Why is staying in a five-star hotel not always the luxury experience it should be, given that you are paying through the nose?
I spent last weekend at the soon-to-be-opened ITC Grand Chola in Chennai. Though the property is still weeks away from its launch, the rooms and some of the restaurants are ready and it has already been the subject of raves in travel publications (Conde Nast Traveller, Travel and Leisure etc.) and in trade magazines.
I don’t think ITC wants the media to say very much about the hotel till it is launched properly, so I will hold off doing a full-fledged review.
Not only are they large (probably the largest standard rooms in any Indian deluxe hotel) but they are also thoughtfully designed so that you never have to strain or struggle to do anything.
If ITC can do it at the Grand Chola, I thought to myself, then why can’t other hotels? Why are so many expensive hotel rooms, the world over, so badly designed? Why is staying in a five-star hotel not always the luxury experience it should be, given that you are paying through the nose?
Size does matter
I’m past the age where I can live in a broom closet and spend all my time in the hotel bar or lobby (as the American hotelier Ian Schrager wanted guests at his pioneering trendy hotels to do). I want a room of a reasonable size. I don’t care how fashionable or famous the hotel is.
Guests at five-star hotels like to look half-decent when we go out for meetings or to meet friends. So we need space to keep our clothes and to dress. I hate hotels that don’t have enough drawers or cupboards. Nor can I understand why deluxe hotels do not install full-length mirrors that are placed so that you can step back and look at yourself properly.
Part of the problem is that Indian hotel rooms tend to be Western and masculine in conception. Designers don’t take into account that Indian women wear saris and need full-length mirrors. And it isn’t just the women: even guys like full-length mirrors.
Reading and Writing
Are many of the people who design hotel rooms functionally illiterate? I’m guessing that they are – judging by the number of hotel rooms in which it is impossible to read or write.
Take the writing desk, a standard fixture in business hotel rooms. At least half the time, the chair in front of the desk has been designed so that you cannot sit comfortably in it. Either the back is wrong or it is too high so that your legs do not fit under the table. Nor is there a light over the desk and the lamp cannot be angled towards your book, pad or computer.
So it is with reading in bed. It is getting slightly better now with overhead reading lights but many hotel rooms have fancy-looking bedside lamps that do not throw enough light on the pillow area making it impossible to read.
Hoteliers like to imagine that we wake up each morning, have quick showers and rush down to their breakfast buffets. In fact, many of us like to drink a coffee and read the papers in our rooms before we head out. But in too many hotel rooms there will be no place where you can sit comfortably, a cup of coffee in front of you and read the morning paper.
These days, many of us travel with electrical/electronic devices that need to be plugged in to power points. So why then are hotels so reluctant to provide plug points or adapters? In many hotels I end up using the shaver socket in the bathroom to charge my phone because there are no other convenient plug points available.
When plug points are to be found, they are located at floor level or hidden behind furniture so you have to get down on your knees and move tables around before you can plug anything in.
Admittedly this is changing. I’ve noticed that the new Oberoi and ITC hotels are plug-point aware. But many other hotels simply don’t think of guest convenience.
I always think that the mark of a great hotelier is that he chooses furniture for functionality first and design second. Biki Oberoi has always insisted that the bedside tables at his hotels be large enough to take a glass and bottle of water, a table lamp, a book or two and perhaps a bottle of medicine.
At ITC hotels, Nakul Anand is so obsessive about detail that he tested cushions for comfort levels and then issued exact measurements (height, depth, width, kind of padding inside, etc.) for each cushion at the Grand Chola. (He is such a details guy that even the ice cubes have size specifications so that they fit perfectly into each glass!)
Lesser hoteliers don’t bother. They think that if a room looks nice, that’s enough. They just don’t get it – regular guests prize comfort and convenience over some designer’s vision.
The great paradox of hotels is that while they are crazy about technology for themselves (guest recognition software etc), they don’t understand what kind of technology guests need. The thing with most modern consumer technology is that it takes a day or two to familiarise yourself with your gadget – after which it will give you months of service and pleasure. Except that hotel guests don’t have hours to waste learning how to operate the devices in their room. So all hotel technology must be easy to use instantly.
And yet, at every basic level, so many hotels fail to realise this. The simplest example is the light switch. I’m always shocked by how difficult it is to put off lights at night in many hotels unless you use a master switch (which also puts off your bedside lamp and the plug points in which your devices are plugged.)
So it is with TV/audio systems. Most proprietary video systems I have seen at hotels (NEOS, movies-on-demand etc.) pack up again and again. Nor are they guest-friendly. A classic example is TV volume. All hotels restrict the volume on their TV sets. This may be fine when it comes to TV channels.
But the in-house movies – which you pay for and are then played on the same TV set – are usually set at lower volumes so no matter how much you push up the sound controls on your set, you can’t properly hear the dialogue.
When you install an external DVD player, it requires three guys from the engineering department to figure out how to connect it. Worse still, nobody knows how to switch your TV set between the various input options. And even if you can find the TV channel you want, there is a chance that it would have gone blank or that the picture will have broken up.
The problem is that most hotels leave the monitoring of TV reception to engineers and electricians who couldn’t be bothered to check the quality.
At the Grand Chola most of these problems have been sorted out because each guest has an easy-to-use iPad by his bed that controls everything (lights, TV, movies etc.). Perhaps this is what the future will be like.
Hotels spend a lot of money on building bathrooms. But all too often, there are basic design flaws. If you have doors to the WC stall or the shower then make sure that they are not transparent.
Nobody wants to make a public display of himself while on the toilet.Showers are another problem area. We all want lots of water pressure. But we don’t want spaceship-type controls so that it takes 15 minutes to figure out how to work the shower.
As for bathtub stoppers, hotels waste money on high-tech stoppers which always pack up in a few weeks. Why not just use a plug? It’s cheaper and it always works.
And finally, my all-time bathroom bugbear: signage. We don’t take showers with our glasses or contact lenses on. So why must hotels place near identical bottles of shower gel, shampoo and conditioner by the shower with the lettering so small that you can’t tell which is which?
To be fair, some of these complaints are being addressed. If the Grand Chola is anything to go by then Indian hotels are acting to improve guest convenience. But the changes are not widespread enough. And the speed is too slow.
From HT Brunch, June 3
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