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Sort it out Greece

When you have spent the first two days of your holiday on the telephone and iPad looking for an alternative hotel, and then when you find one, discover it is worse than the one you left it for, you could be forgiven for thinking that almost any half decent hostelry will be a haven. Our first hotel on this holiday was sweet, but our room was hideous and several other aspects were simply unacceptable. So, using my experience and knowing I will never tolerate or get used to it, I decided to move.

The place we have eventually settled at - the third within 48hrs - is the haven I mention and after two days of uncertainty that began to turn into desperation, I believe I would have been beguiled by little more than a clean bed. But St George's Bay Hotel is significantly more than that (for a price) and would appear to be a rarity; a Greek hotel that actually cares about its guests; such an accusation seems harsh in light of the country's troubles, but the British travel industry has been an accomplice in this brazen and heartless disregard for their customers. It is not as if Greece is cheap to visit either; last year my family of five spent two weeks in Barbados for the price of a three star fortnight in the Ionian.

Two years ago I made the mistake of travelling with Thomson Holidays to Lefkas and experienced some of the worst behaviour by a rep that I have ever seen and who showed a breathtaking ignorance towards how it felt to pay a small fortune to stay in a toilet of a hotel. The horrors of that hotel are too numerous to mention but the rep, and then her colleagues back in London, did everything they could to try to convince me that I was being unreasonable. Eventually, after Thomson took the full 28 days allowed for every stage of the complaints process, I received a substantial refund. Conversely, my experience here in Corfu was actually alleviated by my travel company, British Airways Holidays, and I have nothing but praise for how they offered an immediate refund of the hotel element.

I spent a good few years in and around the travel industry and back then, there was always genuine contact between a tour operator and the properties they sold. Today, with the explosion of the internet suppliers, there are many dangers; BA use a third party hotel rep and are at a distance from the properties they send their clients to. It is this fact that meant they did not quibble too much about our desire to leave the hotel we had booked - they themselves couldn't trust it. But other companies are engaged in selecting properties, and their frame of reference for what is acceptable has shifted catastrophically downwards. Neither the holiday companies nor the hotels appear to care what you or I think. The desk clerk at the second nightmare hotel we went to on this trip was extremely angry when, after fifteen minutes there, I apologetically told him we were leaving again.

"What is wrong with it?" he asked with incredulity.

"If I have to explain that to you then there is little point in me doing so," I said, sweetly, trying to avoid an argument I knew had the potential to end with me punching him extremely hard in the face.

"What do you expect?" he spat, shrugging his shoulders. Whilst I resisted the temptation to use his ears to throw him through the dirty windows of reception, I am afraid I went a bit 1970's Fulham on him.

"A swimming pool that I can see to the bottom of would be a fucking start, sunshine".
I managed to say this whilst emitting a polyphonic growl (around bottom E) and probably sounded like the girl in the Exorcist.

His question had so irked me because he seemed to be asking, without actually saying the words, "what do you expect... for the price you are paying?". He may have had a point if I was paying twenty quid a night. But I wouldn't have been. I would have been required to fork out nearly £1900 for twelve nights in this abomination that claimed to be four stars but was barely two, and whose environs were reminiscent of old Peckham housing estates I once knew. The slop pool-bar, manned by a petulant tosspot of a barman, the smell of piss and shit from the pool toilets, the crumbling walls and paintwork; none were deployed in the argument with the offended receptionist because his manager appeared, armed with some politeness and understanding. Her intervention meant, perversely, that I ended up feeling sorry for her since she had no doubt realised what ruin the hotel had been allowed to fall to. The conversation, and our relationship with the hotel, ended there and then.

Of course, reporting a third, happy experience at St George's suggests there are still some hotels in Greece that care and it is foolish to condemn the whole industry. But the prices at St George's are, shall we say, robust, and having forked out a significant amount for the first hotel, it should not be required of me to spend even more just to get good basic standards of accommodation and service. Which suggests that there is a swathe of absolutely awful hotels beneath this one charging four and five star prices for two star quality.

I came to Greece - honestly - to do my bit as they face severities imposed upon them by Germany and its friends. Yet I sense this is all part of that awful spiral that austerity creates; whilst you try to scrabble around to save and / or make more money, you ensure that you will make less and less. In the case of the travel industry, they are currently shooting themselves in the foot - I will be extremely wary of returning again. But as I sit here writing this, I am struck by a cruel irony. The St George's Bay Country Club Hotel, where care was shown, where re-investment of the income derived from charging large fees is made, where enough staff are still employed, keen to serve and help, an apparent oasis of normality and sense of a fair return for monies managed by Germans.

I understand that people have different standards, that we all tolerate different things, perceive things in a variety of ways, but I hear too often that we should just "get on with it and enjoy your holiday". Yet I find that less and less, I can't just get on with it when a hotel staff member looks at me as though I am mad because I expected there to be sun parasols around a pool where the temperature is 36 degrees in the shade. Or if I show surprise that the pool bar, trumpeted in their literature, is actually closed during the hours I would be using the pool. Or that I don't want mould around the bath, or crumbling mortar around a clean pool. I don't want any of these seemingly small problems when I have paid multiple thousands of pounds. Are we really now expected to pay several thousands of pounds more to get these things? It seems so. It would appear that the bar of acceptability is so low, so unrelated to the prices we pay, that millions of people have now been taught to accept whatever they are given. They must have, because such a grotesque situation would normally never be allowed to exist; it is time that holidaymakers learned to expect more, complain and refuse to pay, demand refunds etc. Only this way will hotels and holiday companies begin to understand what is acceptable and then provide it.


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