“ Address: 149 Rua Castilho / Lisbon 1099-034 / Portugal „
The Le Meridien Park Atlantic Hotel prides itself on being one of the top business hotels in Lisbon. I chose this hotel to hold a conference organised by me and run by my husband who is a managemet trainer and consultant. The conference was an International Learning Conference and was a prestigious affair taking place over 4 days and featuring many well known management gurus like Peter Honey, David Clutterbuck and Belbin. The delegates who attended where a representation of business managers from all over Europe including countries like Germany, Uk, Slovakia, Poland and Finland. Special guests who attended were representatives from the Portuguese Embassy and Portuguese Media.
The whole organisational process took approximately 9 months. In that time I liaised with the hotel by telephone, fax and e-mail. All the marketing of brochures, advertising, invitations, pens and paper were designed solely by me and I was on the spot every day to make sure the conference ran smoothly. That is all about my involvement in this scenario but now I will explain just why this hotel is not top class in my view as a business venue.
Pre- Conference Administration
On the whole I would say that the staff I liased with were pretty competent although I did always double check any paperwork, faxes etc. mainly because of the language barrier and as I wanted the whole affair to be tailor made I wanted to be doubly sure that they followed my instructions. Although Lisbon is a top city regarding business and a lot of people speak English fluently I did find that some mistakes were made and had to be rectified. My main criticism is that I never just dealt with one person - usually 3 or 4 different admin staff which at times was frustrating as I had to repeat converstaions time and time again.
Overall I will mark the administration staff 6/10
I was and am very familiar with Lisbon so I wanted to choose a hotel that was central and easy for delgates to get around especially with most of them being newcomers to the city. My aim was to make their stay stress free and as comfortable as possible. They were paying me a lot of money so I really did want everything to run smoothly and be perfect. The city is historical and one of the most beautiful in Europe and I wanted delegates to enjoy their stay and have time to do some sightseeing.
The location is centrally situated next to the Marques Pombal Square and facing the Eduardo VII park. The airport is only 8 kilometres away as well as the Trade Fair and Convention Centre. The metro station and Subway is 5 minutes walk and the bus station only 3 minutes walk. Once you leave the front entrance you can either walk to the park or cross over the road to walk to the Armoreiras Shopping Centre which has 300 shops. Cafes and restaurants are plentiful and within walking distance. Beach access is also only 15 kilometres away in the same direction as the casino. The famous Gulbenkian Museum is 2 kms away and so is the Lisbon Zoo. So you can see I had done my homework and knowing that all delegates would have some spare time throughout the conference I wanted them to have a variety of attractions to visit if they wanted to.
Also, the views from most of the hotel rooms were fantastic as the hotel is in an elevated position. I was happy with the location so I will mark this 10/10
My husband and I arrived a day early mainly to get organised and make sure that everything was going to run smoothly. I remember walking through the front doors and seeing the reception and concierge desk and was impressed. A porter came to greet us, dressed in his bright, shiny uniform and all the staff on reception looked very smart and professional.
The foyer itself was large and had a grand piano situated in the centre of the main floor which was pretty impressive. Plant life was displayed all around and there were many comfy armchairs and small tables for people to sit and take their drinks.
From the reception desk was a winding staircase leading upwards to the conference rooms and other floors. My first impressions were good and I began to fell relaxed.
We were shown up to our room by the porter who also brought our cases. We opened the door and this is were the feeling of relaxation ended and I became a little irritated. I wasn't really impressed with the room at all. I have stayed in many Portuguese hotels and they vary quite a lot. In Cascais which is further down the coast, a lot of the hotels there are very dated and have what I call the 1930's 'teak look'. By this I mean everything is made out of chipboard covered in a teak finish but it is the lighting that gives the hotels the 1930's look. It is always so dim. Well this room in the 4 star Lisbon Hotel wasn't much better. Our room was a Superior Twin. The decor is classed as modern but I thought it was extremely bland. At least everything was colour co-ordinated. The colours were beige and brown with a natural coloured carpet and matching accessories like a vase strategically placed and a couple of banal, modern paintings decorating the walls. The en-suite bathroom was very clean and had everything you needed - bidet, bath being made from marble, shower, cupboards for toiletries and of course - a toilet! The view from the window was the talking point and made me smile - it was spetacular as we could see right over the park. Although my mood mellowed with the view I was still not very happy with the room so I asked if we could see some of the other delegates rooms thinking we would swap if we could find one better. Unfortunately all the rooms were kitted out in the same decor.
