Welcome to the 5-star Abama Hotel in Guia de Isora, Tenerife in Spain’s Canary Islands; Expect exquisite service in an idyllic setting and top-notch quality food – yes, that’s what anyone would expect on a holiday with 4 adults and 4 children and a price tag of 30,000 euro. The Abama Hotel, which is managed and run by trainees with a 300-euro “salary” (from which they have to pay for their own separate accommodation) unfortunately, has no understanding of service.
Rewind 6 months, when Mr. van Stigt decided for a change. The Caribbean has been the number choice for the van Stigt family for many years. With long and expensive flights and all-inclusive hotels, this year the decision was to stay closer to home and instead of spending thousands per head on flights, to spend the money on a incredible hotel.
The Abama Hotel in Tenerife definitely seemed to offer it all: “Abama Resort is a 160-hectare private estate including a Luxury Five Star Hotel with exclusive villas, 10 restaurants featuring exquisite gastronomy, own beach and pier, an 18-hole par 72 golf course designed by Dave Thomas, Tennis Club, exclusive Wellness and Spa Centre and versatile meetings and incentive facilities.”
When a traveler books 5-star, Expedia.com confirms that service is to be extremely professional: “Staff members are generally polished, anticipate guest needs, and consistently address guests by name”.
This holiday has all the ingredients for success and long-lasting heavenly memories… Unfortunately, the Abama Hotel in Tenerife is only on track to make it the biggest nightmare ever.
PART 1 – Arrival and first days at the Abama Hotel
13:00: Arrival at Tenerife airport. A young gentleman with a white paper reading “van Stigt” greets the guests at the exit gate, leading the group to a nice Mercedes Benz minibus. Despite excellent first impressions, the journey to the hotel opens the gate to the lack of professional staff; the young gentleman was obviously clueless as to the operation of the Mercedes Benz bus, unable to open the luggage compartment for a full ten minutes. The long drive to the resort felt like a race, with the young gentlemen racing every vehicle in sight. 15:00: Safe arrival at the hotel. “Safe and sound” and finally here the family assumes.
With countless email communications with the hotel staff prior to arrival, the check-in should have been effortless. Unfortunately, the lack of professional staff made it a cumbersome experience. The family name was wrong in the system and despite having explained it to the staff, it is still wrong. The emailed room list wasn’t registered so the organization of rooms had to be arranged again. The 3 golf buggies to be at the disposal upon arrival turned out to be 2 and the champagne and orange juice complimentary welcome drink never arrived.
What started out as a tiring and frustrating arrival at the hotel was more than made up for by the gorgeous estate and impressive architecture. Designed by the renowned Chilean/Bolivian architect Melvin Villaroel, the Abama Hotel is honestly stunning. The rooms (in the villas) were as to be expected by a 5-star hotel, modern, well decorated, top quality finishes and spacious. A relief for Mr. van Stigt; “Perhaps the first frustrating moments were just a matter of bad luck”.
After settling into the rooms and freshening up, the guests eagerly headed for the beach. A spectacular bay with sand imported from Egypt ready to take away your breath. Time for lunch at the Beach Club overlooking the beautiful sea.
Lunch Day 1: While some plates were not only original and delicious others were supremely disgusting and extortionately overpriced; such as the “Suprema de pechuga de pollo”; A plate of chicken, with fries and a small mix of vegetables worth 2 euros max at cost was offered for 17 euros. Unfortunately, the one bad dish was not the only element making this first lunch at the resort a test of patience. Waiting time for the food was 90 minutes. The one waiter serving around 50 guests was lacking professionalism to the extreme: Snappy answers. Disappearing for long moments and coming back with his mouth full of food. The waiter, obviously an intern was perhaps not given time for his own lunch? The presence of dozens of flies however was the cherry on the icing during this first lunch…
Dinner Day 1: Despite a reservation made at the reception during check-in to the hotel, the restaurant did not have the reservation. Waiting time for table: 30 minutes. The presence of the Food and Beverage manager at the time of the mishap led to a prompt apology and an invitation to a bottle of champagne. The food was normal for a 5-star hotel and although it took around 30-40 minutes for the food to be served, the experience was not as testing as the lunch. The approximately 10 waiters which were attending the 200-250 diners were without exception all trainees, running around like headless chickens, unable to transfer a feeling of organization or professionalism.
After a pleasant night’s sleep, the first full day at the Abama Hotel Resort started with a gorgeous breakfast buffet with an eclectic variety of food – all quality. The atmosphere was very pleasant and relaxed. All ready for some swimming and tanning by one of the many pools the hotel has to offer…
Lunch Day 2: The restaurant “El Mirador”, by the pool, looked spectacular. Unfortunately, what the look promised wasn’t lived up to by the service. At 30-40% of capacity, the waiting staff took 20 minutes to prepare a table for eight. The food arrived 1 hour after finally getting a waiter to take the order. Once again, trainees made up the majority of the staff: Insecure, unorganized, forgetful, and painfully slow individuals.
