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Novotel Suvarnabhumi Airport: a tale of greed, surliness, and incompetence

I don’t normally do hotel reviews on Not Delia. Restaurant reviews, yes, but not usually hotel reviews. However, Mr ND and I had such a bad experience at the Novotel at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport last night that I just had to write about it. Well, it’s still about hospitality and catering after all, so I guess it does come loosely within the general remit of the Not Delia blog. We’ll also be writing about our Novotel experience on our sister site British Expat, but that site is in the completing stages of a major revamp so we’re not currently adding new content. But we will. And Novotel will be sure to get a mention.

This is not a cheap hotel, at around £120 per night, but we needed to transit Bangkok overnight and thought it would be convenient to stay at the airport hotel. At that price we expected a bit of luxury and to be well looked after. Not so. Despite the fact that we had booked and paid for the room several weeks ago (and had the booking voucher to prove it), they were not geared up to receive us at all. This in spite of the fact that we’d even included on our booking voucher the details of the flight we would be arriving on, at around 6pm.

We got to the hotel by about 7pm and had to join a long queue for our first attempt at checking in. We were told that there were no rooms currently available but if we could wait in the lobby for a while until some of the rooms were cleaned, then we could have a room later. Hey! Hang on a minute – we’d already paid for our room and their normal check-in time is 2pm. So why could we not have the room we’d paid for from 2pm, until after 8pm? No sensible answer. Actually, no answer at all other than the fact that there weren’t any rooms available for us.

The overworked and obviously under-trained staff on the reception desk were quite surly. What happened to service with a smile? I guess they were fed up of having to deal with a constant stream of disgruntled customers. I nipped outside for a cigarette and met a very nice Canadian man by the smoking area. We got chatting about the hotel and the poor service and he sympathised and said he’d experienced pretty much the same thing. Judging by the very long queues of other unhappy faces, we weren’t the only ones by any means.



We finally got a room after 8pm. This is the room we’d been paying for since 2pm, remember? No offer of even a voucher for the coffee shop to keep us amused while we waited and waited for a room. We went to the bar to wait. Terrific – the beer was only £4 a time for a small glass. Perhaps there’s a lot of money to be made in keeping people waiting for ages to get into their rooms several hours after they’ve already been paying for them.

The check-in itself was a fiasco. During the form-filling process, the woman on the reception desk wanted to see our passports, as is normal, but she wrote down Israeli on the form having apparently not been able to distinguish between Ireland and Israel. We pointed out the error by telling her that ours were Irish passports, not Israeli. Oh! She seemed surprised, ripped up the forms and we started again from scratch.

We were allocated room 1242, which we assumed like other hotels would mean room 42 on the 12th floor. We entered the lift expecting to press “12” and proceed from there. There was no “12” button. We came out of the lift again and asked a staff member standing nearby how we would get to room 1242. He was helpful enough: “You want to go to the second floor. Press 2,” he said. Oh, right. It might have been useful if the person at the reception desk had mentioned that at the time she handed us our key card. We were starting to think that a stay at Fawlty Towers might have gone more smoothly and been more relaxing.

As I said, we finally got into the room a little after 8pm. It took them until after 9pm to deliver our luggage to the room. Meanwhile, the cupboard which contained the mini-bar was locked so we had no access to it. When we eventually got someone to unlock it, we discovered the fridge was empty, unplugged, and warm. It also had no ice-cube making compartment. (While we were checking out I overheard another guy at the reception counter at the same time as us saying that he’d had no access to his mini-bar either.)

We were tired from our journey and worn out by all this hassle with the hotel so we decided to order something from room service rather than sample one of the hotel’s restaurants as we had originally planned. To be fair, the menu was extensive and sounded appetising. It had Western, Indian, Chinese, Japanese and, on the face of it, had something for everyone. We decided to go for the Indian menu. Unfortunately, they didn’t have most of the items we originally ordered. Apart from that little irritation, room service were really very good and delivered an attractive and tasty meal in about 20 minutes, so there were no complaints about that. (I must confess that I felt sorry afterwards for the nice waiter who brought it and had to meet Not Delia in a not very friendly mood.)

I was going to take a photo or two of the nicely presented meal, but not all of the lights in the room worked and I knew it wasn’t going to be worth the effort in such a dingy environment. (I see someone else has also complained about this lack of lighting on Trip Advisor.) Which leads me on to the room itself.

