THE SETAI Fifth Avenue yet to prove its five star positioning in New York’s luxury hospitality market

The Setai Fifth Avenue

On my recent visit to New York, while coming back from a business meeting downtown, I drove past The Setai Hotel on Fifth Avenue and with many news articles about the newly opened hotel fresh in my mind, I decided to pay a visit.

First of all, I was struck by the huge difference between the description and photos of the outside architecture on the hotel website and the sheer reality, which presented itself as a very basic office building type of structure, with a basic hotel entrance, far from being of a five star standard, and a corner entrance to the residentials section of the building, which had a plastic black and white banner above the door advertising ”luxury condominiums with Setai services are available”.

Without letting myself be distracted by the outside of the hotel, I entered and found a very modern style front office, of a generous size, and, to my utter surprise, a concierge desk, separate from the front office, which seemed more of a booth or a bell desk. As none of the front door or front desk bothered to ask where I was heading, I tried to find my own way arround. And without any signage, but remembering from the website that the SPA was on the fourth floor, I did go straight to the elevators and then reached the SPA.

In a very modern, contemporary style, which to me, felt very cold and impersonal, I was welcomed by a SPA reception who kindly asked me to be seated. The waiting area reminded me of a hospital clinic, rather than a luxury SPA. After filling out a form, I was taken to the relaxing area, which looked more like a waiting area, where Court Tv channel was loudly playing on Tv. There was no staff member to show me around or offer any support. I changed and walked around to find a large sauna which was lit but heat seemed to had been turned off. In the central part of the changing area were the sinks, all with All View Lake amenities, one cheap shaving foam. There were no cotton buds, no deodorant or body lotion as one would expect to be standard in luxury SPA. On the sides, there were also individual Chinese made shave cream and razor packs.

Eventually, my therapist came and he asked whether I had seen the water experience area and told him I did not so he took me to a large area where there were three state of the art amazon showers (digitally controlled), a nice jacuzzi and an impressive steam bath, which they called hammam. I did get to use the steam room after my treatment, using some salt scrub and mud which was displayed at the entrance of the steam room.

The treatment room was small, yet very well equipped and the therapist had a professional tenure and a very well trained technique. As I had a deep tissue massage, I was expecting him to provide several scented oils. He did not, so I had to ask what types they had. I chose one based on Arnica and the choice proved to be perfect. When approaching the SPA reception desk after my treatment, I was not asked whether I enjoyed or not, but rather, the supervisor, asked about how I wanted to pay. In the meantime, I asked her whether I could have a SPA brochure or a SPA menu and she handed a set of 30 unstapled prints, saying they were from the website. They were printed on regular printer A4 paper. Without being offered a bag, I thanked and left with the invoice and SPA prints folded.

I approached the reception desk and asked whether I could see some rooms.After 10 minutes of numerous calls, a sales manager eventually came down and took me to see a junior suite and a standard room. Without asking whether I wanted to see more room types, he told me ”I suppose this is enough for you to see” and with a very plastic and fake smile whisked me back to the entrance and said good bye.

Rooms are quite large to New York standards, but the contemporary design made the larger junior suite empty. The LCD screen in the large junior suite seemed small and then, when I saw it in a standard room, being the same, it seemed large. Both rooms had quite large bathrooms, the standard with no separate shower. Much like the SPA the decor seemed cold, impersonal and the hallways with the brown carpets brough me back that feeling of a hospital ward. Views from the rooms were just opposite blocks of flats. The fact that the hotel is situated down South of Fifth Avenue at number 600, makes Central Park and the main luxury shopping section of Fifth Avenue seem very far. And it was far. It took me 35 minutes by taxi, on a not so busy afternoon, to go back to Columbus Circle area.

Without having seen the Setai in Miami, already in operation for several years, and without having been to any Capella managed hotels, following my visit to the Setai in New York, I can definitely say I shall never visit any other of their properties. I found it outrageous that so much money could be spent on a five star property which is hardly of three stars at any international standards. It proves once again that some of these spectacular new boutique and designer hotel openings in major cities such as New York could well fail to ensure a basic international five star standard. Such properties could well have a negative impact on the overall local market, especially in a metropolis such as New York where expectations run higher than in other cities.

Oliver Petcu