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September 27, 2009

Why I don't hate the worst hotel in Midtown Manhattan

by Josh Bernoff

This week I stayed at the worst hotel in midtown. It was hilariously bad. I learned something about service, too.

The Manhattan Broadway has only location going for it. But rooms were tight during Advertising Week in New York and I misread the star rating. Shame on me. Two minutes at TripAdvisor and I would have known better, but I was in a rush, and at the price (more than $300 a night) I assumed it was a decent quality place.

Here's all I need in a hotel: a firm bed, a lock on the door, high-speed Internet access, and quiet and darkness at night. I got the first two.

The minute I walked in the door, I smiled. I could tell what was coming. The bare drywall of the long dark hallway was marked "please pardon our appearance," a notation I thought applied very well to the tattooed guy at a PC at the end of the hall. (This PC and another one were the "Internet cafe".) Things went predictably from there. My night at the Manhattan Broadway included:

  • Windows with no curtains; light shining in from the airshaft all night long.


  • No glasses in the bathroom or room.
  • A bathtub that at one time had been a jacuzzi, but the holes were filled up with cement.
  • Wireless Internet access ("No refunds") which of course didn't work. (The $3 charge should have warned me -- just enough to be not worth arguing about.)
  • Towels the size and consistency of sandpaper.
  • A rock band practicing outside my window until late at night. When I called the desk to ask how long this was going to go on, they actually had an answer -- this was clearly a regular occurrence.

I found myself more bemused than angry. The reason: this hotel delivered on its brand promise, which apparently is, "be just barely good enough to prevent people from asking their credit card company for a refund." It did not disappoint: it promised to be a dump, and it was a dump. A Hyatt once disappointed me. But the Hyatt people care, and they made up for it. These people didn't care.

Who works in a place like this? It was clear from talking to the desk staff that their job is to listen to complaints all day long and shrug and offer explanations like "the other hotels near us are more expensive." What a soul-destroying job this must be. Those of us who write about marketing and service assume we are talking to people who care. What happens to the people who don't? What if your job is "find suckers and charge as much as possible" ? Are there business writers to serve people like that? Where do they learn to run a business like that? Can they actually survive in a world where only disconnected and ignorant people (which, on the night in question, included me) are their clientele?

Hyatt noticed my earlier post. If someone from this hotel notices my post, I'll die of shock.

Just to bring the point home, when I got home after my trip, a package was waiting for me. A marketing executive from Barilla Pasta, whom I'd met in Milan, had sent me a little something as a thank you for the conversation I'd shared with him. There, on my doorstep, was a variety of Barilla-branded pasta and baked goods from Italy -- easy for him to share, but what could be more meaningful than good food from Italy? Every bite reminds me of the clever things Barilla is doing online in Italy with online marketing.

If you're working for somebody like that, stay. If not, start looking.


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Suzie Shore

Interesting perspective. It's so hard to believe how businesses like this can prevail with such a poor product and service. And with such little care for the customer's experience. Surely there can't be many people willing to endure such a place, either as an employee or customer?

I find it hard to believe brands set out to position their brand in this way, with such little pride. Seems like they may have let standards slip and just realised they can get away with it.


Josh- it's a "we're no worse than anybody else" mantra that has prevailed in business since i can recall.

I had a similar hotel stay at HI in Alabama- it was so bad I went to fill out the customer feedback card and it was already filled out saying "I hope the next poor xxx has a better experience"- so I added to it and put it back in the drawer. I am sure it's still there. That was 1983.

Elizabeth Thomas

I hope the AdWeek events more than made up for the lousy hotel stay! Been there. Done that. I think most business travelers have had at least one of these experiences.

Isn't it amazing in this economy to find any company which would still accept this kind of "dead behind the eyes" performance and service from employees and themselves?

Even this terrible hotel might just feel the effects when the groundswell erupts everywhere!

Thank you for your insights writing and the marvelous book.

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