Tag Archives: hotel

Lake Villas in Amparo – my birthday 2014

I visited a new hotel this week. It was my birthday on Wednesday and I usually try to get away for a few days around my birthday, but with it falling in the middle of the week it seemed a better idea to just take a single day off and to check in someplace relaxing.

Because I didn’t want to spend a long time travelling, my wife found a place quite close to our home. It might be close, but it’s still nice to getaway and to let someone else do the cooking and cleaning for a day.

Fortunately our house is in the countryside anyway, so there are a lot of nice places nearby. We chose the Lake Villas Charm hotel at Amparo. It’s actually about halfway between two towns called Amparo and Morungaba in rural São Paulo.

I had vaguely heard of this hotel because I see signs for it on the main road near Amparo. It’s about 25km from our house so I see the signs fairly often, but I had never seen the hotel.

It was quite remote so that’s no surprise. To access it, you need to leave the main road and enter a dirt track that runs for about 10km into the countryside. The hotel is not really as you might imagine a normal hotel to be – a big building containing hundreds of rooms.

Arriving there, it was more like entering a golf course. The reception building was close to the entrance, but it was a separate small building just for the purpose of greeting visitors. The hotel itself is laid out in enormous grounds featuring lawns, woods, waterfalls, and forest – as far as the eye can see is basically all the grounds of the hotel.

Various buildings are dotted around the grounds. A spa and gym, a café, a restaurant… they are just scattered around and are usually placed next to features such as a lake or waterfall.

The rooms are not rooms at all. Each guest basically gets a house – an entire house that is so well equipped they look like something out of a home decoration magazine. Each house has a terrace with hammocks and beautiful furniture.

Lake Villas Charm Hotel

The place is so big that you need bicycles or golf carts to get around – we opted for a golf cart. After arriving and checking in we headed off to an enormous lake and swam in the water with a black swan. We drove around the grounds and explored a waterfall and some islands, then went to the spa to swim in the pool and relax on the terrace watching the waterfall.

But aside from this being probably the largest and most enjoyable hotel I have stayed anywhere in the world – and I’ve been to a lot of hotels – what I really noticed at this place was the dedication to customer service. It’s funny that the best customer service I have ever experienced turns out to be at a place that is just a half-hour drive down the road from home.

Here are a few examples:

  • When we arrived at the room, there was a letter from the manager of the hotel with his personal mobile phone number saying we could call or text him directly at any time if there was anything he could help with.
  • When the booking was made, my wife had mentioned that I’m vegetarian. When we arrived at the hotel restaurant the evening for dinner, the waiter greeted me by name and explained how the chef had prepared five off-menu options especially for me in case I wanted more choice of vegetarian dishes. This was not just an extra risotto – they had some really special options.
  • When my wife told the waiter that the mint in her pre-dinner Mojito tasted incredible, he arranged for the hotel gardener to show her where it was grown – and he pulled out a few entire plants for her to take home.
  • My wife had mentioned my birthday when booking the hotel, but had not made any specific plans for a cake, yet after our dinner the waiter arrived with a delicious chocolate cake and a card offering birthday wishes from the team.

Of course, any hotel could copy these actions. For example, a policy could be created to always bring a cake to a guest when the restaurant team is aware of a birthday, but what struck me at this hotel was that nothing appeared to be forced – it was an attitude rather than a policy.

I have never seen a general manager offering to accept messages via Whatsapp and the gardener did not have to go around pulling out plants, but if these people work within an environment where the culture is to try helping guests however possible then why wouldn’t they do that?

Great hospitality depends on the level of service to customers and hotels are in the frontline. Travelling guests are often tired on arrival and require service 24/7, which can often lead to situations where the old adage that the customer is always right just plainly wrong. The customer is not always right when he is jet-lagged, exhausted, and light-headed after some chilled Chablis.

The motto of the Ritz Carlton group is: “We are Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen.” This strikes me as the perfect attitude for the hotel business. The guest is not more powerful than the waiter because he is paying the bill. The hotel team can make your stay memorable for the right or wrong reasons and I’m pleased to say that for my recent birthday the team at the Lake Villas in Amparo made it a fantastic stay.

Check their website here.

