4 Hotel-Hunting Tips from General Managers

See recent posts by Maria Teresa Hart

The Ritz-Carlton New York Battery Park

The Ritz-Carlton New York Battery Park/Oyster

When you walk through a hotel with its General Manager, the staff snaps to attention: Surfaces are wiped, pillows are fluffed, postures are straightened, and smiles are widened. GMs are the ringmasters of hotels, spending their careers zeroing-in on and addressing any problems you could possibly encounter on your stay, from the check-in at the front desk to the mint on your pillow at night. But they're also human beings that travel for work and vacation themselves. And when they travel, they use their years of expertise assessing their own hotel to assess others. We asked several GMs to share their approach for determining what makes a good hotel. Read on for four tips from the ultimate hotel insiders.  

Hotels in this story

1. Check out those bathroom toiletries.

Those mini shampoo and conditioner bottles set out in rooms are actually a bit of a tip off. “Bathroom amenities are key points that reflect the care and attention to detail [of a hotel],” says Ramon Ascencio, General Manager of Playa Grande Resort. And at Oyster, we know these also reflect a hotel’s star level (aka pearl level). If you’re comparing two simple, beige bathrooms but one has a tray of cotton swabs, high-end lotion, body wash, and shampoo and conditioner, while the other just has a bar of soap, chances are that former hotel will be offering a higher, more attentive level of service.

2. Use all your senses to assess the room.

Too often when we assess a hotel room, we focus on the look: Is it fashionable? Is passé? Is it mid-century retro? Or white-on-white modernism? But Jean Louis Magron, Corporate Hospitality Director of Solmar Hotels & Resorts uses all five senses when making an evaluation, and smell and touch factor in highly. “Rooms have to be clean, smell fresh, and have good lighting. The bed must be comfortable. Sheets must be soft. Pillows must have a fresh smell and be comfortable, too.” Afraid you can’t do a sniff test before you book? In our Oyster reviews, we like to highlight any issues of smell and touch: Are those rooms musty? Are the towels scratchy? We’ll call those things out.

3. Reach out to the hotel staff early.

Two things seem to factor the highest when it comes to guest satisfaction: the room’s comfort and the staff’s service. And those in the industry know it’s wise to screen the staff before you check-in. Rodrigo Gutierrez, General Manager of Grand Solmar at Rancho San Lucas makes it a regular part of his booking process: “It’s very important to get in touch with the concierge team. When I have a prompt answer from them, that makes me more confident about the resort in particular.” Jerry Duburcq, General Manager of Hotel de Provence and Hotel Victoria Cannes also likes to reach out via email before booking, “I send an email to the hotel and ask them for their best rooms.” By doing this, not only can you get the scoop on which location might suit you best (rear-facing ones on a higher floor could be more insulated from noise, for example), but you’ll also be able to gauge how swift and courteous the staff is before you arrive.

4. Look at management’s reply

Bad reviews aren’t always so revealing — after all, you can’t make everyone happy all of the time. As Gutierrez puts it, “Being in the hotel business for many years, sometimes the bad reviews do not tell the truth of a particular situation.” But the replies from management can. When you’re looking at past guest reviews, such as those on TripAdvisor (our parent company), take a look at the reply from management to any criticism raised. Ascencio considers “lack of management response” to guest issues to be a deal-breaker across the board. Duburcq also agrees. “I look at the executive answers.” These responses should give the sense that problems are handled swiftly when brought to light and that customer service is paramount.

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