I’m sorry, but is there anyone who has spent more than one week in China who has not experienced something pretty much just like this? The “this” to which I am referring is a Kafkaesque situation that  so often occurs at hotels (or other businesses) in China. 

In a post entitled, “Wuhan Weekend — Hassle at the Hanting,” the Truth From Facts Blog (TFF) writes about arriving at a Wuhan hotel to which TFF had reservations, only to be told that the hotel was full and the reservations were cancelled because TFF had not answered its cell phone for a number of calls that had  never been made.  

I very frustratingly wrote about service at Chinese hotels in the post, “Win-Win Negotiating In China. It Is More Than A Panda.

I love TFF’s post because though it made me laugh, angered me a little, and stressed me out a bit, which is exactly how I feel when these same sort of things happen to me in China. It caused me to relive the times such things have happened to me in China and made me think of how something like this will no doubt happen to me again when I return to China in June. China does not have a monopoly on bad service, but the treatment TFF received is so way more likely to happen in China than anywhere else — especially the purported cell phone call.

Do you agree?
What do you think? 

  • It’s funny you posted this yesterday, or today depending on which side of the globe you are one. So here is something interesting that happened yesterday.
    The mother-in-law of a friend of mine sent a rather large package of clothes from Northern China. It’s weighed 16kgs. From Northern China it was going to be dropped off just south of Shanghai. Which it was. She used China Post to send it. Chinese person to Chinese person. But what happened was this: The person that was supposed to deliver the package didn’t. Instead they dropped off a packing slip to my friend with a amount way over the standard post fee. We then had to go visit 3 Post Offices, call the delivery person 5 times all to find out that the package is at their house, not a post office. The delivery person doesn’t speak standard Mandarin so my Chinese friend had no idea what they were saying. Thus we had to pick up a guy from work, have him talk to her, then find another post worker to then bring us to the ladies house to pick up the package in the middle of ten buck two. Oh, and that little extra fee on the packing slip, it was a warehouse fee. The delivery person said that it was too heavy to deliver so she kept it and tried to call, however there was no phone call given, and then they charge for keeping the package in a “warehouse.”
    3hrs, 5 people, lot’s of Kilometers, gas, effort, extra fees, all to pick up a simple package. I hate to say it but this is why Chinese people don’t trust or believe Chinese people. Not to mention why everyone is out for themselves. Things in China just aren’t efficient most of the time. And most of the time there is a specific intentional reason why.

  • Can relate. Once in Yunnan I checked into a hotel requesting a double, but they only had a single with a king size bed. I took it, dropped off my stuff and went out for dinner. I came back to find someone else’s things in my room (I still had a functional key). Naturally I freaked out and went to the lobby, where they told me they’d moved my things and rented the room to someone else because a double had become available while I was gone. I’ve never been so furious/relieved in the same moment. Only in China…

  • James G

    Actually I would have been kind of impressed with that one. Since you just dropped off your stuff, them moving it seems a lot more…”copacetic” than them coming in, putting all your stuff in a laundry bag and dragging it to the other room.
    Someone in my family was once relieved from her job for allowing a checked-out guest to go back into the room to retrieve something, even though the room had since been rented out. It happened while she was working for the “rhymes with chariot” hotel chain in a very, very big U.S. city.
    I gotta say that apart from surly service, my hotel experiences in China were pretty consistently very good. And I never stayed in anything more than a 3 star, Chinese hotel. For me, the biggest problem was service everywhere else – restaurants, taxis, etc. Chains I like are 168 and Home Inn. I’ve used them in multiple cities across China and they are fine.

  • Tom

    I stayed at a 5 star hotel in Chongqing once and the service was awful. Around 11pm I heard a pounding on the outside wall, and it sounded like someone was trying to break in with a hammer. When I opened the window I saw a man pounding away doing some repairs to the building’s exterior. When I called the front desk they suggested that maybe I watch some TV until the worker was finished. After I told them that wasn’t a real solution they said they had called to tell them to stop the work, they didn’t. So I spent the next two hours waiting to for them to finish.

  • Fanch

    To be honest, I am not impressed by the story in the original post. They just tell how arrived long after the reservation validity time at the hotel, they admit that they did not phone the hotel to inform them that they would be late, the reservation was cancelled. Period. This would have been the same anywhere else in the world.
    The post is just about bragging on how rude they have been with the employees of a Wuhan hotel that did nothing wrong and who eventually found a solution.
    The comments give much more Chinese-like stories because indeed in China, stuff happens 🙂

  • Walton’s Pond

    This post pretty much sums it all up. China has the hardware but it is still lacking in the software. Will it ever get there?

