Anyone who is lucky enough to have a family with three or more children will be able to empathise with the age old problem of booking hotel accommodation. As the average family size in the UK has continued to rise (1 in 7 families with children in the UK have three or more children), the majority of hotels have steadfastly refused to budge from their belief that two adults come with two children! Every year the Golding family (with our three children) struggle finding both summer and winter accommodation in hotels – sometimes reduced to ‘smuggling’ one of them into our hotel room, we regularly feel that the travel sector really does not do enough to accommodate larger families.
Travelling with children is tough enough as it is – if you can get past the booking challenges, you then need to determine if the hotel will have everything that little people need. Amazingly, there is less choice than you might imagine. 9 years ago, I took Naomi and our first daughter (Ciara, who was not even two at the time) to a hotel called The Ickworth – owned by Luxury Family Hotels, not only had we found an idyllic location to take a break in the Suffolk countryside, we had also found a proposition that catered for everything a family could desire. This review focuses on another of the groups hotels – The Elms Hotel and Spa in Worcestershire. In 2013 we decided to stay at the Elms for Christmas. Having enjoyed ourselves so much, we decided to go back a second time – on this occasion for three nights from the 26th to the 29th December.
The review you are about to read is one that is written in the spirit of all of my reviews – with as open and honest a perspective as possible. The review is based on my own methodology and scoring mechanism and is obviously my opinion – you are completely free to disagree with me!! My intention is to allow anyone who reads it to understand what makes or breaks a good customer experience and to enable those being written about to learn from my expertise as a customer experience specialist. Let the review commence!
|Date Review Conducted||26th to 28th December 2014|
|Hotel Experienced||The Elms Hotel & Spa, Stockton Road, Abberley, Worcester, WR6 6AT|
|CX Review Total Score||32/50|
Luxury Family Hotels group of 8 beautiful residences around the UK are a young families dream. Designed to offer fabulous accommodation in idyllic surroundings whilst giving both children and adults everything they could desire, their proposition is almost too good to be true! Every mum and dad with young children craves relaxation – what better way to do it than in a luxury environment whilst the kids are having fun.
Luxury Family Hotels describe their proposition very well on their website :
Our country house hotels are stylish and sumptuous, yet we welcome the thunder of little feet – and paws too. Babies and young children will love our Ofsted-registered crèches, while older children can make friends in the games room, try outdoor activities, or watch Blockbusters in the cinema room.
Being experts in luxury family breaks, we put family time at the core of your holiday: Make a splash with the kids in the pool, enjoy leisurely family meals, and explore our grand estates and their surroundings. But rest assured there’s plenty of scope for grown-up time too. We offer a complimentary crèche and baby-listening service (or babysitter, if you’d prefer), so you can relax under the spell of a spa treatment, don glad rags for a candlelit dinner, or simply take a walk or some time to yourself.
Our staff will immediately make you feel at home, and are always on hand to give you an insider’s guide to the local area. And to make packing easy, we’ll be in touch to ensure your room is kitted out with everything you need, from cots and sterilsers to toddler steps and bed guards.
Sounds great doesn’t it? The question is, does the experience live up to the proposition. In 2013, when the Goldings (with Naomi’s parents in tow) turned up at the Elms for the first time for Christmas, it certainly did. Luxury, relaxation, happy children, full and satisfied belly’s – there was little to fault it. So when we decided to take another winter break (this time from boxing day), we immediately decided that the Elms would be for us again. The returning customer is exactly what all business crave. The ability to deliver a consistently good experience is the challenge. Were the Elms able to live up to the 2013 experience – read on to find out…..
Accessibility – CX Review Score 8/10
In my review process, the definition of accessibility is ‘how easy was it for me to do what I wanted to do’ with the organisation I have chosen to transact with. I have awarded the Elms 8 out of 10 for this category. This is a pretty good score, largely driven by the Elms experience having a significant number of plus points. Not only is booking the accommodation easy, the hotel is as accommodating as you would expect it to be in dealing with a family of five plus a dog! Yes that’s right – not only is this hotel able to cater for the needs of families of all shapes and sizes, it is also able to cater for creatures with four legs. We were given the same rooms as we were in 2013 – two separate rooms parted by a small corridor – the set up was perfect. Dog bowls were waiting for Rosie, and the the kids bedroom set up exactly as we expected for the three little people. All great so far.
