Monday, 20 July 2009

Hotel Therma Dunajska Streda - the Good and the Bad (There is No Ugly)

Hotel Therma Dunajska Streda Front, from We spent a long weekend at the Hotel Therma in Dunajska Streda, a small wellness hotel. I've been working with hotels for six years now and I have become a very picky critic so after visiting the Therma, I really felt like doing a short write up to benefit other picky potential guests.

How We Chose
We decided more or less on a whim to spend a long weekend outside of Bratislava. We did not want to travel far and wanted a nice hotel, reasonably priced, with a swimming pool.

I've had my eyes on the Therma ever since they were reviewed in Horeca, a trade magazine we subscribe to. I don't remember the details of the review but what stuck with me was the management response. I remember distinctly the manager was very welcoming of all criticism and saw it as an opportunity for improvement. That's not always the attitude, of course. More often than not managers get defensive when they are criticised and look for excuses.

The Therma webpage is beyong complicated - at one point I almost gave up on making the reservation because I couldn't load portions of the page in Firefox. I called their info line, where the (Hungarian-accented) lady was very friendly but ended up reserving online anyway since I could tell from her voice she dreaded the idea of taking all my personal details over the phone.

I liked the extra night free deal - in effect we spent three nights with breakfast for two adults and a baby for EUR 238, including some treatments (a Thai wrap, solarium, which we never used). All in all I think this is a good deal.

Dunajska Streda is a mainly ethnic Hungarian town little less than an hour from Bratislava (unless there is rush hour traffic). The Hotel is very well signposted around Dunajska Streda, although there was a bit of confusion and signs lacking at a few points near the main road. But we found the hotel easily enough.

Hotel Therma Dunajska Streda ViewThe first surprise was the hotel was located in an industrial zone surrounded by warehouses and assembly halls. This meant that the neighbourhood was not very well suited for walks - a big minus for us. The view from our window (pictured here) was of trucks followed by a green horizon.

The hotel itself is a compound consisting of the residential building, which looks like a rebuilt worker hostel, a new lobby and restaurant, wellness and the garden.

There was ample parking right in front of the hotel with a few out of town cars (Bratislava and Czech) and several cars of locals, apparently visiting the wellness.

Look and Feel
Upon entry, there was an odd, but not unpleasant faux-Asian ambience with a little wooden bridge, fountain, large fish tank.

The hotel itself was done up in colourful pastels with a lot of orange, yellow, blue. The furniture oscillates between traditional, tacky asian, colonial. It looked a little cheap but inoffensively so. All in all I see why the photo gallery in the hotel website does not really show very much (there are lots of photos but many of them show details of food and such).

The hotel's true highlight were the staff. Every encounter we had from the first receptionist who welcomed us, through restaurant and bar staff was pleasant. We genuinely felt welcome throughout our stay and there was never bitter taste of feeling that someone was trying to cheat or short-change us. When we came for breakfast or dinner buffet a waiter ushered us in and showed us around the buffet. On several occasions we were offered service that went beyond what we could reasonably expect (e.g. a head waiter offered to bring our unfinished bottle of sect to our room, at self-service dinner a waitress said I shouldn't wait for the grilled fish and brought it when it was done).

Every breakfast there was a fresh issue of the "Morning Post", the hotel newsletter. I loved the little touch (I haven't seen this done anywhere else before). The alliteratively named Hotel Therma General Manager Tihamer Tamas Toth welcomed arriving guests by name in the newsletter (I though some people may object on privacy grounds), there was weather info, info on temperature of water in the pools, special offers, lunch and dinner menu, a joke (not sure about copyright on these but they were genuinely funny: A frog with a paper bag on her head comes to a pharmacy. "Oh, my god. What's wrong?" the pharmacist asks. "Damn. Can't you tell this is a robbery?" the frog replies), local tips, wine suggestions...

In the lobby there is a large table with sofas and lots of newspapers and magazines, as well as a free computer with internet access.

The Room
The room we were assigned was a large corner room - nothing the designer should brag about but definitely solid and with quality furnishings. American-style high beds with box spring the hotel brags about had quality bed linens including an oversized pillow and another nice small pillow. There was a large desk, large closet, a few chairs.

The room was not air-conditioned (unlike a family-suite, which we asked to see and declined at EUR 20 extra per night, which had an air conditioned bed-room section but too small to fit the baby cot). Instead there was a very effective ceiling fan. The room was extremely warm most of our stay so the fan was a necessity and it was sufficient to make the room livable (we had to move the baby cot under the fan as well though, since away from the fan the room really was too warm).

The bathroom was also generous with a huge bath tub, two sinks, toilet, nice clean tiling. The fixtures were of good quality, which is definitely not the standard in other Slovak hotels, including other four-star hotels.

The minibar was very well stocked and extremely reasonably priced - soft drinks were less than EUR 1.50, which actually surprised me as cheap.

I never saw the housekeeping staff but I though they did a good job (though I did notice they left the drinking glasses unwashed).

As an avid reader of everyhting I liked there were ample little instruction materials on things like how to use the bathroom fixtures, minibar, safety, etc.

You know food is very high on my list of priorities. Generally, in the south of Slovakia the food is better than in the rest of the country. The Therma met my expectations in this respect.

