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About four years ago Blackstone group, a private equity firm which focuses on real estate acquisitions, purchased Hilton hotels. At that time the purchase sent shock waves through the local community because the Hilton Hawaiian Village was one of the hotels that was owned and not just managed by Hilton. It didn’t take very long to see that Blackstone was going to make some major changes. They closed a few of the most popular restaurants and started to run the property more like a spreadsheet then a hotel. In other words, they became focused on the bottom line and creating more profit for their shareholders rather than considering the unique Hawaii customer. Since then there’s been lots of controversy surrounding the property including a week long strike last year.
Fast-forward to this weekend when we decided to review the hotel. I have to admit that I’ve never been fond of the management at the Hilton Hawaiian Village. In the 10 years we’ve been in business they’ve never called on us to offer a site inspection or to reach out to us in any way about how we might be able to increase our sales or for any assistance to our customers. In general the Hilton is not very friendly to travel agents. They’re the one hotel that offers no incentive to agents and when we offer discount prices they seek to eliminate any honors points and undercut us any way they can by holding back inventory and making it not available to agents. That being said we went in with an open mind, hoping to give an honest objective review.
Upon arrival at the property I immediately saw how staff was overwhelmed. Behind the bell desk was a woman on the phone with a stern face looking annoyed. I saw staff running across the lobby frantically. There was a long line to check-in with only five people behind the counter to help. With the exception of the valet who took our car there were no smiles or Aloha. Part of the check-in process was a lot of rules. For example; The woman behind the counter handed us four cards and explained this complicated processes for trading the cards for towels if we go to the pool. She also circled and reminded us that if we lose the card or don’t return it we’ll be charged $10. Obviously this is an attempt to control the bottom line and it can cost a lot of money if people steal towels however, it didn’t feel very five-star. She then handed us an additional two cards we could trade for two little bottles of water. Again, another attempt to control costs hoping that folks won’t turn in those cards and they can keep their water and make more profit.
No one asked us if we needed any help with our luggage but we didn’t need assistance so we headed up to our room. We booked a corner oceanfront room in the Rainbow Tower. We knew that some of them were renovated and some were non-renovated, our bad luck, we got a non-renovated room on the fourth floor. We were able to get a kamaiana rate of $314 including tax, if your not from Hawaii you’ll pay the full price of $385. When we got to the elevator we noticed a line to get the rooms. Apparently there are only two elevators servicing 29 floors because of the construction. People were visibly impatient, again not a very good way to start your vacation. We ended up using the stairs after we checked in because the elevator situation – good exercise anyway.
When we opened our door to the room we noticed a pungent odor and cigarette smoke which probably just came from the old age of the room. This corner room was old and tired. The furniture was worn and scratched. They had a ugly credenza in the room with a old television that only received a few stations. The room has asbestos ceilings which was peeling off right next to the air conditioning vent which really concerned me!! I have stayed in 2 star properties that were in better condition than this room. The saving grace was the view. There is no other view like this on the island and it was truly spectacular. We could see the ocean and the beautiful lagoon below from the double balconies.
We decided to head down to the pool for some relaxation and noticed wall-to-wall bodies. At a five star property you expect a certain level of service. For example; simple pool service. A true five-star hotel will have staff to assist you in getting set up at the pool and offer you towels. Additionally, there is an expectation that you’d be able to get drinks or food service. None of that happened and we were there for almost 3 hours. In a way you feel like cattle at this hotel rather than a customer. Honestly, I can’t really say much about the service because we just didn’t get any!!!
The following morning we went for breakfast at the Rainbow Lanai. We opted out of the brunch and decided to eat off the menu. Yaling and I often share so we ordered a scrambled egg breakfast, a fruit bowl and some coffee. We ordered our eggs lightly scrambled and made sure the waiter understood that we do not want them well done. The atmosphere was nice and we felt the beautiful trade-winds from the ocean while we were waiting for our meal. In the interim I went to the restroom and found that the toilet was overflowing, extremely gross. I reported that to the staff and they didn’t even blink or say thank you or show empathy, she just picked up the phone and started calling someone. The meal was disappointing. The eggs came not only well done but they look like they had been put in the microwave; very spongy and overcooked. The coffee they gave us was from the bottom of the pot and was burnt. We had to send back the meal and the new eggs and coffee were delicious and perfectly prepared. But in the five-star property should we have had to do that?
After breakfast it was time to check out. We packed up our belongings and called the valet to bring up our car however, there was no answer. We got the operator and she transfers us but again no answer. We did this a couple of more times and then gave up and headed down to pick up the car ourselves. While this isn’t a huge deal it’s not what you expect from a five-star hotel. I wanted to bring this attention to guest services and found David (guest services manager) briskly walking from the bell desk. I confronted him about what happened and he gave me the most amazing answer I have ever heard; he said “we never bring up cars when you call” I asked him why there is an icon on the phone for valet? He said “there are too many people at the hotel to be able to do that” I then explained that it probably would be a good idea to tell people this when they check-in because it’s expected that you call for your car when you valet park. He became very defensive dismissed my comment and said “we just don’t do that here.”
The Hilton Hawaiian Village is simply not a five-star property. While the renovated rooms are probably a lot nicer, unless the service improves this hotel cannot be considered a five-star experience. Combine the tired accommodations in the non-renovated rooms with the poor customer service and you have a recipe for a disappointing Hawaii vacation if your expectations were that you would be at a five-star property.
Posted by: Bruce Fisher on Oct 3, 2011