I have a confession; I love hotels. I love almost everything about them, from their fancy toiletries to never having to make my bed. Maybe one of the reasons I love these last bastions of civilized travel is because I rarely have bad experiences. Perhaps it is luck or just fanatical research, but almost every hotel stay has been a pleasure. Almost.
It may seem strange that given this almost adulterous obsession with hotels that I don’t write about them very often. The truth is, since I usually have a great time, the reviews seem a little too saccharine. My fear is that if every hotel review I write is glowing and overly gracious, I may lose some credibility. For this reason, and this reason only, I was frankly thrilled to finally have found a truly disappointing experience at a leading hotel. As I was crafting letters to the manager, my inside travel blog voice was screaming in ecstasy.
My partner and I both have your typical, professional work schedules. Well I do, my partner works crazy, sweatshop hours. We also only have about two weeks a year to take time off and relax. However, we also love active, experiential travel so we usually try to combine the two. In order to accomplish this somewhat precarious balance between spa-like comfort and exploring new places independently, we went to Marrakech but stayed at the Meridien N’Fis.
I know that people usually stay at quaint riads in the old medina, experiencing Moroccan hospitality and sometimes delicious, homemade meals. Given all the advice to the contrary though, we opted for the large, resort-like Western hotel with a huge pool. You can scoff, judge and “tsk tsk” all you want, but we wanted the opportunity to spend a day by a pool with palm trees had we been so inclined.
We had barely cleared customs when I knew we were in trouble. A few weeks before the trip, I had emailed the concierge a few times asking to set up cooking classes, golf and ground transportation. When we arrived in Marrakech there was no car, and based by the facial expressions of the hotel staff, one would think I had asked for a personal butler rather than merely confirming my activities. I was vaguely referred to the chief concierge, who was apparently a mythical creature.
Meanwhile, the hotel was completely overrun with very cranky, very ash cloud affected French tourists who obviously had lost that loving feeling for the royal city of Marrakech. Their collective angst and ever-increasing anger at the gods of the Icelandic volcanoes had cast a pallor over the resort that persisted throughout our stay. While this French misanthropy was not the fault of the hotel, it made an already dicey experience that much more unfortunate.
We tried repeatedly to find the elusive, and possibly imaginary, concierge. Finally, one morning we got him! He tried to slink away, but I was too fast. It was a bit of a blur, but I remember a lot of smiles and a lot of promises. He made commitments and I was momentarily pleased with this sudden emergence of professionalism. This brief interlude of competence was shattered when he tried to convince me that instead of going to the old medina or Kasbah neighborhood, wouldn’t I much rather go to a shopping mall in the new city where his cousin had a store? Seriously? This guy spent 10 minutes convincing me that he wasn’t a schmuck only to attempt to put me in a cab to a rug merchant for mint tea.
My troubles with Schmucky the Concierge continued throughout the week, but it really was just more of the same. Towards the end I frankly stopped caring, which was probably his strategy from the beginning. Schmucky wasn’t my only source of angst though, our room seemed to taunt me with its fabulous inadequacy.
When we travel, we almost always stay at a Western brand hotel (once again, scoff if you may, but please refer to the previous explanation). The hotels offered a comfortable oasis in what can sometimes be a chaotic and tiring city experience. In Bangkok, we stayed at a riverside resort with rooms meticulously decorated in teak and the rich colors of Thailand. It wasn’t kitschy or overdone, just classic Thai elegance. Frankly, I expected the same in Marrakech. I opened the door to our room expecting subtle arches, luxurious fabrics and vibrant colors and was instead met with an express hotel at the Des Moines International Airport. The room was as standard and unremarkable as a hotel room can possibly be without literally being painted in beige.
Rather than local artwork being showcased, we had a water color that looked like it belonged at a five for $10 sale. Instead of silks and rich bedding, we had a bed-in-a-bag from Linens and Things. The view was of the pool, but the balcony was 3 inches deep and apparently was a favorite spot for local pigeons. This fact was confirmed the next morning when I was awakened by a Hitchcockian flock of pigeons cooing on our balconet.
While the room was a disappointment, the rest of the property was quite lovely. The pool facilities were generous and, other than one confrontation with a very angry French lady, was a relaxing area. Another highlight was the entire Food and Beverage staff. From the cooking class to daily breakfast, they are the shining star of the property. It is a shame that the front of house staff so severely diminishes their abilities.
What this experience demonstrates clearly is that what can really make or break a hotel is the staff. The property was perfectly fine and the dreary room was not a big deal. What cast a spotlight on every inadequacy was the extreme incompetence of the front of house staff. Had the front desk and concierge employees been kind, courteous and efficient, my impressions of the Meridien would have been completely different.
Should you stay at the Meridien N’Fis when visiting Marrakech? Eh, probably not. There are a couple of other high quality hotels also within walking distance to the old medina and several in the new part of town that would be a far better investment. But if you do visit the N’Fis, please be sure to give Schmucky my very best regards.
Have you had any bad hotel experiences?