  • Bob Walsh

    What I hate about Hanting is that their english website takes you to their investor relations website, instead of allowing you to book a room in english. Other than that, I kind of like Hanting. A competitor I have not seen grow too fast is “Orange”, which has nicer rooms and better service.

  • Tim

    Got to agree with Franch on this one.
    They arrived at 11pm. Most hotels cancel your reservation after a certain time unless you have notified them that you will be arriving late. That being said, the front desk should have just pointed out this policy then assisted them with arranging another hotel. Much easier than lying about trying to call an international number that you never called.
    Lying to cover up doing your job properly generally does not make sense.

  • Volker MĂĽller

    what am i doing wrong? the funny stories always happen to other persons.
    ok. back in the 80th when my accomodation budget was 12 rmb/night i had quite some entertainment when having to share the room with strangers and the fuwuquan coming into the room at 7 am to deliver hot water, but …
    since ten years or so i am using the largest online reservation platform in china to book my hotels and everything works perfect.
    few years ago it seemed that all hotel rooms in china looked the same, that’s why they were called standard (= standardized) rooms, but nowadays interior designers in many places have done a really good job.
    service in most of the hotels of the 250 rmb – 350 rmb categorie is ok, in most cases quite friendly and helpful.
    in more upper class hotels staff insisting on speaking english to foreigners may be annoying …
    i have/had some destinations where i have/had to go quite often, and when the hotel staff knows me there is a really vip service. in a small zero-star hotel in xi’an they didn’t ask for my id any more, greated me with my name when i came in and brought free fruits to my room. really nice to stay there for less than 200 rmb / night.

  • ThomasR

    @Franch and Tim
    I think the main “China” aspect of this story is not that their rooms were given away, but that the front desk lied about calling them. Having reservations canceled happens everywhere, being lied to for no reason is pretty much unique to the Chinese service industry.

  • Fanch

    I find the front desk reaction has something totally Chinese in it : a mixture of willing to avoid trouble at any cost and lack of confidence. So they tell the big shouting american guy that phone calls have been made, hoping that there will be no trouble, but a few minutes later since the big american guy is still going on shouting, they realize they have failed in skipping trouble and admit they gave no call because they lack the confidence to go on with the lie.
    The result is as often in China, it gives the feeling to deal with 6 years old children hiding themselves behind non consistent excuses. And sometimes it works because it is so pathetic you just feel you have to let them go with it just to avoid a big lose of face incoming.
    There seems there is a kind of trauma with people in the country still afraid to deal with an issue and assume full responsibility for it and appear willing to deal with it. Maybe the next generation of Chinese people won’t have this problem any more and develop better management/responsibility skills. I don’t know.

  • Fanch

    Ooops ! I agree with ThomasR, his comment wasn’t published when I wrote mine.

  • C

    When I first started coming up to China from Singapore several years ago, I called an old friend I went to college in the States with who was working in China and asked him for advise on where to stay in Shanghai. He was in the Tabacco business and said that he had really good relations with the SOE Tabacco company in China and that this SOE Group also had a great hotel in Shanghai. He made reservations for me and my boss, who were flying in from Singapore.
    When we get to the hotel and checked in, we were told that there was no reservation. We said, OK, well then can we have any available room. They told us that ALL the rooms in the hotel had been completely booked and there were no rooms, suites, etc available. Fully Booked!
    So I called my friend and explained the situation to him. He said, “Give me 10 minutes and I will sort this out for you”. He proceeded to call the his senior contact at the SOE that he had gone through in the first place. They then called to the hotel.
    Boom! The manager then came over to the waiting area to inform us that in fact rooms were available for us and we could proceed with check in.
    Its just goes unexplained as to how this can happen. How did two rooms “suddenly” appear when the whole hotel was FULLY BOOKED?

  • Lucas

    for some four, five years (cant recall precisely) I’ve been booking all my hotels in China and some abroad through a chinese reservation network (ctrip), i’ve always got much better price then anybody who tries to book directly or through foreign booking websites, and my rooms has always been kept for me even till past midnight .. there is really nothing more to say than this.