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The joy of Mountjoy – Christmas lunch with the Irish convicts

Many years ago I made the mistake of booking a trip to Dublin for Christmas. I love Ireland and I love visiting Ireland – though I haven’t been back for a few years now – however it’s not really a good place to be on Christmas Day because everyone is with their family.

Literally everyone. There isn’t a bar or restaurant open on December the 25th so it’s difficult for a visitor trying to experience the city. Now this may all have changed in recent years, but 20 years ago Dublin was like a ghost town on Christmas Day. The only place to eat and get a drink was in the hotel you were staying in.

I went out there for Christmas with my girlfriend. We tried going out for Christmas lunch at a few nice hotels on Christmas day, but found that they were all just accepting residents for lunch – we would only be able to eat in our hotel.

So we went back and started on lunch. It wasn’t bad and there was a group of Australians in the restaurant all determined to have a party so the drink and conversation was flowing.

Then I noticed a couple of old homeless looking guys walking into the reception and quickly getting escorted out again by the security staff. I called over to the hotel staff and said ‘don’t worry about them; let them in for Christmas lunch and I’ll pay for whatever they order…’ I’d probably been enjoying the Christmas spirit quite a bit by then to make such a rash offer.

The two old guys were delighted. They came and joined our group and regaled us with some outlandish tales of their petty crime in and around Dublin. They claimed to be on Christmas day leave from Mountjoy Prison in Dublin, which we all doubted for a long time, but eventually one of them produced a document stating exactly that – they were prisoners who had been let out to enjoy Christmas day! They had to report back to jail the next day…

We let them continue enjoying the afternoon anyway and had a lot of fun talking to the two of them, however they both eventually passed out – probably from not having a drink on the inside then suddenly finding a free bar. The hotel staff carried them out and called a taxi to take them back to the jail that evening.

It was a crazy experience, but a very memorable Christmas day in Dublin.

OFF LICENCE - MUNSTER STREET

Photo by William Murphy licensed under Creative Commons

Brazil: Don’t step outside or you might be robbed!

The other day I met a British visitor here in São Paulo. It was her third day in the city and she was travelling with a government-arranged party, visiting various cities over a two-week visit.

During those three days she had only seen the inside of the hotel, offices, or a chauffer-driven car between the two. She was not in back-to-back meetings, so there was spare time available, but her [UK-based British government] hosts had advised her to not go out alone.

Her hotel was on Alameda Santos. For anyone who knows São Paulo, that’s one block away from Avenida Paulista, one of the biggest, busiest streets in the city – a place always full of life and excitement.

I know that any new place can be intimidating. I remember my first ever visit to Mumbai and despite my initial terror at the incessant activity all around, I still managed to take a walk around the Gateway of India and a few other obligatory sights. When I spent a lot of time working in Singapore I would regularly hang out in Serangoon on Sunday afternoons watching Bollywood films on a makeshift screen in a car park – I was almost always the only white face there, but always felt welcome.

In São Paulo there is the language difficulty for visitors, there is also the sheer size of the place… the city is enormous with the greater area having a population three times the size of London. It’s also a place without the touristic features of Rio – the obvious destinations that appear on postcards home.

But some cursory research would have shown that this hotel was in one of the safest places in the city and just a block or two from the art museum – hardly the mean streets of gangland.

She was immensely grateful as I not only guided her around the city centre, but also took her on the public transport system, and to an edgier neighbourhood to try the local draft beer. It humanised the city for her.

I am going to contact the Consulate about this – maybe I can help them to produce some more up-to-date information for visiting business leaders. It’s a shame for visitors to have the ‘dangerous Brazil’ myth thrust at them even by official advisors. Sure, there has been a wave of murders here recently, but it’s gangs against cops – nothing the ordinary person sees.

I’ve never felt any sense of threat at all while living here, but maybe that’s just from following the same rules anyone should follow in a major city – especially when unfamiliar with the neighbourhood. Don’t stand out too much (Versace suit when everyone else is wearing Vans), don’t hold your iPad at arms length placing a video call as you walk down the street, and if you are out after dark then just make sure you have an idea of what the neighbourhoods are like if you are wandering around a new place.

But then, this might just as equally apply to a Brit arriving in New York for the first time, or a Brazilian arriving in London. Be sensible and you can enjoy a visit to São Paulo just like any other place!

Sao Paulo

Evite este lugar a todo o custo! Avoid this place at all costs!

