Monday, September 12, 2011

Epic brand failure at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel

Last week, while on a TV commercial shoot in Montreal, I stayed at at The Fairmont Queen Elizabeth. It's a famous hotel, that has hosted leaders and celebrities. Its most famous moment came in June 1969, when John Lennon and Yoko Ono recorded "Give Peace a Chance" in room 1742 during their honeymoon.

This is a brand that should have everything going for it. You walk into the lobby and it's all elegant and pretentious. Its web site makes it look luxurious. But expensive hotels somehow always seem to fail at the most essential elements of branding.

My room, going for almost $250 a night, was no better than a discount hotel — despite having three different kinds of marble in the bathroom.

And a gross wallpaper stain.

Branding is all about the smallest details of the brand experience. And Fairmont screwed it up by failing to splurge $12 on a new alarm clock.

How long has it been since you've seen a putty-tone digital clock like that? You could see its age on the discoloured plastic:

Can anyone interpret the date code?
The best part was, when I had to get up early the next day for the shoot (kind of a big deal) the damn thing didn't work. I had carefully set it, and it didn't go. Fortunately, pre-shoot anxiety usually wakes me early, and this was no exception.

I complained, and they offered to send up a new one. I opted for a wakeup call the next day.

And then came my hand "express checkout" receipt under the door.

That's right. They charged me twice for "daily" wifi on the same day.

I already have huge issues with higher end hotels charging for something that motels and discount inns give away (along with breakfast, etc.) But charging me twice?

I took it down to the front desk, and asked WTF? The rather surly concierge told me it was policy to charge per device. I had checked in on both an iPad and iPhone. I was on expenses, so I really just wanted confirmation that it was policy.

She took the charges off anyway, but right next to me my colleague was arguing with them about charging for parking. We had arrived (and were about to leave) by train.

As a business traveller, you (or rather, employer and/or client) pay big bucks not to have to deal with this shit.

Hospitality branding, whether you're an independent business inn or a grande dame hotel, is pretty easy to get right: You just put yourself in your guest's shoes, and make sure that every detail of their stay is up to the expectations your marketing and reputation have set. Make sure the alarm clock is not a grubby, non-functional hairband-era artifact. Make essential business services all-inclusive—or at least don't make them an excuse for annoying overcharging. And treat the guest like they're welcome.

Why is this so often screwed up? I'd love to hear your own similar experiences.

The view, however, was nice.


  1. Seriously, stop saying epic!

  2. Holy hell.. you can get free Wi-Fi in any given Tim Hortons or McDonalds these days, but not at the Fairmont?

    I'm kind of glad I opted for the Super 8 instead of the Chateau Frontenac for my trip last weekend. THEY had free wi-fi. AND an Xbox 360 in the room.

  3. Even the cheaper places aren't always that great: we were in a Best Western in Oregon. I dropped something on the floor and when I picked it up, found half a bag of popcorn under the bed. Ick. When I did get into bed, the sheets had holes in them. I complained next morning and was pretty much told "it's not my problem" - management isn't here today. I wrote later. No response.

  4. Quite unfortunate. I've stayed at a handful of Fairmonts a handful of times. The reason I continue to spend more than I need to is because I find the service to be outstanding. That said, there was a big difference between the Paliser in Calgary and the Waterfront in Vancouver.

    That said, the clock is so old it's comical. For what you pay for a room, I don't think it would be unreasonable to expect one of those small Bose systems.