In search of hotel excellence: Abigail’s Hotel

By all accounts, Abigail’s would not be on the radar of most travelers. After all, the property is unaffiliated with neither a major chain nor a representation firm such as Leading Hotels of the World, Preferred Hotels & Resorts or Relais & Chateaux. Yet, with Abigail’s ranking as the top property in Victoria, British Columbia, on TripAdvisor, I decided that a further inspection was warranted.

Victoria is the capital of British Columbia, Canada’s westernmost province, with a population of 330,000. Located off the mainland on Vancouver Island, Victoria is considered a haven for Canadian retirees, and my quick survey of the tourist scene confirmed this. (At age 59, I felt young again!) The downtown waterfront district is dominated by Fairmont’s majestic Empress Hotel, with other major chain properties located snugly around the rejuvenated port area.

Abigail’s Hotel is about five minutes by car (10 minutes walking) from the center of town. I was encouraged to walk, but not knowing our way, felt more comfortable driving — a trip we did several times each day, as parking was just a few dollars a day and free in the evening.

The heritage property has 23 rooms and was built in 1930, having been converted from an apartment building some 27 years ago. Comprising two separate buildings wrapped around a small motor court, the property’s Tudor style looks quaint and inviting. Each of the rooms is unique. My room comprised a well-decorated, modest-sized bedroom with fireplace and a somewhat triangular-shaped bathroom. Well equipped, comfortable for sure, but certainly not fully to the modern standards one would expect in a luxury property.

The well-appointed common rooms comprised a reception room flanked on either side by a living room to the right, and a breakfast room to the left. Walk straight ahead, and you are in a small but very pleasant courtyard. With no elevator, this property would not meet any accessibility requirements.

Hitting all the right notes for TripAdvisor

What I just described in the past few paragraphs would have you scratching your head as to how Abigail’s achieved its top TripAdvisor rating. It certainly isn’t the physical attributes or amenities of the property that delivered these accolades.

What drives the excellent rating is the service: personalized and professional. With a small but dedicated staff, Abigail’s has found the expert balance between helping and being overly obtrusive. Breakfasts are made to order by a chef and supported by efficient and happy waitstaff. A complimentary happy hour provided excellent snacks in the pre-dinner hour. Free wireless was provided. Throughout the stay, it was impossible to find fault. This level of service would be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve in a property of 200-plus rooms without enormous (and not affordable) staffing levels.

This supports my hypotheses on achieving high TripAdvisor ratings:

  • Service is more important than physical structure.
  • Guests do not like to pay for extras, and your ratings may suffer as you add costs. The final bill at Abigail’s had two lines: room and tax.
  • Positive staff attitude trumps any fancy new room features. This is something to keep in mind as you seek to add items: the guest benefit might not be there!
  • Creating a relationship between staff and guests is paramount.

Nick Saklas, general manager of the property, said it best, “We have identified that guest service would be the number one marketplace differentiator. As far as we are concerned, every member of my team is a critical part of delivering exceptional guest satisfaction.”

From comments I received from other guests on property, I believe Nick has accomplished his goal.