After a long pandemic, many hotels are run-down and in desperate need of renovation. If you aren't careful, you could stay in one this summer.
When it comes to hotel development spending, the U.S. lodging market reached an all-time low in 2020, according to consulting firm HVS. Many hotels shut down or became apartments as the pandemic dragged on. Construction spending bounced back in 2021, but the lodging industry is still recovering. That means there's a good chance you'll find your hotel room in a state of disrepair this summer.
"Many hotels were forced to pause their upgrades and renovations during the pandemic," says Susan Sherren, founder of the travel agency Couture Global Trips. "They're just now starting their remodeling or renovations. It can be disruptive."
Sherren recently visited several hotels in Paris. She says owners mothballed the properties at the start of the pandemic, and bringing the hotels back up to speed has proven difficult – and noisy.
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"At one property, my alarm clock was the jackhammer being used to renovate an outside courtyard," she says.
I've also had some challenging hotel stays in the past few months. The problems seemed minor. One hotel in Portugal didn't have hot water. In South Africa, I stayed at a property with badly frayed furniture. In San Diego, I checked into a resort where the carpet was coming off the floor. It turns out I shouldn't have been so dismissive.
But how bad is the problem? Why hasn't it gotten fixed yet? And what should you do if you find yourself in a hotel with a broken coffee maker or leaky faucet?
Just how run-down are hotels now?
Sometimes, the hotel looks unlivable. That's what Ron Scharman found when he recently checked into a boutique hotel in Madrid.
"There was no carpeting in the room," says Scharman, who runs a specialty luggage manufacturer in San Francisco. "Only cheap-looking vinyl. The floor was cold and clammy, and the furniture creaked on top of it when moving anything. I was shocked."
Even more shocking: A representative claimed the hotel had recently remodeled Scharman's quarters. Scharman asked for a different room, which had carpeting and met his expectations.
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Other problems are annoying but minor. Jill Kaiserman, a retired teacher from Wayne, Pennsylvania, recently stayed in a chain hotel in San Diego.
"When the shower was on, the water came out of the tub faucet," she says. "Plus, it was difficult to regulate the temperature in my room."
She didn't bother requesting a room change but asked the hotel to fix the problems before the next guest arrived.
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Hotels can't fix this problem fast enough to satisfy their guests.
But supply chain challenges, higher costs and staffing problems make it difficult to greenlight a renovation project. Some expenses, such as transportation costs, have increased faster than the inflation rate. And in some urban markets, which are home to older hotels that need more maintenance, guests haven't returned yet.
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"Hotels are balancing these cost increases by charging guests higher rates when possible," says Kim Gauthier, a senior vice president at hotelAVE, a hospitality consulting firm.
So the problem isn't just hotels with serious maintenance problems. It's that you'll pay more for your worn-down room.
Why should you take pictures of your hotel room?
Hotels aren't just charging more upfront for their rooms. Angela Rice, co-founder of Boutique Travel Advisors, says run-down hotels are more than an inconvenience. If you don't pay attention to wear and tear, you might have to pay for it.
"Take pictures of any damage you find in your room," she says. "Report it immediately, regardless of whether you care if it needs fixing during your stay."
She speaks from experience. She recently stayed in a luxury hotel with a broken knob on a window. After she checked out, the hotel sent her a $150 bill for the missing knob.
"Thankfully, my husband took a photo, and it was dated based on our arrival time. This gave us proof that the window needed repair when we checked in," she says.
Even if the hotel doesn't pursue you, you should say something, says Kunal Sawhney, a frequent hotel guest who runs an equities research firm.
"It's not a complaint, but just a reference point for other travelers, and a humble reminder to the hotel that they need to prevent recurrence of such lapses."
In other words, share those photos with the hotel. And if you don't, then fill out the comment card. Because hotels should never charge you more for less – pandemic or not.
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How to avoid the disappointment of staying in a run-down hotel
Read the reviews. Research is more important than ever in avoiding a run-down hotel. If you see a red flag, such as mentions of construction noise in guest reviews, ask the hotel about it. "Do your research to find out about the quality of a hotel's staff in advance," says Sherren, the founder of Couture Global Trips. "These questions can be difficult to ask hoteliers, but most hotels want to meet expectations."
Ask about the amenities. Don't assume you'll get a bathroom full of soaps and a toiletry kit. "Guests are surprised to see limited items in rooms, particularly items that can get contaminated easily," says Mahmood Khan, a professor at Virginia Tech's Pamplin College of Business. "Previously, guests were provided amenities if they forget certain items, a service which is now discontinued in many hotels." If you need a particular amenity, call ahead to find out if it's available.
Adjust your expectations. That's the advice of Limor Decter, a luxury travel adviser at Embark Collective. She works with high-end hotels, but even those properties have had challenges after the pandemic. "A usual request for an early check-in or a late checkout has become more of a challenge as housekeeping needs extra time to clean and sanitize rooms," she says. "I remind clients that they might need to practice their patience and kindness skills."
Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't The views and opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Hotels: What should you do when you wind up in a run-down room?