Here’s the first of an occasional series on pet hates and regular complaints from frequent travellers that hotels may want to implement. The people who run luxury hotels spend lakhs of rupees every year on market research to try and figure out what regular travellers want. I’m going to try and save them some money.
Talking to other frequent travellers, I have been able to draw up a list of pet hates and regular complaints. The list is so long that I’ll only be able to do part one this week.
1) Check-in: Do not keep a guest waiting for his room. We accept that hotels have a check-out time of noon and that it takes a while to make up rooms before offering them for sale again.
But if a guest checks in after 2 pm and you keep him waiting, then that’s unforgivable. Last week, the Intercontinental in London took the line that a suite was not ready at 6 pm and would not be ready till 8 pm. I checked into another hotel. No guest will ever come back to a hotel that is so sloppily run.
And even before 2 pm, hotels should never say things like “why don’t you have a coffee in the lounge, Sir? I will inform you when housekeeping says the room is ready”.
They should find out exactly when the room will be ready and inform guests accordingly. Many of us have other things to do and will gladly spend the two hours or so till the room is ready doing something more useful than waiting in the lounge.
Also, while on the subject, why don’t hotels do something about key cards? At something like 50 per cent of all hotels all over the world, key cards do not work perfectly. You need to swipe them several times before the door opens. Often they stop working in the middle of your stay. And sometimes the room lock decides that it won’t respond to any cards at all.
In this era of advanced technology, there must be a better way.
2) Pick up: More and more guests are being picked up by hotel cars at the airport. Often, we are greeted by hotel reps. But when we emerge from the terminal, we still have to wait 20 minutes or so for our cars. Why can’t hotel reps call the drivers ahead of time so that we are spared the waiting? I know it can be done. ITC’s airport reps do it routinely. But other chains just don’t learn.
3) Room lights: This may come as a surprise to hoteliers, many of whom prefer not to waste their time on books, but many guests actually like reading in bed. So, it’s not a good idea to light hotel rooms so badly that it is almost impossible to read in bed even if you’ve put on the lamp by your bedside.
On the whole, room lighting is usually a problem. Most rooms have little or no ceiling light, depending instead on lamps. Greedy hoteliers place bulbs with the lowest wattage in the lamps. This is why hotel rooms can look so depressing at night.
Nor are housekeeping staff trained to offer to place additional lamps in rooms if guests complain about the darkness.
Some hotels are not averse to spending money. They install fancy lighting systems that are impossible to master. The new rooms at Delhi’s Taj Palace left me in darkness because I could not work out how to put on the lights. At Bombay’s Taj Landsend, I’m not sure how to put the lights off. At the Delhi Aman, I eventually unplugged the lamp in my room because I couldn't find the switch. The motto should be: keep it simple, keep it bright.
: The same story. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been foxed by expensive fixtures. At one hotel, the butler spent several minutes explaining to me how the shower worked when he showed me around the room. “Do you have to do this a lot?” I asked him. He smiled in embarrassment: “Yes Sir, no guest can understand this shower.”
The biggest problem is usually the stopper in the bath-tub. There’s always some fancy system that doesn’t work. Why don’t hotels just put in rubber stoppers that are easy to use?
So, it is with hot and cold water taps. Just mark them clearly and most of us will be satisfied. We are not impressed by dashboards that look like they belong on the space shuttle. We just want hot water.
5) Bathroom amenities
: In this era of excessive airline security, fewer and fewer of us can travel with proper toilet bags. Naturally, we expect hotels to provide us with toiletries.
But hotels nearly always screw up. Hotel toothbrushes will be cheap and nasty. Use them once and you’ll have to throw them away. And hotels won’t necessarily provide replacements. The toothpaste will come in a tiny tube that will be sealed at the top. You will need a sharp implement to puncture the seal and of course few of us take our tool kits to the bathroom. Why not just place reasonably sized toothpaste tubes in the bathrooms? It can’t cost that much.
Then, there’s the problem of the shampoo. It is the unwritten law at most hotel chains from the Four Seasons downwards (though never at the Taj) that you will get only one small bottle of shampoo and that this is will be placed in the shower stall. If you want to take a bath instead, you will be deemed undeserving of shampoo. Does this make any sense?
A second problem is one of visibility. Most people who stay in luxury hotels are, at the very least, in early middle age. We can’t read very well without our glasses. Somehow, hoteliers forget this. So, the shampoo, the conditioner, the mouthwash and the bath gel will all be packaged in identical bottles with identical manufacturers' logos and the actual product description in small type.
Nobody has a shower with his glasses on. So, the last thing you want to do when the water is streaming all around you is to work out which bottle has the shampoo, which bottle has the bath gel, etc.
Then there’s the shaving issue. Too many hotels offer razors that cut guests’ faces to shreds. Frankly, nobody in the hotel has bothered to try the razors and the purchase decision has been based on low cost. I always think highly of hotels that offer a no-nonsense but effective disposable razor by the likes of Gillette.
And don’t forget the towels. The essence of the luxury experience can be summed up in the feel of a warm, large, fluffy towel wrapped around your body. Bizarrely, hotels don’t get this. Usually towels are too small to be truly luxurious. Rarely are they fluffy.
Why should this be so? The same hotels will waste money on Frette bathrobes which fewer guests will use than those who will use the towels.
As for hair-dryers, I understand that for reasons of safety, hotels do not want to place them in the bathroom. But even an idiot knows that a hair-dryer needs to be plugged in near a mirror.
And yet, so many hotels ignore this simple fact. Such is the location of the plug point that you can only look at the mirror while drying your hair if you stand on one leg and lean drastically to the left.
I could go on. And rest assured that I will. This is only the first installment in an occasional series that will run throughout the year. My grouse is not with ordinary hotels who do the best they can. It is with luxury hotels who charge the earth and then forget that guests are human beings with needs and dignity.