The room and bathroom were nice, but nothing special for the money. The shower tap was a fancy design, but a poor one – the handle stuck out into the cubicle, with a very high chance it would be knocked by the person showering, resulting in no water or the sudden shock of an overly hot or cold shower. The shower door leaked at the bottom, so there was a big puddle of water trapped under the rubber mat and expanding slowly past the toilet pedestal towards the sink. If I hadn’t taken the “Welcome” mat up before I started showering, it would have been soaked.

The toilet seat was loose. It would have been a simple case of tightening a screw, but obviously this hotel doesn’t care about standards enough to make basic repairs like this, or to even check that the lights were working. There was no morning paper either. Just another example of how this expensive hotel has a total lack of attention to detail or care for their customers.

We’d planned to stay at this hotel to make things easy on ourselves. Ha! What a joke. From arriving at their reception desk at 7pm, it was gone 10pm before we were settled in our room, reunited with our luggage and with the basic room facilities operational. What a hassle!

Given that we didn’t need to move on to the next stage of our journey until 2pm, Mr ND asked if we could check out at 1pm and was told that check-out time was 12 noon. Wait a minute, if people have to check out at noon, then how come we couldn’t get our room until after 8pm? He got the answer, “I’m sorry, sir, we’re overbooked.” Eh? Overbooked? So you’re quite happy to take our money but not deliver what we’ve paid for? Is that sheer greed or what?

We would NEVER stay there again. And I strongly suggest that you don’t either.

I’ll be blogging about this experience on various other places and will also be posting about it on other websites and forums where I am a member. I shall also be writing a letter of complaint to the hotel manager. Will it do any good? I dunno, but it seems to me that this is a case where someone has a captive market and can’t be bothered to provide good service because they know they can still rake in the money anyway.

Please comment.

19 Responses to “Novotel Suvarnabhumi Airport: a tale of greed, surliness, and incompetence”

  1. Mr Not Delia

    I did finally manage to wheedle an extra half-hour out of the woman who was on reception this morning – she was much more sympathetic and, I’d say, more competent (she checked us out, and it went much more smoothly than checking in went yesterday evening). But by that stage our impression of the whole place had been irretrievably tarnished.

    To be honest, the bad impression starts when you first walk in. The foyer’s oozing with style, but confusing to the point of deliberate intimidation – when you have to be shown by the concierge where the reception desk is, there’s something seriously wrong.

    When I’m travelling, I don’t want to be bamboozled with style – I want to be swept along effortlessly, with everything geared to minimising stress, not adding to it unnecessarily.


  2. Ted

    Bizarre that you should have to wait so long to check in when you’ve already told them when you’re arriving. Sounds to me like they’ve got serious problems with understaffing as well as overbooking. But if they’re making a fast buck perhaps they don’t care.

  3. Not Delia

    Well, that’s the thing. Despite it being an airport hotel, their normal check in time is 2pm and check out is at 12 noon. Why we should’ve been paying for a room from 2pm and yet not be allowed into it until 8pm is nothing less than cheating us. We should have been given access to that room any time we wanted after 2pm. That’s what we’d paid for.

    And then, notice how it didn’t work the other way around. They can make us sit for ages in their darned lobby, not getting the room we’d paid for and yet we weren’t allowed an extra hour the following day to check out a little bit later than noon.

    I’d have to say that the Novotel at Bangkok airport has the worst service I’ve experienced in a hotel for a long time. It’s a complete rip off. I expect to get what I’ve paid for.

  4. Kendal Cottages

    As I was reading the article, I kept thinking to myself “it’s because they can get away with it” and then I read your comment at the end that says “I dunno, but it seems to me that this is a case where someone has a captive market and can’t be bothered to provide good service because they know they can still rake in the money anyway.”

    I think that’s it in a nutshell. It doesn’t make it excusable but the sad fact is that they’ve got a good location and sufficient demand. The stupid thing is that they could probably do so much better (potentially even charge more) if they were running the place more efficiently.

  5. Mr Not Delia

    I wonder how long they’ll keep that sufficient demand. At least one other international chain has opened a hotel just 15 minutes’ taxi ride away, and the rail link will be finished soon. Given that you’ve got a shuttle bus drive (5 minutes, plus however long they make you wait before they set off) to check in to the Novotel, you might as well get into a taxi or a train and check in at a hotel that’s probably as well appointed and that is bound to be more efficient.

    We’d been considering staying at the Lebua at State Tower for our overnight break of journey. Judging by the length of time it took us to get settled into our room in the Novotel, we’d have been far better advised to do that. Ain’t hindsight great? 🙄

  6. Kendal Cottages

    As one of Asia’s busiest airports, I’d imagine the demand is going to remain, even if it’s from first-time guests rather than those who have previously been ‘stung’.

