It was an almost inconsequential hotel setup in terms of both size and operations. Located on a 40-year-old two-storey shoplot – we know because that’s where Azura found her favourite ice-cream stall still standing proud – the accommodation was hardly the type of place a discerning tourist would lay his eyes on.
But then, I was not in any capacity to choose after the Hari Raya, Christmas – also wife’s birthday – and New Year spending. Hence with a budget similar to that of organising a Ramly burger party, we found ourselves dragging up our bags of a seemingly lifetime-long flight of steps to the reception area.
Understandably worried that wife would leave me and parents would disown me after their initial sight of the place, I hurried towards the manager, all ready to pounce on her claims of being the state’s best. Well, the fact is that it wasn’t only her claims, as TripAdvisor ranked it #1 out of 81 hotels in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah.
The 26-room hotel’s co-founder was answering telephone enquiries, changing batteries on the air-conditioner’s remote, and sketching out directions for the foreign couple in front of the reception desk. Her business and life partner was busy making sure that both of our rooms were ready for us, while at the same time reminding a cleaner to vacuum some dust from the lobby area. Ok, in truth it was more like a five feet wide passageway than a lobby.
When she enthusiastically greeted me by my name without me introducing myself – she had already asked my flight times and arrival few days before – and the smile that came along with it, the tiger in me had turned to a kitten, but still slightly stirred. The rooms looked clean and presentable, while the bathroom did not have tiny creatures coming out of the sink and water holes. Since I did not pay for a Shangri-La or a Hilton brand, Hotel Eden54 seemed okay with us.
As this was a “homecoming” for Azura – born and lived her early years there in K.K – the manager and her team provided us with very helpful hand-drawn maps, tips and tricks on getting around the area, good car rental provider, and friendly taxi driver, who helped us reached Azura’s first school.
Whenever we bumped into each other – the “lobby” did not make it too hard to meet one another – the owner shared her stories about their dream to operate a hotel, spoke about unimportant subjects, and grumbled about the hectic city life in K.L. It was very genuine communication and not one that felt “PR-like”.
Even two power cuts during the 5-day period of our stay and the need to change room due to full bookings, did not really spoil our mood. They responded quickly enough – quick in terms of Sabah’s slower than Klang Valley timing – and were sincere enough with us throughout the difficulties.
This shows that you don’t have to be among the big boys and be flashy about your products to make your presence felt. All it takes is a very committed team, offering the best products within your means, sincerity in serving your customers, and a small lobby to make it a very pleasant experience for your customers. Of course being listed #1 on TripAdvisor helps.