By pure chance I ended up at the Leela whilst traveling around Southern India ... I was intrigued to witness one of the branches that I've often read about but not experienced. In short, I think The Leela in Kovalam, India, must rate as one of the most inconsistent and infuriating hotels I've had the displeasure in staying at.
You arrive at The Leela and undergo a security check at the entrance to the hotel which makes you feel as though you're back at the airport - and two feet inside the doorway you undergo a further security check where weary travelers have to unlock all their luggage and a security man pointlessly passes a 'bleeper' over your belongings yet again - and even when the 'bleeper' bleeps alarmingly he does nothing about it, so why bother? I'm not exactly sure what I was going to smuggle in from outside the door to inside the door with an army of security watching over me? I fully understand heightened security after the Mumbai attacks, however I don't recall any Caucasian Westerners who have just arrived from flights from the USA and Europe attacking India. And I very much doubt I resemble someone who's just undergone a 6 month stint at a terrorist training camp in Pakistan.
First impressions: the large foyer is attractive, though more Thai or Balinese in design. But it is airy and bright and you think you've arrived somewhere special, though the large 'SMOKING IS AN OFFENCE' signs stuck on easels rather destroy the Zen ambiance. And then you're further made aware of the clientele by the Thomas Cook tour itineraries posted on boards. So, this is a package holiday hotel?
Whilst checking in we were offered the usual cold flannel, though no welcome drink. And then as a ruse to waste time and disguise that our room wasn't ready (even though it was 17.30) we were asked to further undergo another security check. Once all that pointless nonsense was out the way we were shown to our room. Enroute to all the rooms on each level you enter the elevator and exit at each floor that looks exactly like a shopping mall car park. Modern ugly dark concrete - and security guards. In the back of my mind I expected to see a barrier requiring my parking ticket.
This so-called 5 star establishment provided me with a Superior Deluxe room ... I've yet to work out what exactly was Superior or Deluxe. The room was quite claustrophobic, and the finish to the decoration shoddy and amateur. And heaven knows who decided mustard would be a good colour scheme for the bathrooms which one regularly has to sit in whilst dealing with the dreaded Delhi Belly ... mustard being a colour too close for comfort.
A strong word of caution - the old or disabled should stay away - and I'm sure children should not be left alone in the bathrooms. It's too hard to explain, but the bathrooms are of an accident-waiting-to-happen design with marble floors and a sunken round tub which it would be so easy to slip in to. And you have to gingerly navigate your way from wash basin to shower, circumnavigating the sunken bathtub, taking small cautious steps. And be warned, Kerala has evening powercuts everywhere every day - so god help the person who's in the bathroom during one. Which reminds me: this is the only hotel in the world where I have witnessed several people on crutches, and others with knee bandages. Either they had accidents whilst at the Leela, or the hotel offer discounts to recuperating outpatients?
Although this is not solely an issue with The Leela, it really irritates me to pay approx. GBP 10 / USD 18 for Internet access in Indian hotels ... and that's an Internet access that's slow and continuously fails to connect - and when you do manage to send an e-mail it can arrive at the recipients inbox 18 times (yes, that really did happen to me on more than one occasion). Indian hotels really need to stop this milk-the-tourist practice and get their IT services up to a decent standard. And at the Leela should you require anything the staff tell you the charge before anything else, making me feel like a visiting cash-cow. Nothing seemed to be done with grace.
A further irritation - The Leela restaurants do not take bookings, so people can wander off the streets and get given priority. Guests can be left to mill about waiting for a table. Also - something in common with other Indian hotels - anyone can come in from outside and pay to use the hotel pools and loungers, often leaving guests without a place to sit. One afternoon I had the pleasure of lounging next to some backpackers with their rucksacks by their side who'd dropped by for a lazy afternoon. Very chic!
