Hotel Half Truths and the Case of the Disappearing Ocean

Koh Samui beach

The main goal of the travel industry is to sell a dream, a concept of the perfect trip. A vacation is a major expense for most people and while it is a large investment, it is often heavily influenced by pure, raw emotion. To get people to the YES though, many companies, particularly hotels, tell a few white lies to make the sale.

Anyone who has booked a hotel room has probably had the same experience. You find something you like online, it looks gorgeous, you book it but when you arrive, you can hardly believe it’s the same place you saw online. I’ve had this happen to me too many times to count, but there was one instance that was completely over the top.

A few years ago we traveled to Thailand and Singapore on an epic trip that was also my finest example of budget travel planning. We were able to pay for the entire trip, from business class airfare to every hotel stay using points and miles. As is normal for us, we had a busy pace but luckily built in a brief, three-night stay at the Renaissance Koh Samui Resort & Spa.

We chose the hotel carefully, spending hours researching reviews and photos to make sure it would be the best use of our precious miles. From the site, the resort appeared to be a gorgeous property set directly on the Gulf of Thailand with stunning views. It seemed like paradise.

We arrived at the small, open air Koh Samui airport and were met by the hotel shuttle driver. It was a quiet, thirty minute ride to the resort, we were both excited but frankly exhausted after a busy week in Bangkok. A long weekend at a beach side resort was desperately needed.

Finally the van turned down a jungle road, surrounded by a thick copse of trees and tropical vegetation and we checked into the Renaissance. At first everything went well. We went through the long, but pleasant Thai check in process involving a lot of smiling, cold washcloths, tea, some sweets and finally a heart to heart  discussion about our reservation. We were led to our private bungalow, a small house nestled amongst thick trees with its own lanai and splash pool. Even though we were exhausted, the ocean was calling. I love the water and get a real rush from spending time in, on or around it.

We changed into our trunks, applied copious amounts of sunscreen in an effort to combat the harsh tropical sun and scurried down the path towards the beach. Imagine our surprise that when we arrived at the beach that’s all there was – beach and no water.

As we soon learned, the unique spot on which the resort sits is subject to the tides meaning that for most of the day, the water is actually several hundred yards away and almost completely inaccessible. In its absence is a large, flat “beach” area comprised of mud and shells.

I was flabbergasted. I couldn’t believe that we had been so thoroughly duped and even more angry that none of the reviews had even alluded to this bizarre natural wonder. Looking back through the photos online, the angles were specially chosen so as to create the illusion that the water was directly accessible or were taken at the rare times when you could actually swim.

To be fair, the water did come in sometimes, but for the large part of the day the visitor is left with only the mud flats for their vacationing pleasure. I began to understand why the pool was so busy.

This is but one example of what almost every hotel in the world does in order to entice people to stay with them. I’m now at the point where I don’t even look at the hotel’s web site photos, knowing that they are almost always misleading. I understand why hotels do this, they obviously want their property to look as nice as possible and ultimately, for as many people to stay with them as possible. But they do themselves more harm than good with these bait and switch photos.

In other instances when I felt duped by the hotel, it made me angry, so angry that I stopped staying with the brand entirely. I’ve experienced everything from doctored photos to outright lies. What would engender more loyalty from me, the consumer, is honesty. If the hotels put realistic photos on their site and made me aware of potential issues beforehand, I would know exactly what to expect and wouldn’t be ticked off when confronted with that reality.

No hotel is perfect, and I don’t think anyone expects them to be. While it may seem like a pretty fundamental policy, hotels need to spend more time building loyalty than trying to dupe consumers to make a quick buck.

Beach Before and After

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By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer. Also follow Matt on Twitter, Facebook and

10 Responses

  1. ayngelina

    Wow!

    I would be just as frustrated. If I spend money on a vacation I expect to get what I was promised.

    Reply
  2. Ron

    Marriott Waikiki is bad about this. Looking at some of their photos you think the hotel is right on the beach.

    Reply
  3. Andi

    OMG!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I would have LOST it. Please tell me you were given your $ back?

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      well I paid with points so, no, not really. The pool was nice though 🙂

      Reply
  4. Andrew Hall

    Short of just showing up and scouting out a good place to stay on the spot, the best way to combat this kind of misrepresentation is for people like you to hold them accountable by spreading the word, so thanks. I suspect with the New York Times recently listing Koh Samui on their 41 Places to Go in 2011, even more people than usual will appreciate reports like yours.

    Reply
  5. Chris - The Aussie Nomad

    I’d have been so annoyed to learn the beach was going to be like that for so much of a day. Tides are cool to wander out where the ocean used to be but not every day.

    Reply
  6. Emily

    Ugh, how frustrating! I can’t imagine showing up to a beach without water. I had a similar bait and switch problem in November with a hotel in New Orleans. The photos online made it look so elegant and in fabulous condition. Those must have been taken 10 years ago. The place was such a dump and in total disrepair, from the lobby to the hallways to the rooms. I was outraged that the hotel had such blatantly misleading photos–I would have booked somewhere else had I known that it was that run down. I am glad you at least had a great time overall on your trip!

    Reply
  7. Culture-ist magazine

    I couldn’t agree more. It’s quite frustrating to travel (in your case quite a long way) only to find that a hotel has clearly been misleading guests with pictures of a false paradise. We’ve been quite fortunate in the bulk of our travels, however there have been times where a hotel has been far from what was promised.

    Reply
  8. Michelle Vickers

    Um HELLO tides!!! 2 low and 2 high per 24 hours, when you stayed it happened to be low during the day, but they shift HOURLY and DAILY. I do loathe it when self appointed experts decide that because something happened during their stay that’s it, that’s how it is! Where i live on the Indian Ocean we have very low tides for about 4 days every two weeks.

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      The point wasn’t that there are tides, that’s fine. The fact is that it’s mentioned no where on their site and every photo is when the tide is in. It’s as if those other times of day don’t exist. It’s fine if the tide goes out, but for visitors who don’t know that they WILL be disappointed.

      Reply

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