Português está abaixo:

I’ve been to Camburi and Camburizinho, small villages in the north coast of São Paulo, many times. I’ve stayed in hotels, pousadas, and a campsite. On a visit last year I noticed the Ventos do Camburi pousada when I was looking for breakfast. It looked nice so I joined their Facebook fan page and email mailing list to receive more information.

They recently sent out an offer by email and I replied asking to book a weekend away – a Friday and Saturday night. They responded with the price and I agreed, paid my deposit and then travelled over from São Paulo on Friday evening.

When I arrived the reception manager was friendly and even showed me a couple of different rooms saying that I could choose between them. My husband and I chose our room, then went out for dinner, and had a nice evening.

Things were not perfect in the (very small) room despite the pleasant reception. The room smelled of mould and woodworm or lice were eating the door – all night we could hear something inside the door eating the wood and when I first heard it I thought we had rats in the room!

In the morning we went to breakfast and a man was talking loudly about how he ‘must speak to the people in room 23’… I said to him that we were from room 23. He was the hotel manager Carlos – he said that we have been placed in the wrong room and we were even in the wrong pousada! When I asked him what he meant, he said that Ventos owns two places – one in Camburi and one in Camburizinho.

We had checked into the Ventos that we had first seen, the one on Facebook, and the one we asked to book when we emailed and asked for the prices. However, Carlos said that we were booked into their inferior pousada down the road. He said we could only stay in our room if we paid to upgrade – we should leave immediately and go to the other pousada.

I asked Carlos how this could happen. We had asked for information, made a booking based on that information, and been welcomed and shown to our room by his staff.

Carlos turned out to be a very nasty character. He insisted that we had to pay extra to stay in the pousada – even though we had paid for our weekend in full on arrival.

After a long argument and Carlos refusing to change his mind or give any blame for the situation to his own team we decided to just leave the pousada. We asked for our money back for the Saturday night – it was still early on Saturday morning when we were having this argument.

Carlos refused saying that we had paid for the weekend and the money was not refundable as “a courier picks up the money every night”. This escalated into a further argument about him robbing us and we called the police and explained to them how the pousada was not going to refund us and had sold us a room in a completely different pousada.

The police were helpful, but said that was a civil matter and we would need to register a civil case – which we have now done.

One advantage of bringing the police into the matter was that Carlos’s boss and owner of the pousada, Ricardo, promised he would process a refund for us – however he said that it could not be on Saturday as he had to ‘go fishing with friends’ and was therefore too busy to help us. When I asked what he was going to do to fix the situation, he said that he was going to “pray, light a candle and hope for the best.”

We left the hotel feeling cheated – not only had the hotel owner sold us a completely different hotel to the one we believed we had booked (the one on their website and Facebook), but when we asked for our cash back, he refused.

At the time of this comment we are filing a civil action against the hotel for fraud and the incorrect description of the accommodation. We have still not received the R$250 Carlos promised to refund to our account.

Avoid this place at all costs – there are many nice places to stay in Camburi, but this is possibly the worst. It has made me never want to return to the town again.

Já estive em Camburi e Camburizinho, vilarejos no litoral norte paulista, muitas vezes. Já me hospedei em hotéis, pousadas e campings. Em uma visita no ano passado, descobri a pousada Ventos do Camburi enquanto procurava por um local diferente para tomar meu café da manhã. Me pareceu ser um lugar interessante, então “curti” a página da pousada no Facebook e adicionei meu email à lista de discussão de e-mail deles para receber mais informações.

Eles recentemente me enviaram uma promoção via e-mail e eu respondi pedindo para reservar uma suíte para o final de semana. Eles responderam informando o preço e eu concordei, paguei o depósito para que a reserva fosse confirmada e, em seguida, viajei de São Paulo até Camburizinho na noite de sexta-feira.

Quando cheguei na pousada, o recepcionista foi simpático e até me mostrou dois quartos diferentes, dizendo que eu poderia escolher o que mais me agradasse. Meu marido e eu escolhemos nosso quarto e em seguida, saímos para jantar e tivemos uma ótima noite.

As coisas não eram tão boas assim no (pequeno) quarto, apesar da recepção ser bem bonita e moderna. O quarto cheirava a mofo e cupins estavam comendo a porta – durante a noite toda, ouvimos algo dentro do porta comendo a madeira e, quando ouvimos esse ruído pela primeira vez pensamos que haviam ratos na sala!

