Worst UK hotels – in defence of Travelodge

TravelodgeWhich? – the UK consumer watchdog – recently published its findings from research into the best and worst hotels in the UK. To view the whole report, one has to be a subscriber to Which?, but the newspapers happily reported the findings.

So, the best are: Q hotels 78%; Radisson Blu Edwardian 77%; Premier Inn 76%; Sofitel 74%; DoubleTree by Hilton 71%; Park Plaza 71%.

The worst are: Britannia Hotels 36%; Travelodge 50%; Ramada 51%; PH Hotels 51%; De Vere Village 51%; Shearings Hotels 52%

Two chains that I use the most are last and next-to-last consecutively. Let me have a go at defence. First, Britannia. I’ve stayed in two, one in Manchester and one in Canary Wharf in London. Both have been on a weekend deal and hence cheap relative to their grading and location. I would recommend both. They were clean, well equipped and quirky (a bit illogical and frayed around the edges). Corporate, but not so.

My experience of Travelodge is broader. I’ve stayed in more Travelodge hotels than I can count. I’ve had mixed experiences, too. One evening there was a ram-raid on a nearby cash machine. We all cowered behind the safety of the Travelodge door. On another, a drugs raid. On one occasion there has been some residual hair in the bath. I’ve been moved at short notice from one hotel to another. And to query the enforced transfer, one has to call a premium telephone number!  But equally I have had some of the happiest times with my partner in Travelodge hotel rooms after being reunited in nearby airport arrival halls.

Here are some reasons why I persist with Travelodge.

  • They are consistently inexpensive. They are the cost leaders in the hotel world. They have only just – reluctantly – provided soap in rooms. And not very good soap at that. But if what you want is a bed – a good one in fact – a shower that invariably works in a fashion, then it is extraordinary value for money.
  • They are ubiquitous. I prefer the roadside hotels to the city ones, but I’ve stayed in both. Airports are also Travelodge natural habitat.
  • The staff are invariably friendly, if not particularly competent. I’ve had some rewarding conversations with Travelodge staff over the years.
  • They have 24 hour reception. I usually come very late, but I am reassured that I can get into the hotel and to my room.
  • And on the few occasions when there is no room – double-booked, water leak, police raid, or whatever – they will get you in somewhere else. That may be a 5-Star hotel down the road.
  • One can use the room as a comfortable campsite, which we recently did in Ipswich instead of pitching a tent at the Latitude music festival. We even moved in some of our own furniture to compensate for the annoying policy of one chair per double room. But that is cost-leadership for you.

And yes, where breakfast is provided, it is awful. So do as we do, bring your own.

At the other end of the scale is Premier Inn, another budget chain. The debates I have seen engage in facile comparison. If Premier Inn can do it, then so should Travelodge. Actually, Premier Inn is one of my least favourite hotel chains. And why? I’ve thought about this. Actually, notwithstanding that Premier Inn is not as cheap as Travelodge, it markets itself as a budget hotel trying not to one. I find it disingenuous. Equally, I do not think that Britannia Hotels try to be luxury.

Travelodge is an easy target. Travelodge has done for the hotel business what the low-cost airlines did for travel at 11,000 metres. Travelodge has democratised domestic hotel use. Most people can afford to stay. And as long as one does not expect more than is offered, the experience will not be a let down.

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