Whilst our rooms were housed in separate building (only 30 seconds away), my in laws were booked in to a room in the main house. As we entered their room, things started to take a turn for the worse. It was rather cold on Boxing Day – a fact not lost on my in laws who recognised immediately that the radiator in their room was not working. Additionally, the curtains had been pulled away from the runner and would not close. On inspecting the bathroom, my mother in law realised that whilst the roll top bath might look nice, it was going to be extremely difficult for her to get in to it to have a shower. To say that they were not impressed with their ‘lot’ would be an understatement. The problems identified may sound like little things, but when you are paying a significant amount of money to stay in a hotel like the Elms, you expect basics (such as working radiators) to be operational. Within ten minutes of arriving at the Elms, we found ourselves back at reception asking for help. Issues with ‘the basics’ continued in our rooms. A total of three lamps contained light bulbs that did not work – again, something that we all take for granted in a hotel, but a basic detail that had been overlooked.
The Elms has wonderfully cosy lounges to relax in – perfect on a freezing cold winters day. Two of the lounges benefit from roaring log fires – we could not wait to settle in front of one and put our feet up ahead of dinner. It was with a real sense of disappointment that we found the fire in one of the lounges to be unmade. The staff showed no willing to set it up and light it. Whether a lack of staff of boxing day was the cause I am not sure. All I know is that we did not quite get the cosy rest we expected.
On the 27th December, The Elms hosted a children’s birthday party. A function room and one of the lounges was blocked off for the event. Additionally, a large space in another lounge was reserved for another party of guests not staying in the hotel. The result is that there was very little space for paying residents to sit in the communal areas of the hotel. We wanted to have some lunch after a delightful winters walk to Abberley clock tower – it was a struggle finding anywhere to sit – we then had a lengthy wait to be served as all the staff were attending to the party. We had a genuine feeling that we had become ‘less important’ to the hotel – not a great emotion for guests to have.
Despite these issues, the Elms (in general) does work very well as a hotel to relax with family. The best way to describe it is that the Elms is a ‘home from home’ for children and adults. Kids are free to roam around the hotel in a safe environment without fear of groans and moans from non child loving guests. A brilliant creche and play room provide plenty of stimulus to keep little people amused. An outdoor play area complete with trampoline sits in beautiful gardens – a space that would have been used more if it had not been so cold and wet!
The spa is also fantastic. A lovely heated swimming pool is complimented by a large Jacuzzi pool that sits half inside the building and half outside. Our children would have spent all day every day in the pool without any problem. Naomi and I had a treatment during our stay – the service was excellent. However, the spa showed further evidence of the lack of attention to detail., Both mens and womens changing rooms have seen better days – locks not working on lockers, unclean and stained showers. It almost felt as though has been an absence of tender loving care in the twelve months since we last stayed there.
To highlight yet further the lack of attention to detail, I want to share with you the daily newsletter that sat on our table at breakfast every morning. A lovely idea for both children and parents. However, please note both the date of the newsletter (the 29th December) and the article in the bottom right hand corner – about an event that finished on Christmas Eve! This article remained firmly in place in all three newsletters we were given during our stay which started on Boxing Day. If someone at the Elms was paying attention, their newsletter would at least be up to date!
So it is with mixed feelings that I awarded a score of 8 out of 10 for the accessibility category – mixed because in normal circumstances, with the number of issues we encountered, I would have awarded a lower score. However, the brilliance of the proposition of this hotel in making a holiday EASY for children and adults alike has ultimately won me over!
Range/Choice – CX Review Score 7/10
When it comes to Range and Choice, I have awarded the Elms 7 out of 10. The hotel does very well in terms of its ability to offer a huge amount of choice for families in determining how to plan and manage their time there. From room configuration, to facilities to amenities, there is almost anything to suit the needs of anyone! Even dinner was full of choices – the choice to eat as a family, or for the kids to eat earlier and for the adults to enjoy a child free dinner after they had gone to bed (all made possible through the hotel’s ‘baby listening’ service). There is also the option for your children to be looked after early in the morning so mum and dad can have a lie in – fabulous! We observed a number of parents enjoying a quiet child free breakfast before their little ones were returned to them later in the morning.
So why have I only awarded a 7 for this category? When reviewing an end to end experience, I consider range and choice from a number of angles. In this instance, we were staying with the Elms on a ‘dinner, bed and breakfast’ basis. When you commit to something like this, you expect the range and choice of food on offer to be acceptable. We actually had the choice of two types of menu – there was plenty to choose from. However (sadly I have to use that word), although there were options, the Elms were unable to satisfy all of them. For the three nights we dined at the Elms, the steak was not available. On Boxing Day, the hotel could not make a banana split – they had run out of bananas!! My mother in law is a Coeliac (an allergy to Gluten) – a point we had made clear when booking the holiday. Unfortunately, on our first night, the staff were completely unable to understand the fact that she needed to know what she could eat and could not eat. We had to ask repeatedly for help and for a menu to be marked up by the kitchen staff – it was not a pleasant experience. This was addressed by the second evening – but it should have been sorted from day 1. Additionally, as a customer, I do not care what day it is – I expect a restaurant to have the food it displays on its menu!
