The English writer Samuel Johnson once said that “when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life, for there is in London all that life can afford!”
Alas, the same cannot be said of the 53 Wendover Road Hotel, an ill-managed budget property in Brent devoid of many of its advertised amenities, enough rooms for all its guests, and on-site staff to help when things go wrong. And, oh boy, did they go wrong!
While a broken door left this holidaying reporter forced to stay in his room for 18 hours straight, I was actually the lucky one, with other guests turning up to find their rooms double-booked.
The hotel staff — manifesting as a voice at the end of a phone line that was ineffective, unapologetic and increasingly incoherent — did nothing to rectify these situations.
And on top of that, my room was missing an assortment of its features as advertised, including but not limited to the TV, fan, hairdryer, microwave, safe deposit box, and — worst of all — WiFi.
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Beware hasty bookings
My visit to 53 Wendover Road — checking in at 1.30pm on September 30, and fleeing like a bat out of hell the instant the trains started up the next morning — was very last-minute.
Surprised by a railway strike (honestly, who can keep track of them all?) I found myself forced to extend what would have otherwise been just a fleeting, overnight stay in London after late drinks with a friend.
This meant getting a room for another night that I hadn’t really budgeted for, making “cheap and cheerful” very much the watchword of the exercise.
In this regard, 53 Wendover Road seemed ideal. It was available, just £57.96 for the night, easy access to the centre of London on the Underground, claimed to have all the basic amenities, and rooms that looked — if basic and a little cramped — perfectly fine.
As the property description on Booking.com said: “With a private bathroom equipped with a shower and a hairdryer, rooms at the hotel also have free WiFi, while certain rooms also offer a garden view.” How charming, I thought!
In hindsight, the signs that 53 Wendover Road Hotel might not have been the wisest choice seem far more obvious than they did as I was scrambling to make a reservation — any reservation! — the very evening before my intended stay.
The hotel had only been listed on Booking.com for a few weeks, and they were offering check-in and check out at the same time of day. (When, I wonder, do they expect to properly clean? Although I fear I know the answer to that…)
The amenities purported to include “room service” — hardly a feature of budget properties! — and some of the reviews made concerning claims of both double-bookings, and turning up at the property only to find one’s room was elsewhere entirely.
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The writing on the wall (or door)
I was blissfully ignorant of all this, however, with my first sign of troubled waters to come when I arrived at the hotel to find not a conventional reception, but a telephone number daubed (in blood red lettering, naturally) over the front door of what, to all intents and purposes, was indistinguishable from the adjacent houses.
Calling this number — the same as given in my booking email for the hotel — I was given the code for the front door, and directed to my room. The man at the end of the line added that he would be there shortly to “fix the lock”.
In what some might call “demented optimism”, I hoped this was a poorly phrased way of saying he would come and give me my room key.
Alas, the more literal interpretation was the correct one — the exterior door handle to the room appeared to have been fully ripped off (built-in lock and all) exposing behind it the mechanism, allowing one to lock and unlock the door from the outside.
(For those wondering where the door handle ended up, I found it in the room’s bin, which hadn’t been emptied prior to my arrival. And that wasn’t the only failing in the cleanliness department…)
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Nobody came to fix the lock. Nobody came to give me a key. In fact, I have no idea how the other guests acquired the keys to their rooms, for I saw not a single member of staff during my entire stay.
I called the property’s contact number repeatedly, and — when it was actually answered — received a series of hollow promises that someone would come sort out the door shortly.
On the final call, when I explained I had been waiting five hours for some sort of handyman to materialise, the man at the end of the line said “oh s****, I will find out” and then the line went quiet, and then it went dead.
I texted the number after that — I no longer trusted myself to keep a civil tongue in my head — but my message went unanswered.
My plan for the day had been to drop off my luggage in my room and go back into town, do some shopping, find a nice cafe to idle away a few hours with a book, and then treat myself to a nice dinner in a restaurant.
(As opposed to the less glamorous takeout I had to have delivered to the door of my hotel room in order to get anything to eat.)
Instead, to all intents and purposes, I found myself an unwilling prisoner of the room for the whole miserable duration of my stay. I could (kind of) secure the door from the inside with the chain, but had no way to keep it locked if I went outside.
If it had just been a matter of ensuring my suitcase remained safe, I might have just hauled my luggage with me and gone out — as inconvenient as that would have been, given my woeful inability to pack light! — but by the time it became obvious the door was never going to be repaired during my stay, I’d read the online reviews I’d overlooked before.
You remember the ones about the double-bookings? I worried that if I left the room unoccupied, I might not find it that way on my return.
And this fear, as it happens, was entirely justified — for in the evening, a party of four tried to gain access to my room.
They had arrived at the hotel to find the pair of double rooms they’d booked and been directed to (by that man at the end of the phone) already occupied. At that point, according to them, he’d encouraged them to try my (single) room!
It took the party hours on the phone — first with hotel management (who were completely useless, and from the bits of the conversation I personally overheard, borderline incomprehensible) and then with Booking.com, whose services they had also used — before the latter provided them with alternative accommodation.
I was lucky — because I just happened to turn up early enough to get to the room I’d paid for before anyone else who might have also had an equally valid claim to it.
I’m also far from the most vulnerable form of solo traveller, and my unexpected visitors were good people.
It troubles me how circumstances could easily have played out differently for others.
Even so, I’d be lying if I said I had a relaxed and secure-feeling sleep that night, with the fear of more rightly-irate guests turning up thinking the room was theirs too.
(Although part of that might have just been the rock-hard bed and a pillow that wouldn’t have supported the neck of a particularly flat baby!)
On my stay in 53 Wendover Road Hotel, a spokesperson for Booking.com said: “We were disappointed to hear about the stay you had at a property booked via Booking.com, as this is not the experience we want for our customers.
“We take safety and security very seriously and we know it is also paramount for our customers, so we have a number of checks in place before a property is allowed to begin welcoming guests.”
These, they explained, include “a set of terms and conditions that accommodations must sign up to — which includes the expectation that they are responsible for ensuring the details and availability of their rooms are up to date and a true reflection of what a guest should expect.
“In the event that a hotel does not meet expectations, our customer service team is available to assist with relocations, with our reviews system a useful tool to help travellers find the stay that’s right for them”.
Booking.com added: “Given the safety concerns, in this case we will be suspending bookings, pending further review and improvements.
“We have also processed a full refund and gesture of goodwill by way of an apology.”
Express.co.uk also reached out to the management at 53 Wendover Road Hotel, via text message sent to the hotel contact number, for comment.
Their response to this request was “Hhhhhhh” — which I concluded must be an abbreviation for “Hahahahahahaha”.
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