This 27-year-old hotel first opened as a luxury five-star offering competing then with those great brands we all knew from the 80's - the Sheraton, Regent and Hyatt. Since then it has undergone several reincarnations and positioned itself as four-star. But it hasn't shrugged off its five-star roots - at least not in terms of stuffiness.
The Check-In Experience
I approached reception to check-in and noticed a perfectly able-bodied staff member fixing a printer - trying his hardest to pretend I wasn't actually there.
A simple 'Hello sir, we'll be with you in one moment.' would have been all that was required to put me at ease.
I also noted that the two Concierges on duty might have helped, but they were deeply engrossed in their computer screens. That left one other staff member who was checking somebody else in.
I thought to myself - if the largest hotel in New Zealand can't even get the first minute right, what lays in store for me over the next few days?
Check-in is often the first HUMAN touch point a guest has - AND IS THEREFORE MOST MEMORABLE!
I was finally greeted by the other front desk staff member who was actually pretty friendly. But check-in took much longer than it should.
I was provided two swipe cards for the room without prompting which is both good and bad. It does provide a backup key, but does it also cause confusion for guests wondering why one person needs two keys?
The Unwelcome Letter
I entered the room as was intrigued to see a printed letter conspicuously placed on my bed. I thought this must be a welcome letter from management. I was impressed. Was it personalised with my name as well?
Was it a letter acknowledging I had stayed at this hotel before (as I had) and welcoming me back with the contact details of management?
Perhaps it was specific instructions on how to connect the hotels free WIFI - surely the first thing most guests will want to do after setting their phone to charge?
Sadly not. In fact, it was probably about the last thing a guest wants to be informed of after they check-in to their hotel late at night.
The form letter basically announced that the water was going to be cut off tomorrow at 9AM for five hours and encouraging me to run the taps to get rid of the 'discoloured water' that would follow. How delightful.
Although the letter claimed this maintenance was 'urgent' - as a guest I doubted this because it seemed to have been scheduled for normal working hours starting at 9AM.
Even assuming it was urgent and required, as a guest I still felt short-changed. What were they doing to compensate for not providing showers and drinking water for five hours?
And why was I wasn't advised of this in person when I checked in and offered some free drinking water?
My suggestion would have been to provide several complimentary bottles of water as a small gesture to compensate for the tap water being affected. Some might say that was actually a health and safety requirement rather than a perk...
Housekeeping Checked Out
There was certainly nothing terrible about the room product. It was designed well and the furnishings were up to a high standard.
But the air conditioning was set to an unbearably high temperature which is something I see often.
That meant the room quickly heated up - and like a frog in boiling water, I didn't realise until it was too late.
Unfortunately for house-keeping, it wasn't really their day. This is how the bin was presented inside the room on arrival.
I didn't go out of my way to test the cleanliness of rooms with ultra-violet lights or other contraptions. But when I see dust and on items like this inside a hotel room it is hard to come to any other conclusion than the housekeeping supervisors are not checking rooms after they have been cleaned. If so, they would have spotted this dust weeks ago.
And that wasn't the start of it. There were only two coffee sachets in the entire tea and coffee box. What good is that if there are two people staying in the room and they use two sachets each because the serving sizes are so miserly?
CATER FOR a minimum of four coffee and tea sachets per standard room. ANYTHING LESS IS MISERLY.
All the tea bags were in a terrible state of disarray. The box should have been thrown away months ago or perhaps just cleaned.
There were other issues such as a mystery extra bottle of water in the mini bar (menu stated two bottles).
And in the bathrooms, there was 'something' on the ceilings that definitely shouldn't be there.
These sorts of small but significant details send signals to guests that your housekeeping staff don't care about guests.
And there were other minor maintenance issues such as this the internet cable dock which fell apart after being glued back to together far too many times
But let's leave the best until last. Let's move from the hotel room straight to the restaurant and show you the state of the milk jug I was served at Breakfast.
Later I visited the gym and discovered it was in a terrible state. I have owned gyms for over six years and I know by looking at this seat that this deterioration has been like that for years.
It would cost about $80 to fix this and the seat would probably last another three to five years based on the light use inside hotel rooms. There is never an excuse for letting maintenance slide like this.
Upholstery doesn't get like this overnight. It takes months and years to deteriorate so badly. It saddens me as a guest but also as a New Zealand citizen that one of the previously top 'five-star hotels' in Auckland is now such an embarrassment.
Coming back to the bathrooms, there were other issues as well such as toiletry bottles where it wasn't possible to read what they actually were (not with the dim light in the bathrooms).
Then there were the toiletries above which because of their bad design and being reused too many times were simply illegible. I grabbed what I thought was the body wash only to discover later under better lighting that it was actually shampoo.
