I’m all for brand-new luxury hotel openings. It’s interesting to watch the process of a hotel being built or redone and when it finally opens and you get that first peek inside it can be a special experience. Staff is excited, the pillows are freshly fluffed, you’re the first to stay in that room, and everyone is putting their best foot forward to please. Sometimes though, it is wise not to book.
I eagerly followed along with updates to the Park Hyatt Vienna undergoing their massive transformation from a 100 year-old Bank headquarters into a luxury hotel, and I couldn’t wait to check it out when it opened. After hearing that the hotel was open for bookings I made an award booking right away. I had a phenomenal stay at the property which you can read about here and both hotel and staff more than exceeded my expectations.
Park Hyatt Vienna
Recently though, I stayed at the Ritz-Carlton Bali (which you can read about here) and my experience was totally different. For those curious, I stayed at the Ritz-Carlton Bali a month and a half after their grand opening, and at the Park Hyatt Vienna right at the end of their soft opening. Several of the issues at the Ritz had nothing to do with it being a brand-new property, but it is not always best to stay at a brand-new luxury hotel.
1. The opening date is not set in stone. Anyone who has built a home or renovated a building knows that there are often construction delays. For hotels these delays can be compounded. Maybe the shipment of thousands of imported tiles didn’t arrive in time, the armoires got stuck in customs, there were scheduling issues with the different trades, or it simply just took more man hours than expected. This means if you’ve booked a stay and have fixed dates for your vacation (as well as paid for flights), you may be extremely disappointed when you learn only the week before arrival that the hotel won’t be opening for another month.
2. There are often two opening dates – soft opening and grand opening. The grand opening is the one most people are familiar with. Everything at the property is finished, the trumpets sound, there’s lots of buzz and marketing, and there is an official announcement. The soft opening is known as the “practice makes perfect” time where staff may still be training on the way the property needs to be run day to day. Little or no publicity is given to the soft opening date and the majority of guests may be locals or press, and the soft opening usually comes a few weeks to a few months before the grand opening. Sometimes just one floor of a hotel will be used during soft opening, the pool may not be ready yet or still be in the process of being chemically balanced/tested, there may be construction still finishing up and the parking lot may be blocked off. Room service may also be slow as the kinks are worked out between kitchen and delivery.
3. Hotel restaurants, the spa and fitness center are usually the last to open. The clock is ticking for luxury hotels to get paying guests in, so it is natural that the lobby and guest rooms get top priority. Sometimes a single floor of rooms is open during the soft opening, and disappointing to many is that suites are often the last room types to be finished.
Hotels also know that many guests never go to the spa or fitness center, so they can focus on those specialty areas during the soft opening if needed. Usually the hotel’s all-day dining restaurant will be open, but if there are specialty restaurants those may take longer.
If you’re the type of hotel guest that wants to start your day with an hour in the fitness center followed by a long spa day topped with dinner at the hotel’s swanky restaurant, you may be completely out of luck when a luxury hotel first opens.
4. There may be small things missing or that don’t work. In the haste to get things ready for launch day, small things may get overlooked. A lamp may not be plugged in, no one realizes that there are no umbrellas in the umbrella stand by valet, and the wall behind the couch doesn’t have a picture hanging over it yet.
5. Even the most carefully planned ideas on paper may not work in the real world, and hotel management doesn’t know which ones yet. During my stay at the Park Hyatt Vienna, there was a gorgeous cabinet in the room that doubled as a minibar. Rather than using those boring mini-fridges so common in hotel rooms, the property had ordered custom cabinets with special cold storage roll out drawers and elaborate mirrored panels that held snacks. Unfortunately, the cabinet made a lot of noise when being opened or closed. The pull handles clanged, the wood pieces knocked around inside, and there was a loud humming sound.
Minibar at the Park Hyatt Vienna
When the hotel ordered the cabinets it certainly didn’t know that there would be an issue, but during my stay when I mentioned it they said they had already been alerted to the problem and new ones were being ordered. This is one reason that properties sometimes offer much lower rates during soft openings. They want guests to try out their hotel and get feedback on what works and what doesn’t so they can attend to any issues before the grand opening. The lower price is a way of making up for the fact that the entire property may not be running at full efficiency or have all the amenities ready.
You may choose to stay at a luxury property right as it opens its doors. If so, you might consider emailing or calling the hotel directly in advance to ask about the things that are most important to you. Find out if the restaurants will be open when you are there, if all of the guest rooms are finished and if there is any construction still going on. Ask about the completion date of the spa if you want to have a treatment, and if the pool is open. The extra information will go a long way towards helping your stay be smooth and enjoyable and also prepare you so you know what to expect. If it doesn’t look like you’d enjoy your stay, you can always cancel and book for a later date.