Back in February Wyndham Worldwide announced they were going to resuscitate their Howard Johnson chain of motels, news that was met with general scepticism and derision. HoJo, as it likes to be called but seldom is, had been synonymous with cheapest of the cheap, lowest of the low for many years, a victim of brand confusion, sell-outs and red-hot competition in the lowest of the low sector. Speaking to USA Today, CEO Eric Danziger referred to HoJo as a great American power brand, a part of Americana, at risk of going the way of Pan Am (a pretty strong metaphor for down).
Mr Howard Johnson, First World War veteran started out with an ice cream business in 1925, then a chain of restaurants, before expanding into motels in 1954 and enjoying the benefits of a boom in American road travel, expanding coast to coast through the 60s. Obviously it all went swimmingly until it didn’t, hence the Wyndham HoJo system-wide revamp plan which is being rolled out as I type.
One of the early makeover beneficiaries is Scottsdale’s HoJo. On the hotel’s Facebook page, a Sami M nicely captures the general mood of suspicion and cautious optimism among HoJo guests up and down the land: “Our actual room was pretty nice, even had a luxury feel. The decor was not cheesy or dirty-looking, including the nice bathroom counter, shower tiling, a picture above the bed, and decorative mirror above the work area. The bedding was white and crisp, and the comforter was heavy and snuggly. Pillows looked strangely smaller than the pillow cases (maybe this is a common hotel thing so they stay completely covered?), but were clean and firm, with no soft spots or lumps.” Excellent.
Having stayed at a lot of motels (which I’ll be ranking and reviewing in a later post), I can say hand on heart that none had real fruit in bowls in the reception area 24/7. The Arts District location is great, the lobby surprisingly designer cool, and the young receptionist, friendly and helpful (not obstructive, ‘hilarious’ or laconic). There’s the pool, the palms and the bougainvillea, and then the rooms which are huge, pleasant, well-lit with crisp white bedding on a big, good bed.
I’d estimate the rate per night at around $180 – it was actually just over $40. With free wi-fi, parking, coffee, soap, a confusing number of TV channels and maid service that works out as a lot cheaper than paying a mortgage and municipal pool fees in the UK and the weather is better. Move in, why don’t you.
In true it was the best of times, worst of times fashion, however, I do have to add a caveat. Sitting, working at the one desk shared with desk level sockets and the coffee-making paraphernalia I reached to lift a jug of freshly percolated bubbling coffee and the handle flexed away, the glass broke and ahoy, my Mac was bobbing on a hot brown sea. It’s my personal opinion that a) a quality jug is strong enough to hold coffee (yes, yes, well under the max fill level) and b) that if it had been standing on a tray with a rim all the liquid would have been contained, and let’s throw in a c) desk-mounted power sockets + coffee: not a great idea. Maybe they should provide one place for working and one place for brewing? Basically, I reckon a little bit of budget design and fitting lingers on in what is otherwise a rightly vamped property.
Emergency Mac diagnosis was quoted over the phone as starting at $750 + $800 for data + cost of new Mac. Turned out I got it repaired (shout-out for Mac Masters, Scottsdale) for just under $500. Great. Spent the day hanging around outside Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and not buying Southwestern jewellery or Indian nicknacks, and celebrated the we can fix it with a margarita at Saucy Senoritas, but lost a day of filming. I do think HoJo were liable, and I’d like to think the next time it happens they upgrade their coffee makers and stand them on proper trays. They didn’t reimburse me the repair costs, but they did apologise and refund the price of the room. I’d probably stay there again, but I’d stick to cold drinks.