Not to mention that many guests in this hotel were visitors from China, this is a classic example of a small pain point for guests that could be improved.
In my room, there was an ugly cable coming out of the top of the TV cabinet which would take maintenance five minutes to fix. This is another maintenance issue that should have been fixed a long time ago.
I didn't visit the restaurant because I arrived on a Sunday and it was closed! That meant when it was pouring down with rain at 7.30pm I had nowhere to dine apart from the main dining area/breakfast room.
It was a Japanese restaurant so I can understand why they close on Sundays as deliveries may not be possible. But other Japanese restaurants manager to stay open 7 days a week so it must just be a cost saving measure.
Even if the restaurant only breaks even on a Sunday, a hotel of this size should absolutely have a real restaurant open 7 days a week for guests.
I visited the hotel bar for pre-dinner drinks and observed the staff as they served customers. The staff were okay, but they were definitely not exuding warmth and empathy.
They were simply going through the motions. They looked like they were fresh out of hospitality school as did most of the staff at this hotel. There seemed to be very few experienced or mature staff members.
There was apparently table service at the bar, but after I had sat down and finished my beer none of the staff came over to my table to offer another drink. Instead, they busied themselves shining glasses behind the bar.
That was totally unacceptable when there were actually only 7 customers in the bar, and they had two staff working there.
I also noticed the staff were ferrying drinks down to the restaurant via the escalator by holding the glasses using their dirty hands. This looked extremely unprofessional and actually shocked me.
Especially when the staff are all dressed up in black and white uniforms. Did they not have enough trays - or was this normal procedure?
Not only would the use of a tray look right, I am not sure how you take drinks down escalators and stairs without spilling them on the floor and looking amateurish.
On my visit the next day, things had improved. The pleasant waitress who served me was friendly and efficient.
During breakfast, the staff were all universally friendly and professional.
The service in the F&B areas, in general, reminded me of many hotels in Sout East Asia, where they actually had more staff than they required but it all seemed to work.
On the day I left there was maintenance or improvement to what seemed to be the signage on the front of the building. As the hotel was undergoing a name change, this could have been the reason.
However, the tradespeople had blocked off the entrance to the hotel where it was possible to drop off and pick up bags. This wasn't really obvious until you attempted to enter the driveway.
What ensued then was a spectacular mess of cars entering the driveway and then having to do 6 or more reversing turns to then exit. It was a complete shambles.
Thankfully within ten minutes or so one of the hotel staff was assigned to redirect traffic which is just as well.
But really what should have happened was a staff member or security guard posted and assigned an illuminated traffic stick to properly direct the traffic from the moment it was blocked off. Additional maintenance signage and apologies should also have been erected on sandwich boards.
And the Valet parking area designed as 'Valet Parking Only' should have been reassigned as temporary free parking to provide somewhere for guests to offload bags.
This was a classic example of poor planning and forethought and a lack of attention to guest experience that personally caused angst for me. When entering the driveway to collect my bags I had to ignore the Valet Parking signs and just park there anyway - because I had no other options!
While I found the whole saga quite amusing, persons less familiar and confident driving would have been totally perplexed and possibly even unable to turn their cars around safely.
The Checkout Experience
On the positive side, the check out was 11am which is to be applauded. That is great not only for guests but also for their buffet breakfast service which is able to continue until 10.30am.
Check out was marred however by a queue of ten people when I arrived - causing me to mutter under my breath how unfortunate that was in suitably colourful language.
Whenever I see checkout queues like this as a guest I have absolutely no sympathy for hotels. Long check out queues are either caused by inefficient checkout processes and systems, or by insufficient staff.
Ironically, the breakfast service was literally teaming with staff, and yet there were insufficient staff rostered on to perform that most important task of actually letting me get to the airport to catch my flight on time.
Once I finally got served (which admittedly wasn't that long - maybe 6 minutes or so) the lady in question who appeared to be the manager was brilliant.
Probably the only reason I draw attention to this is because on a previous visit years ago - I specifically remember having to queue as well - so this is clearly an area for guest experience improvement!
Conclusion and Takeaway
This hotel is undergoing a name and ownership change which I assume would be stated as the reason to look forward to improvements soon.
That is great because this hotel has enormous potential with its room product, fantastic CBD location and iconic architecture. All it needs now is a major attitude readjustment to focus on guest experience. It's really that simple!
With the right management and focus on guest experience, it has all the elements to become a five-star hotel again.
Chris Jack is the editor of Locus Focus and a professional hotel photographer based in Brisbane with over 20 years experience in digital marketing. He also hosts the weekly "Sharper Hotel Marketing" podcast.