This is the single worst hotel experience Steve and I have ever had. You know I like to keep my blog positive, and I get really excited about special experiences when we travel, so we had been looking very forward to our stay at La Mamounia for months. It was voted the #1 hotel in the world in 2018, but we have to disagree in the strongest possible terms. Here are some of the details from our stay, as well as our personal recommendations to La Mamounia and their hotel group. If you choose to give this hotel a try, I hope the information below prepares you, and perhaps you can make efforts to have a better experience than we did.
Upon arriving at La Mamounia, we were greeted kindly enough. One of the porters showed us to a beautiful sitting area where we were served dates and almond milk while a front desk agent checked us in. We arrived a few hours before check-in officially began, so the porter offered to check our bags for us until our room was ready. I said sure, but Steve opted to keep his bags with him since we had time to spare; he thought he might use the gym or the pool and wanted to have his things with him to change, shower, etc. Sounds logical, right?
That was a big mistake. No one told us so, but that is extremely frowned upon. Two porters kept offering to take his bags—at least five times in a span of two hours. We also kept getting offensive glares from the hotel’s many security guards. At first we brushed off the offers to take Steve’s bags as forceful hospitality, but after the third time, it was just a bit much—especially when the same person asked a couple of times in a row. But let’s get real, Marrakech is known as scam city, so if someone wants to keep their bag with them, it’s inappropriate for anyone to repeatedly ask to take it.
How to Avoid This:
Do not arrive before the 3:00pm check in time, or if you do, plan to let the porter check your bag.
Good to Know:
Your checked bag will not be waiting for you in your freshly prepared room; the front desk clerk who showed us to our room said that the porter is “not allowed into the room before the guest.” This is not for your convenience or a courtesy to your privacy, of course; this is solely so that you have an opportunity to tip the hotel staff. Have some coins on hand to tip your porter. We had just come from the airport, and ATMs do not give change, so we did not have appropriate denominations for a tip. It is customary to tip porters 50-100 dh (approx. $0.50 cents to $1 USD).
What’s Your Room Number?
Let me be perfectly clear: I did not tell anyone at the hotel in advance that I am a travel blogger, request a complimentary stay, or ask for any compensation whatsoever. We paid for our hotel room, and I planned to write a glowing recommendation on the blog and on all my social media. I also planned to feature the hotel in a “Movie Moment” blog post for its role in the Hitchcock classic The Man Who Knew Too Much in keeping with this year’s blog theme. Over and above that, I intended to include this property in an upcoming “Legendary Hotels of the World” blog post. All this was to be at no cost to them, and I did not want or expect special treatment. We certainly were not treated in the way anyone should be treated on the property, especially paying guests, or “residents,” as La Mamounia pretentiously calls their guests.
We definitely felt the dirty looks and cold shoulder from the luggage experience above, but I thought it would stop once we stopped carrying around our luggage. I was incorrect. At nearly every “resident-only” area of the hotel, we were asked for our room number. At many of these areas, we were not asked for our room number but told that the area was for “residents only.” We were clearly and repeatedly mistaken for outsiders.
Let me emphasize that both Steve and I met or exceeded La Mamounia’s dress code. I was dressed modestly and appropriately as a woman visiting an Islamic country, and other residents clearly were not. Though our style of dress could not have been the issue, we were nonetheless frequently treated as unwelcome.
I cannot stress to you how discouraging, degrading, and insulting this was. There are not enough words to do justice to how terrible this made us feel. At one point I outright asked one of the angry guards, “Do we not look like we belong?” His excuse was that it’s a resident-only area, so he has to ask for the room number. To me, that sounds like everyone inside the property is guilty of not belonging until proven innocent. However, we were definitely getting glares that others were not receiving as they freely walked the property.
I have never felt so unwelcome in any place in all my travels or any other time in my life. Steve and I have stayed at the Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong; the Fullerton and the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore; Trump International Hotel properties in Waikiki, Las Vegas, and D.C.; Hotel Sacher in Vienna, among other luxury hotels, and we have never been treated with such contempt, rudeness, or coldness.
I would also like to point out that if any hotel staff are familiar with rude non-guests, it is the employees at the Trump International Hotels. They deal with vandalism, protestors, and general rudeness, and yet every time anyone walks into one of their properties, they are greeted with respect and a smile. Soon after they opened, my husband and I stopped into the Trump International Hotel in D.C. during a run on the National Mall simply to use the restroom, and the gentlemen at the door opened it for us, greeted us kindly, and smiled. As a result, I have since stayed there twice as a paying guest, and I recommend the hotel to everyone I know who comes to D.C. for a visit.
How to Avoid This:
Simply stay somewhere else. There are many beautiful hotels, dars, and riads in Marrakech where you will be treated with true Moroccan kindness and hospitality.
