On one of my more recent trips to the UK, I needed a hotel near the Manchester airport for my last night before an early morning flight. On the recommendation of a local friend, I chose Bewleys Hotel. In the end, it was a reasonable choice, but the path to that conclusion was not an easy one.
Bewleys is a 3-star business hotel--basic comfort with no nonsense, nothing fancy. The hotel at the Manchester airport is located just a stone's throw from Terminals 1 and 3 (a bit further to Terminal 2). An airport shuttle service, free to guests, runs frequently and helps travelers facilitate their travel plans.
My experience with Bewleys began inauspiciously. In booking my reservation, I called the number obtained from an Internet search and spoke, or so I thought, directly with the hotel. I asked for and booked an overnight accommodation for a single guest. I was told the tariff would be £110 (about $200 at then-current exchange rates). Since I had been told to expect a nightly tariff of about £50, I questioned the rate and was told in no uncertain terms that my expectation was unreasonable for a 4-star hotel.
On completing the reservation, I went straight back to my friend's computer, accessed the laterooms.com Web site, reserved my room at a cost of £69, then called back to cancel my previous reservation.
When I reached the hotel on the following day, advertisements in various sizes and locations proclaimed all rooms, "every room, every night" at a rate of £69 per night. Clearly the clerk I dealt with over the telephone either reserved me in the wrong Bewleys (or the wrong chain), or there was some other form of misunderstanding. Regardless, the hotel at Manchester airport was neither a 4-star accommodation nor £110 per night, and my effort to get the correct information from the reservation service should have been handled more courteously.
Check-in initially went relatively smoothly. When I arrived, the queue at the front desk was short, and my key and room assignment were ready and waiting, along with directions toward the elevator and a wish for a good evening. Baggage handling at Bewleys is essentially self-service, but trolleys are available for those needing them.
THE FIRST ROOM
When I reached my "non-smoking" room, I was greeted by the strong smell of smoke and an ashtray. Don't get me wrong, I've stayed in any number of smoking rooms when a hotel is running at capacity. But I do not willingly stay in rooms that literally smell of smoke as this one did. So I steeled myself to go back down to the queue at the front desk.
Before leaving, however, I had time to note that the room was large and comfortable, containing a double bed and a complete sitting area that included a sofa, coffee table, and side chair--all in a vaguely Scandinavian style. Aside from the residual smoke, it had the feel and look of being clean in all the right places. I'm not sure whether the sofa made into a bed, but all things considered, that seemed likely. It was a good room for "spreading" and would have served a young family well. A full in-room tea service was included, UK style. I looked at that rather longingly as I headed for the door to go back down to the lobby.
On returning to the front desk with my request for a different room, I found a much longer queue and a busy staff. My request was handled with some confusion, as the room I had been assigned was apparently listed as "non-smoking." By the time I got to the bit about "but there's an ashtray on the table," the evening manager came along and instructed the clerk to find me another room.
As the process seemed a bit cumbersome, I suggested that I go back and retrieve my luggage while they sorted out my accommodation. When I returned, the new room assignment was ready, and I was off to settle in.
THE SECOND ROOM
The second room was smaller than the first, but there was still a double bed and the room happened to be fully handicapped accessible. No sofa this time, just the bed, bath, and a chair. Still, it suited my needs quite well, and it was non-smoking. The bath was larger than I expected, but it likely needed to be for handicapped accessibility. The vanity wrapped the corner, and it was large enough to accommodate a wheelchair-bound guest and a second, more mobile person. The lights in this room were activated by placing my keycard in a reader on the wall next to the door. I'd never encountered that particular feature before, and it took me a bit of time to get it all figured out.
Once settled into a lighted environment, I was ready for that comforting cup of tea, and I started searching for the tea service. The search came up empty--no tea service, no remote for the television. I was getting seriously miffed. The final straw came when I opened a bureau drawer and found the remains of a previous guest's dinner, disiccated lettuce and all, neatly stacked on a tray.
This time I called the front desk and asked for the manager on duty. The same young woman who had instructed that I be found another room listened politely to my list of complaints and asked me to give her 10 minutes to get it all "sorted."
Ten minutes later (well, maybe 12 minutes later), she appeared at my door with a tea service (brand new), a remote (also looking brand new), and the offer of yet another room, if I so desired. She apologized for the inconvenience, abjectly so for the dinner tray, and announced: "Of course, your evening's lodging will be complimentary. For good measure, she threw in a complimentary breakfast from the restaurant. I thanked her on all counts and said I was content to stay in the current room--especially so as she had taken care of my problems, and done so promptly. I declined the breakfast on grounds that I would need to be at the airport before the restaurant opened, though I appreciated the offer nonetheless.
Once the evening manager left, I settled down to my room and my tea. (By then, I had been at Bewleys for a bit over an hour.) That done, I do what I always do when traveling, I went exploring.
Bewleys Manchester Airport is no Grand Hilton, but it is a solid 3-star hotel. Housed in a better-than-average concrete block building, it has a relatively inviting exterior and even a bit of attractive landscaping. The lobby/lounge is no-nonsense business basic, but it is large and open. I regard that as an improvement over hotels trying to look like something they're not.
The hotel offers meeting rooms to accommodate up to 36 people, and though this wouldn't be my first choice for a conference or training site, the business rooms are attractive and more comfortable than many I've encountered in more "desirable" hotels. Standard meeting room amenities included projectors, DVD and CD players, and digital SmartBoards. Wireless Internet access was available throughout the hotel.
The Brasserie, the onsite restaurant, boasts Irish and Continental influences--fair enough, I suppose, if a tad pretentious. The menu included salmon, fettuccini, spring rolls, soup, fish and chips, some attractive salads--all rather UK generic in my book. The floor space in the restaurant was generous, and on the whole the Brasserie had the feel of a pub gone a bit modern. Prices were reasonable, and so was the variety. My fish and chips (a tribute to my last night in England before flying home) weren't the best I'd ever had, but the meal was good, substantial, and satisfying.
The hotel does not include a fitness center, and secure parking (even for guests) is by fee--£5 pounds per night, with discounts for lengthy periods.
Check-out took a matter of seconds. As promised, no tariff was charged, and even my farewell meal of fish and chips proved to be complimentary. A promise kept is a promise remembered.
I find that getting a sense of the "real deal" for any business generally has more to do with how its staff responds to things going wrong than it does with perfection. Bewleys gave me several counts on which to measure how it handles things going slightly wrong--nothing tragic, mind, just wrong. On the whole, they responded well and responsibly. Management took full charge of setting my issues to right, and did so with courtesy and promptness.
Based on my experience at Manchester, I would choose to stay at a Bewleys again if presented with the opportunity. I would advise, however, that they resolve the problem with the direct dial reservation service. (+ 44 (0)161 498 0333)
Web Site: http://www.bewleyshotels. com/manchester_airport_ho tel.asp
NOTE: The current tarriff for hotels in the Bewleys chain is £79, with the price at the Bewleys Manchester Airport increasing to £89 as 1 April 2008.