  • On one of my first work trips to the mainland, about a decade ago, I was mistaken for a Chinese hooker.
    I was traveling with a male colleague — as is often the case when a HK company sends up a young woman — but he was out at another event.
    It wasn’t very late, early evening or dinner time. And I was in a five-star hotel run by a major Western chain. I didn’t want to sit in my room by myself, so I brought my work stuff down to the coffee shop. As a HK girl, I don’t think twice about these things, since my home city is so safe.
    Pretty soon, two drunk, fat, chain-smoking guys in suits started yelling at me and waving 100 RMB notes in my face.
    The funny thing was that I was not dressed at all like a prostitute. It was winter and I was wearing a sweater, jeans, glasses, no makeup, and was studying a pile of documents. I snapped back at them to English to doubly reinforce that I was no some local call girl.
    It was very, very awkward. So I signaled for the waitstaff to come over. In HK, any sort of harassment would have been taken care of in a flash by the manager. But the mainland staff seemed totally frozen.
    Maybe the drunk guy was a high-up official? Maybe they figured that any guy in a suit would be higher-ranked than any young woman? Maybe they were just idiots? Or had never been trained to deal with a single businesswoman? (My husband works in the hotel business, and I know that staff here are often given tips on these sorts of things).
    I left some bills on the table and walked to the lift.
    The drunken man followed me and, again, the staff did nothing. I wasn’t scared at that point, but if I was stuck in an elevator with a large, inebriated, aggressive stranger, that’s a bad scenario. I slammed the door in his face, made it to my room and ordered my dinner delivered.
    I have enough bad China hotel / travel experiences to write a book, and they are way more colorful than flubbed reservations. But I think that’s largely because young, ethnic Chinese women traveling alone get treated very differently than white expat businessmen.

  • Hotels in China are always a bit of a disaster, including 5 star hotels. Our local Shangri-La in Shenzhen is abysmal, and despite many guests giving up and deciding it’s not worth it anymore it never gets any better.
    Random room rates are a favourite, a russian roulette of arriving on the same day, booking a room on the same floor, of the same type and finding you as a “regular guest” are paying 3 times the “walk in”.

  • Twofish

    Whoa, whoa, whoa…….
    The poster seems to be totally unaware that Mainland China and Hong Kong run on different cell phone systems. If your cell phone is in Mainland China, and you call a HK number, the HK number will not transfer to the Mainland China number unless you set up call forwarding. If he had given the reservation desk an HK number and he had been on a train to Wuhan, and they had called the HK number, then he would not have gotten the call. The moment he crosses the Shenzhen River, his HK number will stop working, and anyone that calls that number will get a message that he is unavailable.
    You can get a single-SIM dual number card *but* your Mainland China number will be different from your HK number, and because you have roaming charges, you will have to set up call forwarding by hand, otherwise your cell phone in Mainland China will not pick up if the HK number is called….
    Alternatively, lots of people have dual-sim phones so that they can pick up the calls both in Mainland China and Hong Kong, but you still have to set up call forwarding, or else your cell phone will not pick up…….
    Well, we can’t dial out to Hong Kong so we couldn’t call you.
    Sorry – say again? Ok. Good. We are making progress. You just admitted your mistake. You lied. You acknowledge you didn’t call, yes? We can agree you lied. And, fine, you gave away our rooms and there are no rooms. So fix it.
    Not necessarily.
    We can’t call out to Hong Kong so we couldn’t call you. == We tried to call your HK number, but because you weren’t in HK, we can’t reach HK so we couldn’t reach you.
    It looks to me that the receptionist is trying to explain that calling out to an HK number won’t cause a cell phone in Mainland China to ring. Also, translating the English literally into Chinese, “we can’t” and “we couldn’t” doesn’t mean “we didn’t try”.
    I know that it’s late and people are annoyed, but it’s still a pretty big stretch to assume that the receptionist is actively lying to you, and the reception desk seems to me to have handled the situation quite well.

  • Twofish

    Also, even in the absence of the HK/Mainland issue there are a dozen reasons how the reception desk could have missed calling the guest. There are lots of holes in the PRC cell phone network, and if the hotel was calling as the train was going through a place without coverage or through a tunnel, the call would have been dropped. They there are the dozen technical issues (no battery, cell phone on mute or vibrate, someone just copied the number incorrectly).
    Finally, one thing about the story confuses me and that is that most hotels will guarantee the booking if you book with a credit card. If you give them a credit card, then if you don’t show, they will hold the room and charge the credit card, at which point they don’t care if you show up on time or not.