  7. Not Delia

    Good point. It’s one of Asia’s busiest airports and the demand will remain among those who don’t have access to insider knowledge – and those who don’t have the savvy to access it.

    But if enough people who do know their way around and post on on British Expat, Trip Advisor, et al, then the newbies will realise they’re onto a loser by staying at this awful hotel.

    When enough people are “stung” and write about it, perhaps the news will get out that this is a very bad choice of places to stay.

  8. Mr Not Delia

    I’m sure some newbies will realise the likely difficulties and choose to stay elsewhere. Word of mouth is invaluable.

    Before the days of the Web, ND and I did a tour of India, ending in Calcutta. Having stayed in a budget hotel in Bangalore, we decided to treat ourselves with a stay at the four-star Ashok Hotel at Calcutta Airport. We very rapidly changed our minds when we saw the state of the rooms. Judging by the lack of activity about the place, other people had got the message and steered clear.

    When we moved to Delhi several years later we found that it was common knowledge among expats that you only stayed in the (state-run) Ashok Group hotels if you had no other feasible choice. They were dismal.

    Then again, Delhi and Calcutta aren’t the international hubs that Bangkok is, so I expect that there will always be the unprepared travellers who simply head for the Novotel in the belief that it’s the path of least resistance. As long as Novotel retain the franchise and their apparently complacent attitude towards customer service, those travellers will find themselves sadly mistaken.

  9. Kendal Cottages

    Yep, I agree with everything you say. I just think it will take a long time, given the numbers that are no doubt passing through. And in that time there could be a change of branding/management or whatever, and perhaps they’ll turn things around. Negative word of mouth will definitely do them no favours but I think it’ll be some time before it’s likely to significantly hamper business at a location such as this.

  10. Mr Not Delia

    (Not Delia is following this with interest but has gone into temporary self-imposed banishment in the kitchen. 🙂 )

    And in that time there could be a change of branding/management or whatever, and perhaps they’ll turn things around.

    Let’s hope so. It’s a good enough location and a decent enough building (although that foyer really could do with a radical rethink). If only it were properly managed, it would be a great advert for Thailand.

    As it is, I tend to think of it as supporting evidence for the frequent claim by British writers that French businesses treat their customers with total contempt.

    (I used to have to stay in the Ibis Hotel in Paris-Bercy when travelling on business, which was pretty miserable. Ibis, of course, is another part of the Accor Group that runs Novotel. [Edit – That hotel’s now the All Seasons Paris Bercy, but still an Accor hotel.])

    On the other hand, I flew from Delhi to Paris and back with Air France a few years ago and had a thoroughly enjoyable time. So clearly French corporations can do the right thing by their customers – if they want to. And ND and I have generally been treated well enough by shops and businesses when travelling in France.

  11. Tristan Beau de Lomenie

    Dear Mr. D.MC M

    I have read your review in Not Delia as well as the one you have posted in Trip Advisor.
    First of all I would like to apology for all the inconvenience you have suffered during your stay. Your comments are perfectly valid.
    Due to the political developments in town, many airlines had to relocate their crew into our hotel. The hotel was then fully booked with crews checking in and checking out at anytime ot the day according to their flight schedule. The consequence to this situation is that the room allocation was completely disrupted, causing delays for checking in customers.
    However this is not an excuse and as we feel you should not have been penalized for this situation our accounting department has receive instruction to refund your room charges. To proceed with this we would like you to send your personel email address on our
    Dear Mr. MM once again, I sincerely apology for all this, and following one of your last post, would like to comment that this situation has nothing to do with the eternal “Anglo French” fight… We have the rugby games for this and shall see the outcom of it tomorrow evening…
    I can assure you that we are not taking for granted our unique location at the airport and do care and follow up on our customers satisfaction.

    Yours Sincerely

    Tristan Beau de Lomenie
    General Manager

  12. Not Delia

    Dear M. Beau de Lomenie

    Thank you for your comment and kind offer of a refund. My husband has emailed you with the details you requested, so I hope that’s all sorted soon. I appreciate your efforts to put things right.

    I had to laugh at your Anglo/French comments. 🙂 I’m Scottish/Irish and don’t forget that we (the Scots) had the Auld Alliance – the Scots and French against the English. Good luck in the rugby match! (Worse for me is the Scotland v Ireland match – who to support?)

    Going back to the point of our hotel visit, whilst I do thank you for your kind efforts to put things right, I think if you had posted a prominent notice saying why the hotel services were so disrupted, you would most likely have had understanding from your customers. It was the lack of information and confusion that was particularly stressful.

