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"Habitat Suites" - Austins SXSW nightmare hotel

Unusual times need unusual measures. Normally this blog is in german. But as I just had the worst travel experience in my whole life, it only seems adequate to write this in the language the people involved understand.

I touch the envelope and know immediately, that something is wrong. It is 1.30 in the morning and I’m in the small anteroom of the “Habitat Suites” in Austin, Texas. I am annoyed, exhausted and tired. My only wish: to fall in a bed soon. But feeling the envelope I know my night will become much longer.

12 hours before I touch down in Chicago O’Hare. On the day the immigration in wide parts of the US had a computer problem. So it takes more than an hour to get through - I miss my flight to Austin. 

The only alternative United Airlines can offer me was the number one spot on the waiting list for the last connection to the city of SXSW, the huge interactive conference plus music festival plus film festival. Around 4 pm I call my hotel, the “Habitat Suites”, to ask them if they have a 24 hour reception. They don’t. But that won’t be a problem, I am told. After 11pm there would be an envelope with my name on it in the anteroom. In it I would find the key to my suite. The guy telling me that obviously looks at my booking, because he knows I will stay for 7 nights. 

I get on the United flight to Austin - but it leaves late because there is no crew. In Austin the limousine I ordered doesn’t show up. Above you see the taxi line. Hey, it’s SXSW and Austin is bursting with people. 

The taxi rolls to the entrance of the “Habitat Suites”. As soon as I get in the anteroom, the driver leaves. And I open the envelope with my name on it. In it there’s a hastily photo copied letter to “Thomas K.” (obvously there wasn’t even time to write down my whole name): 

“Thank you for making a reservation to stay with us… We require a valid credit card to guarantee all reservations. The card number on your reservation is either invalid or has been declined…

We are unable to check you into the hotel tonight. There are a number of other hotels within a few blocks of us: the Hilton, Super 8, and across the highway, the Doubletree.”

Yeah, right. No problem finding a room in the middle of the night before SXSW starts. Even funnier: They don’t mention the hotel closest to Habitat Suites, which is the Holiday Inn Midtown - but refer to a “Hilton”. There are three in twon - the closest is 6,8 miles away, according to Google Maps.

But the main point is: The guy I talked to could have mentioned any problems. He could have checked the card. And whoever cancelled the reservation could have activated a body part called “brain”.

The reservation came via the SXSW site - so I had to buy a ticket for the conference to get on this system. He or she saw my contact details - anytime he could have called or mailed me. He saw my german adress - so he could have guessed if I didn’t show up there might be a transatlantic problem. And there was not much of a risk in just leaving the key in the envelope and checking the next day. 

And here’s the most annoying part: They did have my credit card number. It was exactly the card which I later used to pay the bill. 

So I stand there with my suitcase (thank god Rimowa cases roll easily). I had seen the “Holiday Inn” sign fromt the taxi so I try this one. Of cause they don’t have a room - it’s SXSW. But they have a receptionist who knows his job: He sends me to a hotel with capacities - the “Allendale”.

Luckily I catch a taxi pretty soon. The receptionist at the “Allendale” is heartwarmingly friendly (as well as his colleague the next morning), the room is nice, the lobby is full of Texas hospitality. If this Hotel wouldn’t be so far up north, I would have stayed. 

But there was a conference to go to. So 7.30 next morning I’m back at the “Habitat Suites”. I tell the lady at the reception my story. She looks surprised and checks: My whole reservation was cancelled. Thank god no one showed up in the meantime to get a room - otherwise I would have be homeless in Austin. 

The rooms is, well, ok. Not more. The carpet desperately needs replacement, there’s a generator outside humming all night long. The shower was planned for dwarfs: it’s hanging at the height of my shoulder.

The “Habitat Suites” calls itself eco friendly because they are solar powered. Besides the panels there’s nothing obviously out of the ordinary.

Furthermore it is far outside of town besides a crumbling mall and a well known strip club. I wouldn’t recommend female guests to stay there without a car. But actually, I warn anybody to book a room there - they might end up sleeping in a car or at the airport. 

The “Habitat Suites” doesn’t care about any of that. If they are as environmentally friendly as they are hospitable, they are the BP of hotels. For my early morning trip to the airport I’m looking for a limousine service (never trust taxis during SXSW) - the receptionist doesn’t know a single one and says he would get back to me. Of cause I’ll never receive any message.

The morning I finally got my room, the receptionist said, she would pass my story on to the manager. If she did? I don’t know. I didn’t hear of him. So after 6 nights I left - without hearing a simple word: “sorry”. 

Habitat Suites
500 E Highland Mall Blvd
Austin, Texas 78752 


Reader Comments (1)

Hi Thomas, you should also post your story on tripadvisor's page so that an even wider audience has a chance to read your story.Cheers Karin

März 20, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterkarin

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