SEAT 2B | By Joe Brancatelli
A Hotel Wish List
Tuesday, October 9, 2007; 4:06 PM
Compared with airlines, hotels are endless fonts of innovation. In recent months, I've come across pillow menus and chocolate concierges. There are chains spraying "signature" fragrances in their lobbies, and hotels with spas that will slather your body with everything from designer mud to organic pineapple juice.
The idea, one hotel marketing whiz told me, is to keep guests "thrilled and excited." So the old-fashioned mint on the pillow has morphed into a pair of exotic truffles handcrafted by the pastry chef with cocoa beans she personally harvested in some remote tropical forest. The little bottles of shampoo and conditioner in the bathroom have evolved into toiletry collections from chichi shops on the Rue de la Yada Yada. And a hotel bed is never a just a bed anymore: It's always some fancifully named "sleep system" that happens to be for sale in the hotel gift catalog.
But in their rush to up-scale, up-market, up-size, and generally spiff up, hotels continue to ignore the basic amenities and services that business travelers like you and I desperately need and desire. A cup of coffee and a place to hang my garment bag? Those things I apparently can't have.
In fact, I have a little wish list I consult when I check in at a hotel. Nothing fancy. Nothing to thrill or excite me or scent my clothes with jasmine. Just stuff that would help me to be more comfortable and productive on the road. I am astonished at how frequently hotels with in-house martini mavens fall down on these humble hospitalities.
Joe for Joe
Why doesn't every hotel, resort, and motel room in the civilized world have an in-room coffeemaker? I mean, what do those little four-cup jobs cost in bulk? Five bucks a unit? Add maybe another buck for a couple of in-room coffee mugs. If you charge $5 to allow a guest to brew a pot of joe -- which is what deluxe hotels generally charge for those self-serve bags that include coffee, filter, creamer, and sugar -- the whole investment probably goes into the black (no pun intended) by the third time a person makes a pot.
My Kingdom for a Hook
Do hotel general managers realize that a sizable proportion of us still travel with garment bags? Have you ever tried to hang your garment bag in the narrow closets in most hotel rooms? Ever had your garment bag break one of those flimsy hanger bars in those narrow closets? Why doesn't every hotel room on the planet have at least one strong hook to accommodate a hanging garment bag?
And another thing: More and more hotels have taken to posting signs under their in-room fire sprinklers. The placards warn guests that the sprinklers are not to be used as hooks. If travelers are desperate enough to hang clothing from an in-room sprinkler, shouldn't hotel general managers realize their rooms are lacking in the hook department? I'd venture to say that one busted in-room sprinkler causes more monetary damage to one guest room than the total cost of installing one good, strong hook in every room in the joint.
Hotel experts tell me that the latest trend in minibars is an empty fridge. That's, uh, cool with me. I'm perfectly happy to call down to room service for my own overpriced supplies -- some bottled water, a few Diet Cokes, real milk for my aforementioned coffee -- or run out to the local Kwik-E-Mart. But it hasn't taken hold yet, and virtually every minibar I find in any of my hotel rooms continues to be stocked with $17 snacks, overpriced off-brand wines, and carbonated beverages otherwise sold only in developing-world banana republics.
Worse, some hotels have also been outfitting minibars with built-in sensors. Move that $44 split of Turkish sparkling wine in order to make some space in the fridge, and the item immediately appears on your room bill. All I'm asking for is an in-room fridge in which to store a little milk for my coffee, but I end up spending hours fighting with the front-desk clerk to remove the $55 charge for that six-month-old bag of Famous Amos cookies that I touched by accident .
Power to the People
There are no hard statistics, but my personal observation is that half of all hotel rooms in America -- and about 75 percent of those overseas -- do not have power outlets and internet jacks in easy proximity to what passes for the desk. Far too many older properties, regardless of the price range or chain affiliation, have power receptacles randomly placed throughout their rooms. Worse, they are often hidden behind beds or sofas or armoires, which means you have to go crawling around on your hands and knees just to get your laptop, palmtop, and mobile phone juiced.
Whenever I bring this to the attention of general managers, their eyes roll back and they begin to moan about the cost of bringing in electricians and carpenters. To them I say two words: power strip. No general manager on the planet seems to have heard about this wonder device. For about $5 each, they could install an additional three-prong power outlet near the internet jack in every room. I mean, if I'm paying $500 a night to stay there, is a $5 power strip too much to ask?
News, or Something Like It
Whenever I travel on business in Europe or Asia, the in-room television offers a tasty buffet of English-language and business-news options: CNN International; BBC World Service; CNBC; Bloomberg; Deutsche Welle; France 24; and many more. (There are lots of foreign-language news services too.) But in the United States, hotels are content to provide just CNN Headline News, which is virtually useless when it is broadcasting the rants of Nancy Grace or Glenn Beck.
When we're traveling, we're cut off from our normal supply of news and information. I expect my hotel to fill the gap, and it's no more difficult than configuring their audiovisual systems with easily acquired satellite programming.
The Fine Print
The most obvious hotel amenity is the name on the door. Business travelers need global reach, and that has led hotel chains to cut franchise deals around the world. But that also leads to "Velcro hotels," as property owners abruptly change the names on their buildings whenever dollars or circumstances warrant. The most recent example: All 11 Courtyard by Marriott hotels in England have abruptly switched allegiance and become Holiday Inn properties. All are owned by Kew Green, a British venture-capital and hotel-management firm. Ironically, the 11 hotels were Holiday Inn franchises once before, when the buildings were controlled by a previous owner. Meanwhile, Hilton loses all of its hotels in India next year when the Oberoi group drops the Hilton name from its Trident chain.