Lunch Day 3: Another mind-numbing experience for the hotel guests: Arrival at the restaurant at 14:10. Plenty of empty tables. 5 waiters walking around looking to the ground. Yet 25 minutes to prepare the table… 10 minutes before a waiter tends to the table and another 10 minutes before the drinks arrive. 45 minutes after the waiter takes the order, the food begins to arrive… The long waiting times allowed for further observations and countless tiring attempts to fight away the dozens of flies. The plant pot on the table was dry and covered in grey fungus and insects. Staff appeared sporadically on the terrace, attending a table and then running back inside ensuring to the best of their abilities to look down and ignore any attempts from other customers to attend to their needs.
As the sun goes up on day 4, the van Stigt’s have their clear understanding of the Abama Resort Hotel: The majority of the staff have no clue what they are doing – understandable given the lack of superiors to guide them. One intern shared with the travelers: “I receive 300 euros a month and have a meal served on the days I work… I have to arrange and pay for my own accommodation somewhere in a nearby town and work like a slave”. After the first semester at one of the “best hotel management schools in the world” the friendly 21-year old has been thrown in at the deep end and without any proper management. “What am I to learn from my superior? He only just graduated ten days ago, before which he was one of us” says the intern. The 30-second presence over the intern four or five times per day is ludicrous says van Stigt. “There is no communication, no guidance and no support whatsoever… How on earth are these trainees to serve the staff with professionalism if their superiors are like that?”
More conversations with other trainees reveal a deeply shocking revelation. Fourth-year students, from similarly prestigious Hotel Management schools all earn the 300-euro a month “salary”. Sharing apartments in the nearby town with 7-9 other trainees and paying a total of 150 euros each per month. The transport to and from their apartment goes on their own expense. The food they are provided with by the hotel is “worse than in the army back home in my country” claims another intern. All the conversations are deeply concerning; tips are not shared with trainees, “because the tips are in the system and the company has to pay tax on the revenues, and we get our money under the table”. “So who gets the tips I’m giving?” asks van Stigt. Shrugged shoulders and a blank face is the answer from the intern. Other trainees reveal how they often work 15 hours a day and finish at 3am, having to pay 5 euros for a taxi to take them home.
The list goes on… Cleaners, which came to clean the room, were on track to beat a world record. Making the bed, replacing bathroom products and a quick wipe here and there in under 300 seconds… The lifeguards at the pool dressed in long trousers and long sleeved tops do everything but attend to the guests in the pool, they serve drinks, clean out the garbage bins which are full to the brim with rubbish and run from left to right trying to keep up with the requests of hotel guests.
Mr. van Stigt has been traveling around the world his whole life, experiencing the international hotel world from every corner of the world. “In the years of traveling, this just has to be the most extreme case of negligence and disappointment,” says van Stigt. The yearly holidays with his family “is meant to be a festive celebration, where the family gets together to enjoy time together in a hotel with a nice atmosphere” and not to complain and get frustrated numerous times a day…”
“This type of lack of service and professionalism appears to be a disease infecting hotels around Spain”, says Greg Schellhammer, business broker and managing partner of www.Schellhammer.es. Hotels charge customers at every corner and cut costs in the most risky areas of all – staff! “Everyone needs to learn somehow,” says Schellhammer. “Yet putting a group of 80 trainees and 10-20 fixed employees to manage restaurants and bars at a 5-star hotel resort like the Abama, is not just a disgrace but a fundamental mistake inherited from capitalistic attitudes of mammoth multinationals, such as the Ritz Carlton – which operates the resort”.
One can only assume that the hotel is trying to cut corners by employing trainees for 6 months at hunger wages in order to squeeze out as much profit as possible from the few remaining holiday-goers. The tips guests leave; most probably these go towards financing the “bonuses of the big corporate boys”. Not to mention that corporate employee guidelines set by the Ritz Carlton Group such as the following appear ridiculous in light of the reality on the ground: “I build strong relationships and create Ritz-Carlton guests for life… I am always responsive to the expressed and unexpressed wishes and needs of our guests… I am empowered to create unique, memorable and personal experiences for our guests… I have the opportunity to continuously learn and grow…
Without a doubt, the first 72 hours at the Abama Hotel in Guia de Isora in Tenerife, have provided unforgettable experiences for the van Stigt’s – unfortunately, for all the wrong reasons.
Mr. van Stigt will continue to record his experiences. Who knows perhaps in the end the holiday will deliver what was expected…