Pardon Our Dust: Hotel Construction Frustrates Guests

By Barbara DeLollis

If you've never arrived at a hotel and found the swimming pool empty, or a fitness center or restaurant closed because of renovations in progress, consider yourself lucky.

Given the ongoing renovation boom among U.S. hotels, it's not uncommon to discover construction that might be disruptive to your stay. And in this age of social media, a disappointed guest can mean a bad review on TripAdvisor, Yelp or other popular review sites.

So hotels are getting creative when it comes to giving renovation-leery consumers a heads up.

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"Most of the time, renovations scare people and they think the worst," says Dave McCaslin, president of Northwood Hospitality, owner of Manhattan's iconic New York Palace.

The New York Palace is blogging about its massive renovation on a blog "A New York legend is reborn."

"This way, we can clearly communicate what's happening and what the impact might be – and what it will not be so they have a clear idea of what they're walking into," he says.

The other benefit of the blog is that it chronicles an historic chapter for the hotel and gives homage to the artisans, stone workers and designers working on it, he says. "It's kind of like going behind the scenes of how a movie is made," he says.

Some of the blog's topics are sparked by online reviews. When one guest commented on the new chandeliers, the blog followed up with a post specifically about them. In March, about 8,000 people viewed the blog, representing a doubling of January's views.

The hotel has gotten word out about the blog via TripAdvisor, a link on its Wikipedia page and in the summary of its "About" section on its Facebook page. It also created the #NYLegend hashtag for Twitter followers.

Hotel management decided to take action after reading reviews on TripAdvisor from guests who said they hadn't been told about construction. Now, the hotel's reservations department tells the people with whom they speak and reservation confirmations mention it.

"We are doing everything in our power so that somebody can't say, 'I didn't know,'" McCaslin says, adding that about 15% of the hotel's rooms have been updated and that the work will increase over the summer.

The work is being done floor by floor to minimize people's exposure to the noise and mess.

Consumers appreciate honesty

Sometimes, hotels get too "optimistic" about when they can finish construction, says veteran hotel publicist Vivian Deuschl, who until last year represented the Ritz-Carlton luxury hotel chain.

"The important thing is for the hotels to be honest with the guest," she says. "They don't want to lose business, so they often come up with overly optimistic predictions of when things will be ready."

Some hotels decide it's worth closing for two months or more, rather than risk exposing guests to the process, especially if the work is taking place during a quiet time of the year. The Ritz-Carlton in Naples, Fla., for instance, will close for its renovation this summer, says Bruce Siegel, the hotel's direct of sales and marketing.

In July, the hotel will begin overhauling its 450 guest rooms, hallways, three dining outlets, two outdoor swimming pools, in addition to mechanical and engineering upgrades.

To prepare for its closure through this fall, New York's Loews Regency "made it a point to communicate with our customers early and even relocate (the hotel's famed) 'Power Breakfast' in the interim" to a nearby restaurant, says Loews spokeswoman Lark-Marie Anton.

There are a number of ways that hotels try to "soften the blow" when they stay open during construction, says Pamela Parsons, a senior executive with hotel design and architecture firm Forrest Perkins.

In cases where workers need to hammer concrete, for instance, hotels sometimes send guests a "clearly written message," she says, citing the process a few years ago at the Atlanta Marriott Marquis.

Renovation: Not always bad news

Some travelers find a bright side to the situation.

Hotels undergoing major work also will try to get on their guests' good side by providing them ear plugs, a transparent nod to the inconvenience, Parsons says. Some also give guests perks such as free breakfast and free cocktails "to get them in a better mood."

Frequent traveler Tom Siko has experienced the bright side of inconvenient construction in hotels.

"Lots of times I'll arrive to find the fitness center under construction," Siko says. "In many cases they will offer you a guest pass at local commercial gym or health club. Often this can be a nicer perk than the property's fitness center."

Traveler tip: Call your hotel before booking

Consumers can also take some responsibility to make sure that they aren't booking a hotel under construction by calling. Meeting planners, whose job it is to book hotels for gatherings, know this well. National meeting planner Joan Eisenstodt says she addresses the issue before signing a contract with the hotel to make sure meetings and conventions go off without jackhammering during a keynote speech and other construction-related disasters.

Source: USA Today

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