Macau Matters | A comedy of errors

Richard Whitfield

To fulfill some family commitments, my wife and I flew to the US on a recent Sunday morning. To avoid the pain and stress of getting up at 6am to get a taxi and ferry to the Hong Kong airport, and to enable us to catch up with friends who live on Lantau Island, we decided to stay at a well-known, but herein un-named, Hong Kong airport hotel on the Saturday night before our flight. Our experience would be laughable, if it was not so annoying.

It begins by trying to book a room at the hotel online. First, we tried using a popular comparative online hotel booking site but found that the rate quoted was about 25% higher than the rates quoted directly on the hotel’s own website. So much for online pricing comparisons getting you good deals.

Therefore, we decided to book directly through the hotel’s website. All went well until it came to making payment – their system only accepts online payments through PayPal, and insisted on creating an account if you do not already have one. Based on past bad experiences my wife refuses to use PayPal.

So, the next approach was to telephone the hotel to make a telephone booking. Through the Chinglish we finally understood that the hotel does not accept bookings by phone but they could email us a booking form to complete and return. After much messing about, and a few emails that went into never-never land, we finally completed and returned the requisite form, only to have our Macau credit card “declined”.

So, we used a US credit card and all was finally booked. Our stay was acceptable, but nothing memorable, but it was very good to catch up with our Lantau Island friends.

Airport hotels serve an important purpose, but the hotel in question seems to be relatively incompetent technically. Also, I would have thought that a significant part of their business could be people staying overnight to catch early next-day flights and that they should have well thought out and simple booking procedures for this kind of request. Maybe they survive because they do not have much (if any) competition, but they are certainly damaging Hong Kong’s reputation as a tourist destination.

My only previous experience of airport hotels was at Boston’s Logan International Airport a few years ago. They were very efficient – it was very easy to book online and they readily accepted a Macau credit card. I did not download the App, but at the time they were testing a system whereby your smartphone was your room key. None of that kind of sophisticated electronic nonsense at our Hong Kong airport hotel.

I have been telling Macau hotel management students for years that hotels should largely do away with check-in counters and let guests do everything online, and use their smartphones as their room keys, but it does not seem to have happened here yet.

I have not really booked a stay in a Macau hotel, but I sincerely hope that they do a much better job than the hotel at the Hong Kong airport. But I would be more impressed if hotels here could lead the world in the adoption of technology in hotels – seamless online bookings (including room selection and assignment), and smartphone-based room keys, and so on. Generally, I believe that hotels are very techno-phobic and there is a lot of improvements that could be made. This is an excellent area for Macau to develop economic diversification – it just needs the will and entrepreneurial spirit, and government support. Why not?

Categories Opinion