A hotel group is a funny concept. Basically, it is a large holding company or parent corporation that owns many offspring corporations or hotel chains. Sometimes you can easily tell what hotel group owns the hotel chain at which you’re staying, sometimes not. The Marriott Hotel Group labels all of its chains “by Marriott”, for example, Courtyard by Marriott, Residence Inn by Marriott, or Fairfield by Marriott. The Hilton Group has also recently started to label its hotel chains. I’m sure you’ve seen Embassy Suites by Hilton, Double Tree by Hilton or Hampton by Hilton among others. Other groups are not so obvious. Did you know that when you stay at a Kimpton, Crown Plaza or Holiday Inn Express you are at an IHG (InterContinental Hotels Group) property?
So, what does the concept of hotel groups and quality levels have to do with this post? Well, Radisson Hotels, a hotel group of its own (although currently spilt into two subgroups, Radisson Hotels Group Americas & Radisson International) has made a group change announcement that may effect future service.
On Monday, June 13, 2022, I received an e-mail notification from Tom Buoy, interim CEO and Chief Commercial Officer for the Radisson Hotel Group Americas. According to that announcement “… Radisson Hotel Group Americas will become a part of the Choice Hotels International family….”
Of course, the e-mail included the usual marketing and sales pitch of how this will result in tremendous growth and more hotels to visit throughout the world, but I interpreted it quite differently. I see it as potential that the service level at Radisson Hotels Group Americas will be deteriorating further. Deteriorating and further you ask? Yes, let me explain.
Back in 2018 the Radisson Group (Carlson Companies) was purchased by Jin Jiang International Holdings, a company owned by the Peoples Republic of China. Since that time, my personal experience has been that a once great hotel group with premiere service has suffered and has become mediocre at best. The lower level of service I have experienced has not just been with the hotel’s facilities, but also with customer service before and after a stay.
Unfortunately, I have found that this deterioration has gotten even worse over the past year. In June 2021, in order to be able to continue to do business in the USA, Radisson split into two separate companies.
That split created two separate corporations, Radisson Americas and Radisson International. These two companies can no longer communicate with each other. There are now two separate websites, two separate reward programs and even two separate phone apps.
This was done as Radisson stated in their announcement last year, so “…U.S. operations and data security are managed independently of the global Radisson Hotel Group…”. What that means is that splitting the corporation was the only way for Radisson to continue to do business in the USA without fear of being shut down by the federal government for spying on the American public. But the question becomes: What’s the point of having a worldwide hotel group if you cannot make worldwide reservations?
Here’s an example of my recent experience with these two Radisson groups. In late 2021 I was trying to make reservations at a Radisson Hotel near Heathrow Airport in Great Britain for February 2022. I couldn’t do it on either the Radisson Americas or Radisson International website nor through either app so I needed to call customer service.
After about 30 minutes on hold I was connected with a customer service agent who was not fluent in English and had an incredibly noisy phone line; I could hardly hear her over the static. The call was dropped and I had to call back, my calls were dropped many successive times after being connected, and each time I called back I had to wait at least thirty minutes before being connected to a non-native English speaker.
Now bear in mind, I have no problem speaking with off-shore call centers and non-native English speakers. I really enjoy hearing accents different from mine. In some ways it gives me some of the wonderful experience of traveling internationally without leaving my home. I do however have the expectation that I will be able to understand the representative and the phone line will be clear and static free.
After speaking with several different representatives and a supervisor I was told that for further assistance I needed to call Radisson International. I was given a non toll-free overseas number that was only available off hours, between midnight and 8:00 AM Eastern time.
When I called Radisson International I had the same experience with a bad line and a representative that was not fluent in English who told me to call Radisson Americas, not caring that I was sent to Radisson International from there. When I called Radisson Americas I was sent back to International. It went on like this for multiple phone calls but eventually after about two weeks of calling the issue was resolved when I stuck to my guns and escalated the situation past the supervisor level to a manager. Talk about one hand not knowing what the other is doing! This is not the kind of service one expects from a (former) premiere hotel chain!
Unfortunately, the situation got even worse after my reservations were finally made. Due to Covid, my reservation was transferred from one hotel to another. My intended hotel was reassigned as a quarantine hotel for Heathrow Airport. Now, I understand that this can happen, but there were two issues:
- I was assigned to a far lesser hotel in terms of quality and was not credited any cash nor points back to my account.
- While I was notified of the change and had the reservation information in my e-mail, the new hotel I was assigned to was never given any notification from Radisson corporate, nor did they have my reservations when I arrived. This was even after calling both the new and old hotel directly prior to departure from the USA to make sure I was set.
Fortunately, upon arrival, I was eventually accommodated, but I felt awful for the desk staff and hotel manager who were put in a difficult position by Radisson International. Eventually, upon my return to the USA, after several weeks of trying to contact Radisson International on the phone and via Twitter, and after an incredible number of excuses, the issue about my refund for a lesser quality hotel was ultimately resolved. It took an additional three weeks to resolve the parking issue as my rental car was given an electronic ticket as the front desk failed to record the license plate number and parking tag.
And yes, I knew I was taking my chances based on what I knew about the downturn of Radisson quality, but I had points I needed to use before their expiration. There are few Radisson properties where I currently travel so I had not been able to use the reward points I had accumulated over the years My UK trip was an opportunity to use them up. Plus, the hotel I originally reserved, and was moved from, the Radisson Blue Edwardian Heathrow, still boasts about being a premiere hotel offering.
Based on my previous experiences with the Choice Hotel Group, the upcoming merger of Radisson Americas with Choice Hotels makes me fear that the already lessened service I have experienced at Radisson will deteriorate even further after the merger. Now bear in mind that levels of service can often vary with individual hotels, and you may have a different perspective, but my experience, over many years of travel at many different properties, has been that the affiliates of the Choice Hotel group have always offered lesser quality service than the other groups I’ve already mentioned. That has been regardless of what hotel chain is used within the Choice group. I do my best to avoid them when traveling, and generally recommend steering clear of them, unless there are no other options.
There is good news though. Well, maybe not exactly good news, but perhaps a tip I can offer. Currently, it does not appear that Radisson International is merging with Choice Hotels. The service I’ve experienced when staying at Radisson International properties, while no longer premiere, is better than what I have experienced with the Choice Hotels Group.
As of this writing you can transfer reward points from Radisson Americas to Radisson International, through the Radisson Americas Rewards website. There is no telling how long this will last nor if it will hold true after the merger with Choice Hotels.
Based on the upcoming merger I have moved all my Radisson Americas reward points to Radisson International. I recommend this same strategy to all who may use Radisson International in the future. I still don’t expect great service nor a great product from Radisson International, but I do expect it to be better than the Choice choice. (See what I did there?) Hopefully I’ll be able to use up my Radisson International rewards soon and be done with what was once one of my favorite hotel chains.
Now I know I may have offered some disparaging opinions regarding Radisson Hotels specifically, as well as the Choice Hotel Group. As I said previously, my experiences have been mostly negative when staying with these brands or groups, or resolving issues with these corporations. (Your mileage may vary.) However it is not my intention to appear closed minded; as I write this I offer Radisson and Choice Hotels every opportunity to demonstrate improvements in their quality of service. I hope to one day be able to report on better experiences with these organizations.