Good to Know:
If you do choose to stay here, perhaps have your key card in hand as you walk the property so you can be identified as a resident. Otherwise, be ready to smile like you belong there and have your room number on the tip of your tongue at all times.
The Photo Incident
This incident came at a bad time and truly showed the hotel staff’s attitudes toward us. I struggle with depression and anxiety, and I was having a very difficult day in that regard. My husband does a wonderful job at doing things with me that make me happy on days like that, even when I don’t feel like I deserve anything good. My kind husband wanted to treat me to a sweet at the patisserie in the garden before relaxing at the outdoor pool, so we went in and I did what I always do: I started taking photos of the experience for the blog and social media. That is, until the man working there shooed us away and exclaimed (in front of other people in a show of public embarrassment), “Please no! Please no!” At first I didn’t know what he meant, and then I realized he didn’t want me to take pictures of the pastries. So we left quickly without purchasing anything.
We found this very puzzling, so I decided to ask the concierge if I understood correctly that we are not allowed to take photos of the pastries. Instead, he informed me that I was in fact not allowed to take photos inside the hotel or its out buildings at all. Imagine my shock! I told him that’s ridiculous because the hotel’s Instagram feed is full of other people’s photos of them inside the hotel. He shrugged and said, “Well, we can’t stand behind every body.”
So, just me.
I am not proud of this, but I slammed my hand on the concierge desk and said that is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. And then I walked away too infuriated to do or say anything else. Who ever heard of forbidding anyone to take photos of a hotel?
This was enough that I wanted to cancel our dinner reservation at the Moroccan restaurant and order room service so we wouldn’t have to leave the room again until we left the next day. We didn’t know where we were allowed to be or what we were allowed to do. Thankfully, Steve led the way the rest of the day and we did enjoy some time by the pool, where we sneaked past the guard who had been scowling at us the last two days and found some respite. Thankfully, the pool attendant was much kinder, and he didn’t ask for our room number until after he had led us to a couple of shady lounge chairs and brought us towels.
How to Avoid This:
Take all the pictures you want. If anyone stops you, inform them that you are a resident. If you get any grief, speak with the front desk staff, not the concierge.
Good to Know:
Upon check out, the front desk attendant asked us how our stay was, and we said that we were disappointed. When she asked why, we told her what happened with the photo incident and how generally unwelcome we felt due to the rude staff. She apologized, which I told her I appreciated, and she clarified that residents are allowed to take photos, but visitors from the general public are not.
So, again, the hotel concierge assumed we were not residents, even though we very much were. He did not even ask us whether or not we were residents; he simply assumed we did not belong.
Recommendations to La Mamounia
My hope with this blog post is not to shame or embarrass the people at La Mamounia, but to call attention to the ways that residents have been made to feel unwelcome, and to prepare future residents for similar treatment in case changes are not made. Below are my recommendations for La Mamounia management:
- Treat all visitors, including residents and visitors who want to come and see this beautiful hotel, with respect and kindness. Always. Without exception. Even if you think they might not fit your demographic.
- Provide visitors who are not staying at the hotel with a wrist band, sticker, or other indicator that they are visitors and not residents; when visitors are given this indicator, explain the photo policy and any other rules for non-residents. This way employees will not be unkind to residents by assuming they are not paying guests. However, employees should still treat visitors with respect and kindness.
- If visitors from the general public are truly not welcome to look around, do not allow them on the property. This would be terribly unfortunate, but at least paying residents would not be made to feel unwelcome.
- Alternatively, consider charging a daily fee for visitors who want to see the hotel and gardens. Many hotels and resorts do this, though it is not ideal because it still excludes people who would otherwise respectfully enjoy the hotel and surroundings. The Marina Bay Sands Hotel in Singapore does this so that the general public can enjoy its world-famous observation deck, and it works very well at keeping residents and visitors in the appropriate locations while treating both with respect.
- Offer a daily tour to non-residents. This can be done once or twice each day, and the tour can include only what the hotel management wants to include. Visitors and residents alike would be interested in the hotel’s history, changes over the years, and famous guests. Ideally the tour should be free for everyone (especially residents), but if that is unthinkable, consider charging a reasonable fee such as 50 dh (approx. $5 USD). You could easily offer a premium Instagram tour for a higher price for anyone who wants to take photos at the famous Instagram spots inside the hotel. This, of course, should also be complimentary to residents. The historic Royal Hawaiian in Waikiki offers a free tour of their hotel and grounds for both guests and visitors, and it was excellent when we took the tour during our stay there in May.
I hope this post does not discourage anyone from visiting Morocco or Marrakech. If you have also experienced unkindness at La Mamounia, or if you are a representative of La Mamounia, please comment below.
For our more positive experiences in Morocco, check back frequently as I will be adding more posts to my Morocco Page!
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