    The red-shirt activities over the last few days, will remind any frequent visitor to Thailand of the chaos caused at the airport in December 2008. I can understand why people would be nervous of visiting Bangkok with all that going on. Thailand did itself no favours at all and many tourists now prefer to go elsewhere. What a shame that such a lovely country should be so shaky because of this political activity.

    Kind regards

    Kay McMahon (aka Not Delia)

  13. Margaret Carnes

    I lived in Thailand for more than 5 years and know from experience that, despite it’s rhetoric, the government does not see tourism as an essential source of income.
    That said, the General Manager of Novotel Suvarnabhumi has given a very plausible reason for the problems experienced by ND and Mr ND, and I don’t doubt that reason is genuine. The Red Shirt demonstrations which took place in Bangkok brought parts of the city to a halt at times, which would have made looking for alternative accommodation for a short stopover unviable.
    The rail link from the airport to the city is nowhere near ready, despite it’s original planned opening of 12.8.09, and even when open will probably leave passengers with no onward link to where they want to be. Things in Thailand move slowly. ‘Mai pen rai’ rules – which is what most visitors find so appealing.
    A sign explaining the difficulties would indeed have been a help, but here again the culture and way of life intervene. The GM – as a foreigner – will be limited as to what he can be seen to legally do, and would have to delegate the signwriting and display to a Thai member of staff. A task very easily overlooked, especially when staff may be busy – or may themselves be Thaksin supporters!
    But please don’t be put off travelling there by political unrest. Just be patient, expect delays at the best of times, and above all never allow impatience – or anger even – to show. This is seen as a weakness which most Thais can’t handle.

  14. Not Delia

    Sawasdee, Margaret.

    Thanks for your comment. Yes, I agree with you that M. Beau de Lomenie’s reason was plausible. I had no doubt that it was true and I was pleased to accept his gracious apology and kind offer of a refund.

    However, I still think that somehow they should have posted a prominent notice telling customers what the problem was. Failing that, at least the reception staff could have told us the reason for the over-booking.

    In the hospitality business, public relations are very important, as is reputation. I appreciate that it was a difficult time for the hotel, but they didn’t cope with the situation very well.

    Had I been told the reason for the near-chaos, I might have told a few friends that we didn’t have a very nice time staying at the Suvarnabhumi Novotel, and just left it at that. However, I was so frustrated, and even angry, about the experience that I wrote about it on Trip Advisor and on here – and planned to write about it elsewhere too. However, that’s water under the bridge now and M. Beau de Lomenie has resolved the situation in our particular case. (Obviously I don’t know about the hotel’s other customers.)

    We’ll be visiting Bangkok again next week – I think we have a fair understanding of the situation and it won’t prevent us from going. However, your advice might be of use to any newbies who are considering a visit. That said, as I wrote in my response to M. Beau de Lomenie, the chaos at the airport in December 2008 most certainly did put a lot of people off Thailand as a tourist destination.

  15. Mike K-H

    I never stay at airport hotels if I can help it, but have had two good experiences – Holiday Inn at Koeln, which is a small airport, and Holiday Inn at Gatwick (that really surprised me).

    A very long time ago I stayed at Kennedy Airport Hilton (so long ago that I don’t think it was yet called Kennedy).
    – Had to tip baggage porters twice: once to get me to reception, and again to get me to my room.
    – Woken even earlier than my wakeup call, by refuse trucks.
    – Room service breakfast eggs ‘over’ were fried rock hard and served upside down on the plate. Cold, of course.

    Catching an early flight is the only justification I can think of for using an airport hotel.

  16. Not Delia

    M. Beau de Lomenie was as good as his word and our refund came through this week. The slight delay was due to admin at the company we used to book the room, it wasn’t in any way connected with the hotel itself.

  17. Buddyboy

    My compliments, ND, for vigourously pursuing your beef. If everyone took the trouble to go after let-downs like this they would occur less often. I am also impressed that the general manager took the trouble to publicly address your comments within this blog. There is hope for that hotel yet. My own experiences with airport hotels have been quite good.

  18. Not Delia

    Thanks for your comments, Buddyboy. I think it’s fair to complain if you don’t get what you pay for. And yes, M. Beau de Lomenie was very quick to try to put things right after I wrote my reviews on the Internet. (To be fair to him, I should say that I didn’t complain to him in person at the time on the assumption that he’d already have his hands full dealing with other customers’ complaints.)

    I’ve had mixed experiences with airport hotels, some good some bad. It’s not as if anyone would actually choose to stay at an airport hotel. You only do it when it’s the most convenient option, so I guess you expect it to be convenient.

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