I have long been interested in the delivery of service in a hospitality environment — principally hotels. My interest was piqued when I started providing web consultancy to a hotel staff training company when I was a student. I remember being fascinated by some of the policies and procedures required to deliver top class service. Witness, for example, one hotel chain’s approach to total guest satisfaction: They give every team member a personal budget to fix anything. So if a customer complains of not having packed the right adapter for their Mac, you don’t smile pleasantly and respond with, “awwwh shucks!” No. You get out your hotel credit card and sort it with the concierge and then delight the guest 60 minutes later.
I also do a lot of consultancy nowadays for the Connections Luxury portfolio of events. My role there is to provide perspective, insight and some demonstrable live examples of how technology is changing (and will change) the hospitality industry over the short and long term. I also do a lot of research and blogging for the portfolio.
So I am regularly interacting with some of the world’s top luxury brands. It’s a fascinating experience. It’s equally nice being on the sharp end of this as a consumer — because I am required to travel to some of the best places! The last Connections Luxury was at the fabulous Conrad Algarve. The next one is at the Yas Viceroy in Abu Dhabi (with a dinner at the stunningly opulent Emirates Palace Abu Dhabi).
I write these paragraphs first to give you some context as to how I would traditionally react to a no frills hotel experience. I’m a luxury fan. I don’t mind paying for seriously good service.
I do, however, have an affinty for expertly delivered expectation.
If you can meet my expectations — every time, and without exception (or with minimal exceptions) — then I am likely to respond positively.
Which is where I am with Premier Inn.
I’ve been having to travel regularly for the main consulting work I’m doing at the moment, principally to Edinburgh and London. Although I can commute in and out of London, the workload often requires me to stay in London to work into the small hours.
I’ve therefore been using the big corporate account to book hotels. When I’m traveling on behalf of the client, that’s fine, that’s expensed. In London, it’s my own choice though.
I have historically had a great experience at the Montcalm in the Brewery on Chiswell Street next to Moorgate. However the place gets rather booked up, very quickly, so it’s quite difficult to plan.
With the current contract I’ve shaken things up. I’ve been trying out Premier Inn.
My previous defining experience with Premier Inn was staying for roughly £80 one night in Windsor with my wife — and both of us being absolutely frozen. Not a great start. It turns out, however, that this was a Travel Lodge. I just looked it up! This does highlight the dangers of incorrect brand association.
So with this negative (and unfair!) experience informing my expectations, I clicked on “Premier Inn” and select “book” a few weeks ago and made sure to bring a sweatshirt in my bag to stay warm.
The sweatshirt wasn’t needed. I was pleasantly surprised. The thing about Premier Inn is that in order to achieve the returns they inevitably demand, they have to get efficient. Which means they’ve given a lot of thought to the end-to-end experience.
First, the prices — they’re generically reasonable. Book way in advance and you can often get some wickedly good deals, even in London. Up in Scotland, I often find prices in the 70s and 80s (pounds per night) which is exceptionally reasonable for the service level they deliver.
You pay up front when you check-in (unless you’ve paid in advance). They assign you a keycard that’s slotted into a bit of card that usually contains a prompt for their £6.95 breakfast. Good thinking that! There’s a little white circle printed top right for them to write in your room number.
Arriving into the room is an exercise in expectation delivery. First impressions are universally positive for me. I’m not expecting miracles at £80/night — so when I find the place tidy, clean and spotless, I breathe a sigh of relief again.
I’m sure problems do occur, however the operations teams at Premier Inn are clearly doing a great job to try and minimise the opportunities for failure.
For example, there’s no little soap to unwrap in the en suite. There’s no array of frustratingly small conditioners, body and hair shampoos. No. In fact there’s nothing by the sink apart from a push dispenser on the wall for some generic soap. Job done, thank you. You therefore have a choice — if you want lotions and potions, bring your own. If you want soap (yes) then press the dispenser.
It’s the same deal in the shower/bath — if you bring your own, great. If you don’t bother (that’s me) then there’s some generic shampoo in the shower dispense. Ideal.
There’s one ‘bath towel’, a mid-sized towel then a hand towel. They’re ‘good’. We’re not talking top quality Egyptian cotton. At least it doesn’t feel like it. They are, again, a bit generic. They are fine for the job.
Perhaps the best feature of the Premier Inn experience is their Good Night Sleep Guarantee. That is, they’ll give you your money back if your sleep is interupted (by, I imagine, anything that’s under their direct control). This means they’ve given quite a lot of thought (either directly or subconsciously) to making sure the whole experience is geared toward this. For instance, the room front doors don’t close with a flipping great crash as many other hotel rooms do.
The beds they’ve chosen are particularly comfortable. The bed clothing is geared for comfort. The light switches next to the bed are obvious (there’s no 5 minute hunt trying to switch all the lights off). There are two types of pillow provided. If you prefer slightly firmer, you can find those by the open wardrobe. There is a helpful little plastic sign placed on the left pillow to let you know.
The air con/heating worked nicely and, I think I’m right in saying that all hotels offer independent room heating. At least the ones I’ve visited do.
The shower experience, by the way, is universally positive. In my experience the water pressure is one notch below “Blow your head off” if you turn it all the way to 10. The shower controls are simple — on/off and temp. No messing around.
All of the Premier Inns that I have visited have had a “Thyme” restaurant and bar. This is one of the best features. The menu is excellent in the context of a large corporate doing its best to cater for all generic tastes. The food is, again in my experience, well prepared. I’m never expecting Haut Cuisine. At the same time I reckon the experience compares well to the likes of a TGI Fridays. Burgers, Hot Dogs, steaks, french fries, chicken-this, chicken-that. Pretty good quality. Perhaps not the healthiest choice in the evening, however if I’ve had a really busy day and eaten nothing, the prospect of a visit to Thyme is actually quite appealing. I’m sure you could order something other than a burger though 😉
For the busier locations it’s actually worth booking a table because the restaurant is actually a genuine alternative to going out for most guests.
Attached to Thyme is the Premier Inn bar — the Merlot is decent and quaffable. And I can get a big bottle of water to take to the room. Don’t underestimate just how important a nice selection of well executed food dishes along with a nice choice of drinks can be to your general wellbeing.
When you combine all this into one experience, the summary for me is excellent. I’ve had my fair share of rubbish hotel experiences and I have to say the prospect of a stay in a Premier Inn is now a very positive highlight in my schedule.
I think the Premier Inn team has struck the right balance of efficiency, service and value.