Once the initial disappointment was over I decided to unpack. The plan was to have a couple of drinks and then some dinner in the restaurant before having an early night for a fresh start in the morning. However, the phone in our room rang. It was the Manager inviting us for a drink in the foyer just to go over a few things regarding the conference. After changing into something a bit more casual we went down to meet the Manager and the Liaison Officer. We shook hands and he asked us what we would like to drink so we opted for a glass of red wine. He seemed very amiable. He wanted to go through the requirements for the 4 days and for us to check all costs which I thought was a good thing to do. Fortunately I did have handy my file with all the paperwork in. When booking this hotel I stipulated more than once that I wished to be charged a delegate price - this is a set price for each delegate and includes the price of the room, breakfast, and all use of the conference facilities. The only extras I thought that I would have to pay for were for the welcome party on the first evening which was a selection of nibbles and various drinks.
When he actually showed me the bill which was already made out I nearly died. It was at least 3,000 pounds more than I had budgeted for. I went into complete panic attack and my husband started off speaking very calmly but as the conversation went on his voice became louder and more distressed. Basically they were trying to tell us that certain items weren't including in the delegate price for example coffee and teas in the morning and afternoon, bottled water and juice which is a necessity in a conference room, pens, paper and pencils which we didn't need or want, as I had only had hundreds made already with my own design. No matter how many times I showed him the copies of the signed contracts which had been sent to me through the post he was still adamant that this was the price we should pay. You can imagine I wasn't happy and I began to raise my voice which when doing busines with a Portuguese person, it is the worst thing you can do as they really do not like arguments and it is looked at, as bad form. Good form, bad form - I really didn't care by then - this situation had thrown me; he wouldn't reconsider the price and the next morning I had 15 delegates arriving from all over Europe. Not a good way to start a 4 day event.
As we hadn't eaten all day we decided to go down to the restaurant for dinner and told the Manager we would see him tomorrow and talk again about the final bill. He said that perhaps he would be able to arrange a little discount. I won't tell you what I thought or said under my breath but it wasn't polite.
Next Day - Delegate Arrival and Welcome Party
The next day I felt relaxed after a good sleep although still slightly disturbed about the bill but I had to put that behind me and get on with the task of greeting all the delegates. Most of them arrived mid afternoon which was fine as we had arranged a small welcome drink on the first floor so everybody could get to know each other.
I went up to the first floor to check that everything was okay and had been set out properly about 40 minutes before. Yes, everything was nicely arranged and there was also a small cocktail bar so if delegates didn't want any of the drinks on offer they could choose something from the bar which would go on my bill but as it was the first evening and some people were nervous they were very well behaved and didn't drink too much or have any drinks from the bar. There was a waiter/barman on hand to pour the drinks.
This was all satisfactory 10/10
Breakfast was set out in the L'appart restaurant in buffet style. Artistically, the buffet spread, every morning, was quite spectacular and very colourful with all sorts of exotic fruits, breads and seeded rolls, croissants, patties, fishcakes, ham, cheeses, sausages, eggs, yogurts, cakes, cereals, dried fruit, nuts and seeds. I have never seen such an array of assorted foods. Delegates could choose and eat as much as they liked. Tea and coffee and other beverages were served by waiters/waitresses. I cannot fault the food but I did get complaints from several of the delegates that the service was slow and they had to wait too long for coffee to be served. The ambience in the seating area was warm and cosy and I will give the breakfast experience 8/10
Lunch was eaten in the same room and again buffet style. Serving International and Portuguese dishes as well as traditional fish and seafood dishes.
