I've just spent three weeks in South Africa, Zambia and Malawi. For most of this trip, I stayed at several Protea Hotels by Marriott and I recently reviewed the following seven properties:
Marriott acquired Protea Hotels in 2014
and by 2016 it was officially re-branded as Protea Hotels by Marriott. I've stayed at Protea hotels both before and since the re-branding - at the Protea Hotel Transit Johannesburg Airport
and in Nigeria at the Protea Hotel Kuramo Waters Lagos
. However, my stays this year were a real eye-opener, as I found Protea Hotels to be a mediocre product at best. This is what I learned with my seven recent stays.
The customer is
always never right
With the exception of the Protea Blantyre Ryalls, which features fantastic staff at every turn, the front desk staff at Protea Hotels are always right
. The amount of entitlement I saw with the staff is epic. Plus most of my check-ins in all 3 countries were slow, cold and wordless or just a real mess. At the Protea Hotel Stellenbosch, the agent got most of it wrong, including my name, my reservation, my payment type, the Marriott Rewards benefits and even the WiFi code. Does Marriott train any of the Protea staff?
The internet is a total fail in most properties
While the WiFi at the Protea Hotel O.R. Tambo Airport and the Protea Hotel Kruger Gate were the only real stable connections I experienced in these 7 stays, it was still slow at 1.5 to 2 Mbit. The internet at all the other Proteas I stayed at varied between not working at all or hardly working, which can be so frustrating. The worst of the bunch was the Protea Hotel Cape Town Mowbray, who noted my issue of the internet barely working at all, but said nothing could be done until after I'd left!
The beds are usually excellent
Where everything else fails, a great bed can make up for much of it if you can at least sleep well. I found that Protea Hotels tend to have great beds that are usually nice and firm and come with lovely, high-quality linens.
Marriott Rewards is a language from another planet
Marriott Rewards benefits are usually not honored or even mentioned at Protea Hotels in these countries. The worst offender for me was the Protea Hotel Kruger Gate - how can a Marriott hotel, where the front desk is plastered with Marriott Rewards 'join here' stickers, and where I have redeemed points for my stay, tell me that the hotel DOES NOT participate in Marriott Rewards? Even the manager agreed with the front desk staff the next day. It's just baffling.
There are no executive lounges
Protea does not have to claim any executive lounges, but really I would have wished at least some of the properties would be exceptions.
The free breakfast is usually very basic (and often not free)
Some Protea hotels offer free breakfast to Marriott Rewards elites, while other properties offer it to all paying guests, and some properties charge for breakfast. It tends to differ widely depending on the Protea. The Protea Hotel Cape Town Mowbray was one of the few I stayed at that honored my Marriott Gold membership, but the complimentary breakfast benefit that it came with here was terrible.
Likewise, the free breakfast at the Protea Hotel Livingstone was so bad that I ate my own food instead and the complimentary spread at the Protea Hotel Blantyre Ryalls was just as disappointing.
Food at Protea Hotels is generally bad
The food was generally a big letdown at most, if not all, of the properties I stayed at. Buffets and breakfasts were often generous spreads, but with low-quality items. Even dinner at the renowned 21 Grill On Hannover at the Protea Hotel Blantyre Ryalls had chicken and steak dishes that were barely edible and were certainly not fresh.
The housekeeping staff are pretty great
Aside from one maddening incident at the Protea Hotel Cape Town Mowbray, where housekeeping knocked and then walked into my room without waiting for an answer late at night, I found the housekeeping staff to be great and friendly. Overall, my rooms and the public areas at all the Protea Hotels were clean and tidy to a good standard.
The AC units tend to be too loud and ineffective
How anyone can sleep with the air conditioning on at the Protea Hotel Cape Town Mowbray, the Protea Hotel Livingstone or the Protea Hotel Stellenbosch, I'll never know. The AC is just excessively loud at these properties, let alone noisy and annoying at most of the Proteas I stayed at. Other hotels should follow the Protea Hotel Blantyre Ryalls' lead, which features a well-working unit that is incredibly quiet and effective.
Most stays are great value at 7,500 points
In the most expensive African cities, it's impressive to find Marriott properties at such great value when redeeming points for your stay. Except for the Protea Hotel O.R. Tambo Airport and the Protea Hotel Cape Town Mowbray (which were actually good value, too, at 10,000 points each) my stays were priced at just 7,500 points Marriott Rewards per night
The Protea Hotel Kruger Gate often charges $250 a night, so redeeming 7,500 points here for example is an excellent deal. Even better, the Protea Hotel Blantyre Ryalls in Malawi has posted rates of $250 to $300, but 7,500 points per night makes it a steal.
Some of the issues with Protea can be overlooked when you get such a great deal with points, but it's clear that Marriott should work on the hotels to get them up to standard anyway - and soon. If staff were trained properly and the internet at least worked, some of these properties could really be great.