As is typical of many a Indian hotel there's too many staff trying to serve you at meal times, so that you get different waiters asking if you want water or drinks which you have already ordered. Why not delegate 2 or 3 staff to attend 4 to 6 tables instead of wandering all over the restaurant trying to serve everyone and muddling everything up? I think the overwhelming problem is that staff are so petrified of losing their jobs that they try to appear over-efficient in front on their managers. However, they'll also snatch a plate from under you once you've taken your last mouthful and you still have knife and fork in your hand - or they'll forget all about you and you'll have your dirty plates sat in front of you for the next half an hour. It's always one or the other.
Although I fully appreciate a buffet is good for many a travelers pocket, I think a breakfast, lunch and dinner buffet does lower the tone of an establishment, as does playing middle-of-the-road American rock music in the main indoor/outdoor restaurant all day. Who comes to India wanting to listen to Western music on a poor sound system which could just as easily be heard back home on a poor quality transistor radio?
For some strange reason we were introduced to Mr. Menon the House Keeping Executive (?) who informed us we must contact him if we had any problems or issues. However, when by chance we did have a problem, and called him, he never returned calls or came to see us. So what's the point of him?
The best part of the Leela is the beach - though not the 'private Leela' beach, but the public beach. Here you will encounter many a joyful local who will be eager to speak to you. And midday hoards of school children come to run back and forth from the crashing waves screaming with joy - it being a
wonderful experience to watch. My only memories of the Leela will be about the locals I met on the 'public' beach. However, the sea is filthy and polluted, and you will come out of the sea speckled with tar. And be warned that Indian men do use the beach as a latrine - they bury their faeces in the sand and then wash their backsides in the sea. And you will have to step over endless washed-up plastic bottles, polythene bags and flip-flops - and I even witnessed a washed-up dead cat being eaten by crows.
To sum up, The Leela is a middle-market package hotel which welcomes the all-you-can-eat buffet crowd who want to listen to American soft-rock and who don't really have any interest in the real culture of India. However, it clearly wishes it was attracting a more upmarket crowd and pretends it can provide a high standard for them. They have even gone to the effort of creating a very stylish outside bar where to drink cocktails with the beautiful people - the only problem is that this is not a hotel where the fashionable beautiful people come to - so it remains completely empty every night. However, it also has an indoor bar that has a huge TV screen showing 'the football' - I think that always sums up a hotel pretty fast.
It should be noted that there is 'The Club' which claims to offer a more exclusive experience, however there were no rooms available when I tried to book. Though in hindsight I very much doubt this hotel could justify the higher prices or offer a higher standard of service to stay in that part of the hotel so I'm glad nothing was available. And from what I could see it offered nothing out of the ordinary, especially for around 600 GBP a night.
One my trip to India I stayed in 5 hotels, yet only at the Leela was I continously bitten by bugs ... I wonder if this has anything to do with the sewage outlet it spews all day into the sea?
Interestingly, one morning I read the Hindu Times and there was a large article about how the high spending tourist has almost become absent from India - in particular Kerala. Perhaps the high spending tourist has become absent because not enough Indian hotels are able to offer a high enough standard to justifty the Western prices they charge?
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- The Leela Raviz Kovalam - Indulgence is an art you will perfect at The Leela Raviz Kovalam while staying in any of our 183 rooms and suites. With a seamless blend of modern technology and traditional grandeur, the soothing décor of each room whispers warm aesthetics. Each room opens out to a breath-taking view of either the ocean or garden. All rooms are provided with luxury amenities to cater to discerning tastes. Unwind with exquisite facilities like an HD LCD television and a broadband connection for hi-speed internet. The Club rooms offer valet services, a gourmet corner with a fine selection of spirits, softdrinks and snacks and have luxurious bathrooms with a walk-in shower and a private infinity pool. Awake to auburn sunrises in the horizon or soak in the sun under azure skies at the infinity pools. Get a taste of the vacation of your dreams at The Leela Raviz Kovalam. ... more less
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- Also Known As:
- The Leela Kovalam Beach Hotel Kovalam
- The Leela Kempinski Hotel Kovalam
- Hotel Leela Trivandrum
- The Leela Kovalam Beach Kerala