Most delegates ate out in the evening so I can only comment about Breakfast and Dinner facilities.
You would think in a four star hotel in a major city that the reception staff would be professional. I have to say they were the most unprofessional people I have ever worked with. Everything seemed to be too much trouble for them. One American delegate was fuming with the staff one day as she had asked them to book a taxi and they were quite rude and off hand with her and told her that she would have to go outside to the taxi rank for one. Of course she came to me and had words. I sorted it out, made them order a taxi and they damn well knew I wasn't pleased. Often when I wanted information or to use the fax or Internet they were very offhand and supercilious. Other delegates had noticed this manner also. When delegates had asked for advice on the best restaurants to eat at the reception desk, staff were totally disinterested and said that they didn't know of any good restaurants. I ended up not only being the conference organiser but a tour guide as well! I will give the reception staff 5/10 for incompetence, arrogance and unproffesionalism.
In the brochure the hotel offers what they call a full business centre. Basically this is series of meeting rooms and function rooms which can be used as one large conference room or split into several smaller rooms. The facilities can accomodate up to 550 people. Our conference lasted 4 days and we had 8 speakers so we split the day up into two halves to accommodate 2 speakers in one day. In the morning and afternoon we had coffee, tea and biscuits served in an ante room outside the conference room.
Technically the facilities were very good and all the rooms we used were adequate and well equipped. However, every morning it was my job at 8am before my breakfast to go up to the conference room to inspect that everything had been laid out properly with pads, pen and paper, water, juice etc. The first day the room had not been hoovered and crumbs were everywhere on the carpet. The tables hadn't been laid out and the flipcahart and projector where nowhere to be seen. When I saw the state of the room I felt physically sick. A young lad was hoovering and I asked him where the Liason Manager was and he told me that she didn't arrive until 9pm. I looked at the speed he was hoovering and I very nearly grabbed the hoover off him to do the job myself. I was so outraged. I thought, My God, what are we paying all this money for?. It was a disgrace. I went to the admin office and started ranting and raving. A young girl who was the Liason Officer said, 'Please don't worry - everything will be ready on time.' I just glared at her and shouted, 'I don't think so . You have 45 minutes - get it sorted - now!'
I went back to the conference room and my husband appeared. I didn't have to say anything as he could see the mess the room was in. He went and had a word with the manager and he sent another girl who started giving orders to the young lad and at the same time she got stuck in changing the room around. I helped her to arrange all the chairs and placed delegates pads and pens etc and put all the glasses out. Eventually the main Liason Manager came and she put her hand on my shoulder and said in such a patronising voice - 'Calma, Calma.' I said, 'Don't calma me - you are being paid to do a job and it hasn't been done. This is not being very professional.' She then looked at my husband shrugged her shoulders and said, 'I can't work with your wife - she's mad.'
Luckily the delegates were a bit slow at returning from breakfast so by the time they arrived the room was okay but the stress it caused me to see the room in that state I cannot describe to you..
For the rest of the conference the rooms were set out and cleaned although not to my particular high standard.
I will give the conference facilities 8/10 and the conference staff 6/10
Gift Shop - good selection of gifts and cards
Doctor on Call /Nurse
Non Smoking Rooms
Car Rental Hire Desk
The conference was actually a big success and we had a lot of media coverage in Lisbon and Portugal. Delegates enjoyed meeting the speakers and loved Lisbon as a city. They had mixed reactions about the hotel. Most delegates thought the hotel was attractive and adequate but overrated. nearly all delegates thought the reception staff were arrogant and bad mannered.
My own personal opinion is that the hotel staff are unprofessional and rude. The hotel itself is an elegant enough building in a very attractive location. The conference facilities are very good but not brilliant compared with other 4 star hotels in UK and Europe. Liasing with conference staff was difficult and at times very frustrating. Regarding the bill it was paid by my husband on departure with a discount of £1,500 not the full £3,000 and to top it all when he went to the porter for the keys to his car which was in the underground parking he was given another bill for 4 days parking. He took the keys, screwed up the bill and said, 'You know what you can do with that......!'