People – CX Review Score 7/10
I have awarded a score of 7 out of 10 for the Elms people. I must make it clear that the Elms staff are extremely nice. They are accommodating to children, adults and animals! However, just being nice is not enough to deliver consistently good customer experiences. On our first day (Boxing Day), we were served by staff who whilst being nice, were inefficient, unknowledgeable and actually quite unhelpful. We had to wait twenty minutes for a cup of tea to be delivered to us in the lounge for example. I have already covered the dinner debacle – the lack of understanding and knowledge of the staff made my mother in law feel very uncomfortable. When we asked our waitress about wine, she was unable to answer our questions – she did not look for help either (maybe there was no-one available to ask). It almost felt as though they were understaffed with a number of untrained staff – this was wildly different to our experience a year earlier.
At certain points, one member of staff was visibly ‘stressed’, clearly under pressure and as a result pretty aloof when serving customers. By our third night, all of this had changed. Members of staff we recognised from the year before had reappeared. The Food and Beverage Manager served us our last meal – he was excellent – it was just a shame he was not present to observe service the previous two nights. In fact I would argue that there was a visible lack of presence of management throughout our first two days at the Elms – I do not recall seeing the General Manager during our whole stay. At one of the busiest times of year, you would expect a hotel to be fully staffed from the top down. I felt as though we were short changed – especially on Boxing Day. If the Elms want to offer a sub standard service on Boxing Day, they should reduce the price to reflect that fact.
All that being said, it is important to point out that that the Elms staff are very nice people. By our third day we finally felt as though we were being looked after. It is this fact that has prevented me from awarding a lower score.
Value – CX Review Score 5/10
The Elms is part of the Luxury Family Hotels group. When you see the word ‘luxury’, you automatically expect it to come at a price to match. It is therefore true to say that the Elms is not a cheap holiday option. It is a beautiful hotel in an idyllic location with amazing facilities. If you are prepared to pay for luxury, it is not unreasonable to expect the experience to match the price tag. That means at a very minimum the basics must be delivered. Luxury does not equal a non working radiator. Luxury does not equal broken light bulbs. Luxury does not equal a stale roll being used for a lunchtime sandwich. Luxury does not equal a customer having to constantly badger staff to find out what they are able to eat. All of these things were experienced by us in our stay at the Elms.
If any organisation fails to deliver on the basics (all of which these issues are), it is impossible to say that you have received good value for money. In many cases I would have awarded a lower score than the 5 out of 10 I have. However, despite the issues, we still felt rested after our three day stay – but we would have felt as though we had got much better value for money if the end to end experience actually matched the price tag.
How did it make me feel? CX Review Score 5/10
As we drove away from the Elms on he 29th December, it was with real mixed emotions. We had enjoyed a lovely break away from normality. Someone else had done the cooking and cleaning for three days and nights. It was lovely being able to go for a swim every day and to walk Rosie in a beautiful environment. These should have been our parting memories. However, as described throughout this review, the EMOTIONAL component of our experience has been tainted by a number of basic FUNCTIONAL and ACCESSIBLE issues that ultimately left a sour taste in our mouths. When we complained about the stale roll used to make a lunchtime sandwich we had ordered, there was barely any acknowledgement of the problem. The whole experience has left us feeling that whilst the circumstances of the hotel are great, the inability of the Elms to deliver a consistently good experience left a stain on our three days there.
The point is that it is the issues we will remember – the emotional component of the experience is what all customers remember. The question is – do you want customers to have negative memories that will result in them never coming back?
Would I use them again? No
It is with regret that I can confidently say I will not be returning to the Elms in the future. I say ‘with regret’ because there are so few hotels that are able to offer the type of break that my family wants and needs. However, if I am going to part with my hard earned cash, I demand that the experience I am promised matches the price I have to pay. The Elms need to have a long hard look at the little details that are absolutely essential in delivering great experiences. Every day of the year is the same – as far as the customer is concerned. Whether it is Boxing Day, Easter Day or any old Tuesday, the price; the service; the experience needs to be the same and at its absolute best. That is not what we experienced in our time at the Elms.
As always, I hope the Elms and Luxury Family Hotel management teams are able to learn from this review. Ultimately the ability of any organisation to react positively to the opportunities offered with positive or negative feedback enables that organisation to continuously improve the experience for customers in the future.
My reviews are based on a format I created to assess experiences I have with a variety organisations. They are intended to act as a demonstration of how Customer Experiences affect the customer in a number of ways. The reviews are based on my opinion as a Customer Experience Specialist – an opinion that readers are perfectly welcome to disagree with!! I always welcome others perspectives and would love to know what you think of the companies I do review.
You can read all of my reviews here.
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