the desk breaking it. We charged them $50 for that. They refused to pay for that so we went ahead and charged their credit card. I had a long email exchange with the lady and indicated I would not accept her unruly behavior and might even press charges. That shut her up.

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.

Here is another good one. A guest emailed us well before arrival he wanted a double bed, not two singles moved together (half our rooms are like that) and that we remove everything, especially all alcoholic drinks, from the mini-bar. We replied that we have a policy that we won’t allow guests to bring food or drinks into the hotel from outside as we have full-service restaurant and bar which we have established precisely for the benefit of our guests. So when he arrived – a single elderly man – had barely checked into his room when he came storming to the reception that he had requested that the mini-bar be emptied before his arrival. Well, we had thought our notice would have been enough. Not so, so we emptied the mini-bar. In fact, he didn’t put anything in it but later complained in his review that we hadn’t honored his request. We just replied that it was so vitally important that he not even see the contents of the mini-bar, e. g. because he a recovering alcoholic, we would obliged promptly and treated it with utmost confidentiality.
People travel to a SE Asian country and can expect the reception staff to speak at least English. That’s understandable as English has become the lingua franca of the world these days. But they can’t really expect the cleaning staff to speak English, French, or even their own language. They ought to at least understand that even the service staff at the restaurant has only a limited knowledge of foreign languages. We had quite a few complaints in reviews from guest whom we knew to speak no English who then complained about the staff not speaking a foreign language. It is amazing that there really many guests who travel overseas without speaking any other language. Foremost among them are Chinese and Russians.
Some guests take to three online websites to publish their misgivings. We take the liberty of pointing it out in our responses. Repeating an impression doesn’t make it necessarily more truthful. I got the feeling, as with many other internet phenomena that the majority posting reviews and their take of things suffer from a severe neurosis. People simply will have to make allowances for deficiencies in service and infrastructure.

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.

These are a few samples of what you get in terms of reviews. Now in the age of the internet people take to writing about things they find fault with, although a lot of times they don’t have anything to say at all. But the internet makes people want to be somebody – the selfie craze is symptomatic for that. On the hand, the internet is or was our main marketing instrument, how else would we have gotten any guests so quickly and continuously? After all we sold roughly 4000 to 5000 room nights per year so what are we complaining about? But guests who are a nuisance can really ruin your will to continue.

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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