FTU: Sheraton Meadowlands – making guests hate them before arrival

Saturday, April 28. 8:35 am. Windswept Secaucus Junction.

“There are 5 of us here, please send a shuttle…I am a lifetime SPG Platinum and have a reservation, send a shuttle, our conference starts at 9…connect me to the general manager…”

Secaucus Junction, N.J.

A delightful place for a stranding, photo by jimcintosh

So went one of many angry conversations of Frequent Traveler University attendees attempting to reach the Sheraton Meadowlands Hotel & Conference Center.

The prior night The Rapid Traveler had a similarly nasty run-in with the Sheraton’s staff in trying to depart the hotel, being made to wait 55 minutes, then told the shuttle was only for registered guests and to get a taxi for $20+. That situation was eventually resolved but it was not pretty.

Some ways to dig into this perplexity:

1. The hotel staff sees a convention called “Frequent Traveler University,” hosted by luminaries of the travel world. Many attendees are not only SPG lifetime platinum members but flew United Airlines, on their weekend, TO NEWARK, to complain to a United Airlines representative about what it is like to fly United!

Understanding that these are decision makers for not only their own travel spend, but often for their family, friends and organizations, the Sheraton a) makes every effort to ensure a delightful weekend with happy memories of the property to tweet and take home or b) decides to piss off a lot of people on first impression with something as petty, but irksome, as the hotel shuttle.

OR

2. The hotel puts ‘Conference Center’ in its name because it would like to hold conferences. Conferences typically start between 8 am and 9 am. The first shuttle does not depart from Secaucus until 9:15 am and can only hold 12 people.

The hotel presumably also wants guests to stay with them. Guests often check-in during the afternoon. The shuttle does not run, even on weekdays, between 4:15 pm and 6:45 pm, because they are out doing corporate runs.

When the shuttle is not running, guests are told to take taxis so they are in a foul mood before they arrive.

At all times, conference attendees are told to take taxis since they are not staying at the hotel.

In answer to complaints, blame the outsource shuttle company and ‘liability issues’ in regard to non-guests.

Does this make sense to anyone?

The hotel website states (emphasis added):

We offer complimentary parking to our guests and offer courtesy shuttle service to and from Secaucus Outlet Center. Transportation service to and from the Meadowlands complex is also available for a nominal fee. Contact hotel directly for more information.

New York City, and all its attractions, restaurants, and shops, is only eight miles away. Enjoy a Broadway or Off-Broadway show, sightsee, or just enjoy a night on the town. Take advantage of our courtesy shuttle service to and from Secaucus Train Station.

Like the website, the hotel information hotline does not provide the shuttle schedule or state restrictions for non-guests. When The Rapid Traveler spoke to the hotel on the telephone, nothing was mentioned of the guests-only restriction.

And shouldn’t a conference attendee be considered a guest? Conference organizers pay hotels handsomely.

From NYC, a SPG lifetime platinum found the GM and got a refund for the taxi ride:

Just experienced this, on arrival at Secaucus station and had a chat with the GM, Marisol, about the lack of notice of such on their website. Cost me $27 with tip. To be taken off my room charges. Don’t know if my being Lifetime Plat played a role.

The event stretched over three days and the hotel did nothing to improve; the same angry debates were still carrying on Sunday afternoon.

It is hard for Americans not familiar with the greater NYC area to appreciate the importance of public transport links. A location with no public transportation access is a major turn-off, a number of attendees of the event did not bother coming Friday or Sunday because of the hassle just to get out to Secaucus. So marketing conferences in the area and then stiffing attendees is baffling. (That and no proper air conditioning in the meeting rooms.)

It would perhaps be better to not offer a shuttle at all and give up on NYC-originating business, so why does the hotel bother with the cost of a shuttle when many guests will feel it is bait-and-switch?

Unlike airlines, where options can be so limited that is it more predictable that they be tone-deaf to customers, just within the Meadowlands vortex there are several hotels in competition.

The event was a blast nonetheless and the organizers could not have imagined the hotel would fail in this area. Because of Rapid Travel Chai reader puzzlement that there has never even been a complaint about an upgrade not clearing in these pages, it was high time to blow off some steam at a deserving target.

Was the hotel itself ok? The Rapid Traveler does not know and now has no interest in finding out. Those in the Meadowlands for game days have plenty of alternatives.

Special thanks to Just Another Points Traveler, LarryInNYC, Deals We Like and Million Mile Secrets for the lifts they provided. The taxi fare savings are an IOU for a convivial meal.

Comments

  1. Saturday night, the shuttle took us to a restaurant in secaucus for dinner. We arranged to be picked back up at 9:45. We confirmed this with a phone call. No shuttle. We called every ten minutes and were told the driver was on his way and would be there within ten minutes. finally, an hour later, infuriated and exhausted, I demanded to speak with the manager. Same BS story. when we finally got picked up and back to the hotel (probably close to 11 pm), I asked if something “could be done” — and… they took 30 dollars off the bill. I don’t consider that a fair amount.

  2. @Kathy – glad you can get a laugh out of that! Good advice for sauna users everywhere: when visiting a new sauna, reconnoiter!

    @aadvantagegeek – No idea. Presumably franchise is something to watch out for, is there a convenient way to unclothe a hotel’s identity?

  3. I was there for the conference as well, but opted to take a cab from/to the airport, mainly because I didn’t like that it ran only once per hour. It wasn’t until I was at the hotel that I realized that it had a huge gap in service during the afternoon hours! Sorry to hear all the trouble…sounds like this should be addressed! Enjoyed your article – thanks for sharing!

  4. Seems to me that those running the conference that before choosing a conference location, they should first make sure that there is adequate transportation to and from that conference, either public, or provided by the hotel or the conference itself.

  5. The part I don’t understand is that, given that the hotel has substantial conference facilities and seems ideally located when trying to attract conferences that will have attendees from the city, they must deal with this sort of thing all the time. If, for whatever reason, they aren’t going to provide shuttle service (which doesn’t seem like a great idea, but whatever) you’d think they would know, from experience, how to handle expectations.

  6. My room had a filthy stained carpet and my wife was told she had to get off the shuttle and take another vehicle to go to NYC and pay $10!! Very strange place…….

  7. Im a plat, have been for 7 years. I attended ftu. Great event! I didn’t bother waiting for the shuttle. I donated my money to the cab company. Just checked my Amex statement. They double charged me for the room. I left a message for billing at the hotel to call me back. Nada!
    Pretty poorly run operation. I’d vote to not have this event at this hotel next time.

  8. I used to work at that property and part of my role was to “fix” the shuttle situation. However, I was only given a total of two shuttles that could only be staffed to run simultaneously two days a week. This is far less than enough to accommodate a 427 room, convention center property whilch runs at high occupancy. I also had to uncover for myself that the shuttle had been an issue “for years.”. My solution was to outsource the shuts entirely (we are hospitality professionals not transportation professionals” or to consider larger vehicles such as small busses. I was rejected on both fronts. Unfortunately the tools that are there set those involved up for failure. This results in the front desk constantly being bombarded by upset guests. It’s no surprise when they act without empathy as they hear these complaints every day and the executive team and ownership refuse to help. This property, by the way, is franchised and does a very good job covering up their blemishes to Starwood Corporate. It should lose its flag.

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