First there was the breakfast buffet. Without exaggeration this was the best breakfast I've seen at a Slovak hotel (some four-star or five-star breakfasts abroad have been better). The selection was incredible. Just off the top of my head I will try to list what was on offer:
- a Hubert sect or Vilmos as aperitif (poured by the waiter)
- warm selection (sausages, grilled vegetables)
- goulash soup
- cold meats, cheese
- fake caviar, fake salmon
- treska
- fresh fruit
- selection of cereal
- warm and cold milk
- bryndza (surprisingly, given the region, some of the best I've had in a while)
- 4 or 5 kinds of bread
- fornetti pastries
- pancakes
- egg bar with eggs made to order
- different salads

Other than the stale bread one day the breakfast was perfect.

The dinner buffet was served at EUR 9.90 per person. At first we thought this was too much but the food was tasty and again there was great selection every day including two soups, several salads, cold cuts, three main dishes + grill. The dinner buffet moved venues every day, which was a nice change as well.

The wait staff were excellent. Genuinely welcoming and friendly, just the way waiters should be.

Hotel Therma Dunajska Streda TerraceThe hotel claimed several dining venues but I thought they all served the same menu. Also, everything closed by 10 pm so you were left with the minibar afterward. The nice bit, if you had effective enough mosquito spray on hand, was that you could take all your meals on the outdoor terrace (pictured here at breakfast with the egg bar).

One of the nights we ate fried fish and chips at a place round the corner from the hotel, this was also delicious and great value.

The wellness at the Hotel Therma was fairly small. A warm pool with a small jacuzzi section, three other even warmer sit down pools, a Kneipp foot bath (a warm and cold elongated pools you are meant to walk through, alternating), a small power shower back massage room. There was also a nice but small outdoor thermal pool.

The nice part was that the wellness was clean and there were very few people at most times. I did miss a kiddy pool (but liked the funnily named Deckoland with toys on the ground floor).

In addition there were saunas but I never discovered these since there were no signs (there was also a bowling alley at the hotel I never discovered).

Outdoors there was also a tennis court and the Japanese gardens. I didn't quite understand these, they seemed a little unhygienic and pretty small and there were tons of mosquitoes so I never spent much time wondering around.

The highlight for me though was the "Asia Spa" - with Thai massage therapists. With a 60-minute Thai massage for EUR 25 (cheaper than the EUR 40 Bratislava standard or the budget EUR 28 massage at Michalska, with an additional 25% discount available if you register at the hotel webpage). I had a Thai wrap (peeling followed by warm oil and being wrapped in plastic, which is not quite my kind of treatment) and a traditional Thai massage, which was painful but superb. This alone makes the Therma worth going to, in my view.

At the end of our stay we felt that while there was little remarkable about the Therma, we actually enjoyed the stay. I appreciated the scale - the fact that the place wasn't packed, the good food and decent enough wellness facilities (with special mention for the Thai massage). What carried the experience for us, though, were the remarkable Hotel Therma staff - for once, I felt welcome and appreciated as a guest at a hotel in Slovakia.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

A few cool things to try with Facebook ads

I've been playing around quite a bit with Facebook ads over the last few weeks and have some interesting theories to test. I have to say I like the system a lot for its simplicity, targetting possibilities and the ad format with picture included (one negative to mention is having to wait for manual review of your ad text after any, even very minor change, such as capitalisation).

I first played around with Slovak and English ads for The Slovak ads featuring a toilet bowl (from a guest photo taken at a hotel in Bratislava) did generate some interest, but I have no way of gauging their actual effectiveness (their objective was to let Slovaks know is a good place to get help finding accommodation for their guests). The English language ads performed poorly - the two campaign had a total of 42 clicks, since there was no reasonable way of targetting them to a qualified crowd.

A few months ago I ran a campaign to sell my car. I was trying to sell my Alfa Romeo 147 in the middle of the Slovak car-scrapping craze in May. I advertised on Autovia, a leading Slovak car classifieds site, but was not receiving too many calls.

I then put and ad on Facebook with a photo of the car and managed to get almost 1,200 people in Slovakia over the age of 18 to visit my Autovia ad for $125. I did end up finding a buyer, as well.

For the past 10 days or so, I've been running a (massively successful) campaign for designDOT, a new Slovak school of interior design for hobby designers (the 'client', due to personal ties, gave me almost unlimited freedom in experimenting with the campaign and let me have input into landing page design as well).

I've had a chance to play around with targetting (separate ads for women and men, breaking down ads by age groups), budgetting, landing pages, etc.

Two things really intrigue me about the Facebook ads system:
1. Due to the wealth of info Facebook has on its users, you can play around with crazy targetting. You can target ads by very narrow age bands (e.g. you can advertise specifically to 26-year olds, 30-year olds, etc.), by employer, sexual orientation. This lends itself to creating ads that mention the user's age or exploit the other detailed info.
2. This is a hypothesis, which have to test a lot more, but it sounds reasonable. Since advertisers set maximum daily budgets and (at least based on my experience) sometimes use them up in full before the end of the day, a given demographic should be cheaper to reach towards the end of the day in its timezone. There is no "day parting" at the moment, so this can only be done manually. But for some advertisers this could be worthwhile - turn on your ads in the evening and let them end at the end of the day.

I am going to try to entice my colleagues at Pizza SEO to take part in (and bankroll) some more experimentation because I think there is a lot of value in Facebook Ads at the moment.

Were you looking for information on cool things to put on Facebook?