Elegantly missing the point

October’s events pushed Hanoi hotels to the forefront of Vietnam’s tourism industry and David Cornish tells you if one of them, the Elegance 5, made the cut.

Hotels, particularly of the boutique variety, have been blossoming around the city in recent years. While larger, international chains have a presence, Hanoi’s pride in this industry probably exists in the boutique market. As upper-end tourists begin traveling Southeast Asia more and more, they learn to expect quite a big bang for their buck.

Hanoi Hotels - VietnamtravelblogOne of the Hotels that has prospered recently, opening their sixth in the city, is the Hanoi Elegance Hotel group. In question for this review is their fifth location, aptly named Hanoi Elegance 5.

Admittedly, the hotel lives up to its name upon first impressions. Three friends, visiting from the U.S. were all pleasantly surprised at the quality upon check-in. The room actually looked identical to that advertised on the website, not always a given from previous experience in the city. The hotel had provided airport pick-up service putting my guests and myself at ease. The staff is remarkably friendly and really go out of their way for the customers. They take the time to learn each guests name and greet them using it whether coming or going. They even learned mine as I became a regular in the lobby while waiting to meet my visitors.

Does the elegance live up to its name?

The good:

First of all, the hotel is conveniently located and has some of the best customer service I’ve seen in Hanoi. Much more than I would expect, or at least that was my initial impression. The rooms are excellent, particularly the larger ones. They even provide a lap top for guests to use the internet free of charge. Cleanliness is astounding and fresh fruit is brought to the room daily. “I think they went completely out of their way for us,” shared one of my friends.

The staff taking the time to know each guest makes it feel cozy. They are very conversational and even sent people out on the streets to show my visitors where to go when they were looking for something. However, it can be a little overbearing at times. While walking, my three friends stumbled upon the Elegance 6, the newest of the Elegance hotels in Hanoi. They went inside to have a look, and the staff at this hotel knew all of their names as well. This seemed a bit strange and one friend asked, “What is this a spy movie? Did they hand out our pictures and info to all of their hotels around the city?”

Food at the hotel is fairly good. The breakfast (included with the room) is excellent. Not your standard “continental” breakfast but a real, hearty and filling breakfast with options of pho, eggs, cereals and more. The dinner food is a bit pricey and not authentic as far as their Vietnamese cuisine is concerned.

Perhaps one of the nicest features of the Elegance 5 is its rooftop bar. Situated on the 12th floor and overlooking Hoan Kiem Lake, the 360 degree views are amazing and by far the best I’ve seen in Hanoi. It is high enough to muffle the sounds and catch a refreshing breeze while relaxing for a drink. The drinks are, as expected, a bit more expensive than usual (3 dollars for Heineken, 5 dollars for whiskey, and a range for cocktails) but it is certainly worth it to soak in the views. They have a happy hour but it can be a bit confusing and it seems they forget to mention it to most who are on the rooftop when it’s happening. They are determined to bring all of the drinks at the same time so sometimes receiving your order can be a bit delayed. We waited more than 10 minutes for 3 beers once and we were the only customers in the bar.

The bad:

As my friends prepared to leave after spending ten days at the hotel, they checked out. They’d spent well over a thousand dollars on the room and their bill for food, drinks, etc. was about 1,000 dollars. Because of a late flight, they paid for the room an extra day so they could relax until they departed at 9pm, but the room was paid for until check out the next morning. They also chose to pay for the room the night they didn’t use it when I took them to Halong Bay so that they could store their things. Since the room had already been paid for, my friends kindly invited me to relax and enjoy the room for the night and explained to management that I’d be staying there. The staff kindly agreed and assured us that it was no problem. I said goodbye to my friends who had traveled very far to see me, they paid their bill, we gave each other hugs in the lobby and the time came for them to go, shuttle to the airport thanks to the hotel (and 15 dollars).

When I walked back into the hotel, the friendly greetings seemed nervous and quiet. I noticed, my bag, which had been put in the room, was now sitting by the front desk. I explained to the staff what they already knew, that I’d be staying.

“Excuse me sir. Yes. I need your understanding,” came a voice from behind the desk.

He explained that in fact, he had sold the room although my friends had just, minutes before, paid for it through the morning. Sure, I used to work in the hotel business, I know how it goes, plus, I live here and I’m not a tourist so I have a place to sleep. I explained to him that it was fine, he could just let me have the room some other night when they weren’t busy.

“I need your understanding,” was the only response. After explaining to the sales manager (the hotel manager unfortunately wasn’t there) that my friends had indeed paid for two nights in which they didn’t use the room and that they had just spent well over 2,000 dollars, that he can’t just expect me to understand. He kept quiet when my friends were checking out but knew he had indeed already sold the room. Again, “I need your understanding.”

The man began raising his voice as if I had done something wrong. This really bothered me after the amount of time and money that had just been spent but even worse, it made all the excellent customer service before it seem like it had been flushed down the toilet. After I told him to calm down and that it was his mistake, he offered me a free breakfast. I politely declined. It was the lack of foresight that baffled me. I wasn’t worried about the room, but surely, for a business eying longevity, you offer some form of compensation. Needless to say, if it weren’t for this totally irrational thinking, mismanagement and unprofessional handling of the situation, I’d probably suggest the hotel to others. However, they knew very well that I lived here, worked here, and in the long term, had they taken care of me, they would have had a plethora of potential guests staying at the hotel.

The conclusion:

I hate to let one bad situation ruin all the good, but in this business that’s the way it goes. To me, the service ended when the bill was paid. When I informed my friends, they were furious. They too, have nothing but good things to say about the quality but when they return, they won’t be staying there again.

The Elegance is a splendid hotel, but in the end, they elegantly missed the point.