No dia seguinte, na sala de café da manhã um homem estava falando em voz alta sobre como ele deve falar com “os caras do quarto 23″… Eu disse a ele que estávamos no quarto 23. Esse homem, que se chama Carlos e é gerente do hotel, disse que fomos colocados no quarto errado e estávamos no hotel errado! Quando eu perguntei o que ele quis dizer, ele disse que a Ventos do Camburi possui duas pousadas, uma em Camburi e uma em Camburizinho.

Tínhamos reservado um quarto na Ventos do Camburi, a pousada que tínhamos visto pela primeira vez, a do Facebook, a que tínhamos em mente quando perguntamos os preços, pagamos o depósito e fizemos a reserva. No entanto, Carlos disse que tinhamos reservado um quarto numa pousada inferior ali perto. Ele disse que só poderiamos ficar no nosso quarto, se pagássemos mais por isso – deveríamos sair imediatamente e ir para o outro hotel.

Perguntei ao Carlos como isso era possível. Tínhamos pedido informações, feito uma reserva com base nessas informações, fomos bem acolhidos e sua equipe nos mostrou opções de quartos.

Carlos acabou mostrando ser uma pessoa muito desagradável. Ele insistiu que tínhamos de pagar mais para ficar no hotel – apesar do fato que já haviamos pago adiantado pela nossa estadia no momento que chegamos.

Após uma longa discussão e após o Carlos ter se recusado a mudar de idéia ou dar qualquer explicação sobre os erros de sua própria equipe, decidimos deixar o hotel. Pedimos nosso dinheiro de volta para uma das duas diárias que pagamos- ainda era de manhã no sábado quando esta discussão teve início.

Carlos recusou, dizendo que tinhamos pago as diárias para o final de semana e que nosso dinheiro não poderia ser devolvido, pois o mesmo “não estava mais na pousada, um motoboy levla o dinheiro embora toda noite”. Este se transformou em uma briga pior ainda – desta vez por estarmos sendo roubados. Chamamos a polícia e explicamos como a pousada não nos reembolsaria e como eles nos venderam alhos e recebemos bugalhos.

Os policiais foram prestativos, mas nos disseram que esta era uma questão civil e não penal, e que precisaríamos registrar um boletim de ocorrência – o que estamos fazendo agora.

Uma vantagem de envolver a polícia nisso foi o Carlos ter entrado em contato com o proprietário da pousada, Ricardo, que prometeu que iria nos reembolsar – no entanto, ele disse que não poderia ser no sábado, pois ele iria “ir pescar com os amigos” e estava, portanto, muito ocupado para nos ajudar. Quando perguntei o que ele ia fazer para remediar a situação, ele disse que iria “orar, acender uma vela e esperar o melhor.”

Saímos do hotel nos sentindo ludibriados – o proprietário do hotel nos vendeu um hotel completamente diferente do que acreditávamos que tínhamos reservado (aquele mencionado em seu site e no Facebook) e quando pedimos nosso dinheiro de volta, a administração se recusou a fazê-lo.

Iniciaremos um processo civil contra o hotel por fraude e descrição incorreta de seus serviços. Ainda não recebemos os R$ 250,00 que o Carlos prometeu depositar em nossa conta.

Evite este lugar a todo o custo – existem muitos bons lugares para se hospedar em Camburi, mas este é, possivelmente, o pior. Esta experiência me fez nunca mais querer retornar a esse lugar novamente.

Thieves

Photo by Andrew Becraft licensed under Creative Commons

Shame on Hyatt

Each year, NASSCOM brings nearly 2,000 to their annual leadership conference in Mumbai. Since 2005 it has always been held at the Grand Hyatt hotel – a place that is certainly grand, but this year appears to have become too grand for the mere conference delegates.

They have started charging delegates to use tables and chairs in the coffee shop in a bid to prevent pesky conference-goers sitting and working or having meetings in the hotel public areas. Conference-goers have been asked for R$7,000 a table (£95) for a 2-hour slot.

The boss of the Hyatt should consider where his future revenue lies. Should he keep a few coffee-shops guests happy with a half-empty space, or help out the thousands of conference-goers who are also spending money in the bar, restaurants, and booking rooms?

It’s your call Hyatt.

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