Hotels in China: Five Arguments that Aren’t Worth Having

Don’t let the title fool you. I’ve attempted to argue most of these and still occasionally do even though I know it’s not going to help. Our family has been doing more traveling than we like recently, which means staying in hotels, which means I’ve had to re-visit some of these issues myself so maybe we could all use a reminder. Being aware of some of these issues may help you, dear traveler, to lower your expectations (and perhaps stress level?) about some of these common occurrences in our fair city and across this country.

I know those of you who live here are familiar with most of these issues, but a large number of our readers aren’t local to Hohhot or China and may just be passing through. This article is intended more for the second group.

And as another word of preface, I am by no means an expert in these matters, but I did work at hotel in Hohhot for a year so I can better understand things from the hotel’s perspective now, although I still tend to side with the guests. Anyway, I hope this post is helpful in aligning your expectations with the realities of Chinese hotels.


1. Why do you need such a large deposit?

Everything in China works on a deposit system. Almost everything is paid in advance, no in arrears. Utilities, cell phone service, internet service, everything I can think of is paid in advance. Hotels are no different. However, not only is the hotel fee itself expected in advance, so is a large deposit, sometimes as much as twice the room rate. When I worked at the hotel, this was the most common complaint from foreign guests. They didn’t like being charged so much and felt the hotel was being distrustful of them. They didn’t like their cash being tied up at the hotel or a large amount being held, and therefore unavailable, on their credit card. Once in Beijing I was even charged a deposit to use a hair dryer! It is annoying, however, I now understand from the hotel’s perspective that sometimes an entire tour group of people will leave without officially checking out, having run up a phone bill and cleared out the mini bar of every room they booked. Those situations are rare, but they are the reason the hotels like a sizable deposit. One possible compromise to this situation is to ask to pay day by day. I feel like generally most hotels will agree to this. You keep more of your cash, but you’ll still have to pay a deposit each day. Another down side to this is that the staff will hunt you down every day to get your deposit. You may also find your room card will not work until you’ve paid the next day’s deposit.


2.  Why is the pool so cold? Why do I need to pay for the pool? Why can’t I wear this? Why do I have to wear that?

Swimming pools. There are three main arguments that arise about swimming pools. I’ll deal with each of them separately.

  1. The scenario generally goes something like this: Foreign Guest books hotel online and sees pictures of an inviting swimming pool. Foreign Guest arrives, checks in and makes his/her way to the pool. The clerk asks for payment. The guest tries to explain that he/she is a guest of the hotel. The clerk doesn’t understand why the guest won’t pay and therefore won’t let guest enter. Foreign Guest leaves angry, not understanding what happened. Even if a hotel in China has a swimming pool, there is an additional fee to use the pool. Occasionally the hotel and the pool on the hotel grounds aren’t even the same company. Just because one is a guest of the hotel, one still has to pay the fee to enter the swimming pool. The one main exception to this is if the reservation is booked through a company contract and the company contract rate includes using the pool. THIS CASE IS RARE! Be aware that many of the advertised “perks” of a hotel may require additional fees (gym, pool tables, sauna, etc).
  2. Proper swimming attire is expected. The conflict here occurs when defining what proper swimming attire is. For China, it means a swimming cap MUST be worn. If you don’t have one, one can almost always be purchased at the swimming pool. If it’s a really nice hotel, the price for the cap will be much more than had you bought one yourself outside. In Hohhot, you can buy one at a sports store or swimwear store for 10 RMB but it may cost as much as 40 RMB at a nicer pool. Occasionally goggles may also be required. Here’s another point of conflict for American and Australian men: your swimming trunks may not be considered proper attire. In China, men wear speedo-type swimsuits and that style or suit is generally the only one considered “proper.” I know American men who have been denied entrance to the pool because of their swim trunks. Again, “proper” suits can normally be purchased at the pool.
  3. The pool is too cold. If you read any hotel reviews on China travel websites, you’ll see this complaint listed over and over and over. When I first moved to China, this issue annoyed me greatly, too. Then as more time passed, I just began to think maybe I was being a wimp about water temp or that maybe I had just forgotten what the water in a “normal” American pool felt like. Then, once at the hotel where I worked a guest from Finland registered a complaint about the water temperature. If a Scandinavian felt like it was too cold, I felt more justified in my complaint. However, that complaining won’t change the temperature of the water. Whether it is or not, when you ask/complain about it, the staff will generally tell you that they keep the water at the “international standard.” I don’t know what the “international standard” is, but my best guess is that it’s the temperature for competitions such as the Olympics. You know, the kind with well-trained athletes who are only in the water for a short time because they are swimming at warp speed. For the rest of us that temperature feels cold. And even if they really aren’t keeping it at the “international standard” I’ve never heard a hotel say, “Oh sorry. We’ll heat the water up for you.” So regardless of how cold it feels, I don’t think complaining about it will bring any resolution.


3. The air conditioning doesn’t work properly.

If you’re staying in the hotel with the small unit air conditioner with a remote, you may have better luck arguing this point and you may be able to change rooms.  However, if you are staying the “nicer” hotels with actual HVAC systems and built-in thermostats and try to argue this point, I say good luck.
You will also have better luck arguing this between April 15th and October 15th when the public heating is off, but regardless of your personal preferences for room temperature, if it’s during the time the heating is on, there is only a very, very slim chance that the air conditioner will actually cool.

As you may know if you follow the blog I am currently largely pregnant and it’s summertime. But the five star hotel we stayed in during our recent trip to Kangbashi (more on that in a later post) had “air conditioning” that didn’t actually cool the air. Not even a little bit. The hotel’s response was that we only needed the fan and that the AC part was being repaired.
I’ve had the thermostat-type air conditioners not work properly often, but I’ve never had a hotel actually try to fix it. Mostly, they just give some reason why you don’t really need it. My best guess is that because the number of days/weeks that one is truly needed in Hohhot (and most of Inner Mongolia) is so small that often don’t actually have the ability to cool and are only for show. Sorry!

4. The “Western breakfast” isn’t Western at all.

You are probably right. It probably has lots of Chinese dishes, fruit, yogurt, hot milk, and because we’re in Inner Mongolia, milk tea with the proper stuff to dip in it. Western breakfast probably means buffet style more than it actually refers to the type of food served. At one of our recent stays where a “Western breakfast” was included they had toast. But not a single thing available to spread on the toast. No butter or jelly or anything. They also had breakfast cereal, but they served it with yogurt. Pretty close, but cold milk would have been better.
Again, the reason arguing this isn’t worth it is because they probably don’t have whatever Western food item or condiment you desire anyway and the breakfast is intended to please the vast majority of their guests, who are probably Chinese.

5. But the advertisement/service guide said…

Truth in advertising isn’t really enforced in any way here. And if you’re trying to argue something you saw in the hotel service guide, particularly if you’re reading the English version, you should know that may or may not have been updated since the hotel opened. Or, it may simply be a template of another hotel they downloaded and put in the book in your room. Seriously, sometimes the name isn’t even correct.
Also, arguing for the hotel to provide some service or perk they don’t actually have won’t work. Asking for a refund or some kind might work, but is highly unlikely.


I hope this list doesn’t discourage you. There are great hotels with great service and the value of what amenities you’re getting for the price you’re paying is often quite good. However, knowing some of the things above may help your expectations.


Have you argued with a hotel about these things and gotten a great resolution? Want to brag on a hotel or share about one you don’t recommend with our readers? Leave us a comment.

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