Reality-TV lashing leads to welcomed renovations at CitiGarden Hotel 

click to enlarge Employees of CitiGarden Hotel in South San Francisco say some of the scenes in the Travel Channel show “Hotel Impossible” were staged to be more dramatic for the small screen. - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy photo
  • Employees of CitiGarden Hotel in South San Francisco say some of the scenes in the Travel Channel show “Hotel Impossible” were staged to be more dramatic for the small screen.

When Travel Channel series "Hotel Impossible" recently visited South San Francisco's CitiGarden Hotel, the staff, management and owner were given quite a scolding by show host Anthony Melchiorri, who identified what he felt were numerous customer-service issues.

Some CitiGarden employees say the popular reality-TV show might have exaggerated the airport hotel's issues, but CitiGarden Marketing Director Sheila Omran said Melchiorri's input helped her convince the hotel's owner to invest in renovating the rooms and rebranding the property.

Currently in its fifth season, "Hotel Impossible" is similar in format to the Food Network's "Restaurant Impossible," with each episode spotlighting an establishment's trouble spots before the host confronts the owners and managers with his findings. As Melchiorri works with the hoteliers to correct perceived persistent customer-service issues, "Hotel Impossible" specialists also perform physical upgrades to the property, revamping its interior decor or landscaping where necessary.

During the CitiGarden episode, Melchiorri finds fault with everything from the quality and presentation of the hotel's continental breakfast to the comforters on guest room beds, which he says are outdated. Cringe-worthy highlights include the discovery of an apparent used condom under a bed, and another scene in which — posing as a guest on his way to the airport — Melchiorri runs after the property's airport shuttle bus, pounding on the side of the vehicle as its driver seemingly ignores him and drives off.

When Melchiorri confronts General Manager Andre Kim with some of the problems he's observed, Kim responds, "We have some operational deficiencies." Melchiorri then cuts him off, saying, "You're operationally deficient!"

Omran said she invited "Hotel Impossible" to feature the CitiGarden Hotel because staff had previously been unable to convince owner Bang Ja Kim (known to her employees as simply "Mrs. Kim") of the need to renovate the property, and she felt an intervention by Melchiorri could help accomplish that goal.

While viewers might get the impression that Andre Kim (not related to Bang Ja Kim) is not an effective manager, Omran said he made more improvements to the hotel in one year than previous management had accomplished in five years.

"Andre kind of took one for the team in terms of how he was portrayed," Omran noted.

Other areas where CitiGarden employees say the show might have made things look worse than they were include the condom and shuttle bus scenes. One employee, who asked not to be named, claimed to have watched the crew film Melchiorri's discovery of the condom twice, first with the prophylactic in an unopened wrapper, and then with it unwrapped for maximum shock value.

And a front-desk clerk, who also wished to remain anonymous, claimed the scene in which the shuttle bus takes off, leaving Melchiorri to miss his presumed flight, was also staged.

Despite the South City hotel and its general manager being exposed to withering criticism, Omran said "Hotel Impossible's" visit was crucial, because seeing a model room that was renovated by the show's consultants is what finally convinced the owner to commit to long-overdue renovations and upgrades for all the rooms.

As for any exaggerations of the hotel's deficiencies that may have occurred, the marketing director remains philosophical.

"I think Anthony Melchiorri's intentions are definitely real," Omran noted. "But I also understand it's a reality show, so they have to make it entertaining."

Melchiorri and Travel Channel representatives did not respond to interview requests.

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