A Room With a Clue

A Room With a Clue

Am I the only one who’s noticed that hotels still don’t get it? No matter how great the property, no matter how carefully a hotel chain has studied its surveys and demographics and focus groups, none of them seems to fully understand that business travelers do business in their rooms?

Now I’ll grant hotel general managers this: Most care more about their product and their service delivery than the top executives at most mainline U.S. airlines. And also unlike most top airline executives I know, hotel general managers haven’t given up on trying to deliver a consistently good product. And hotel general managers can talk the talk. They all pay lip service to the theory that their guest rooms must be properly outfitted to service business travelers.

Yet for a myriad of reasons–expedience, laziness, corporate politics, cupidity or simple arrogance–no hotel room on the planet actually delivers the goods. And you know what? As our needs change and evolve, especially in these difficult days since September 11, hotels are getting even further from the holy grail of the perfect business-travel room.

What’s wrong with hotel rooms, you ask? Well, here’s my short list.

There are no hard statistics, but my personal observation is that every other hotel room in America — and about 75 percent of those overseas – does not have a power outlet and a telephone jack in easy proximity to what passes as the desk. Far too many older properties, regardless of the price range or chain affiliation, have their jacks and receptacles scattered throughout their rooms. Worse, they are often hidden behind beds or sofas or dressers, which means you have to go crawling around on your hands and knees just to get your laptop powered.

Whenever I bring this to the attention of a general manager, his eyes roll back in his head and he starts moaning about the cost of bringing in the electricians and the phone men and the 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, they could add additional three-prong power outlets to their rooms and move them near the phone jacks. I mean, if I’m paying $300 a night for a swanky room, is a $5 power strip too much to ask?

Rather than intelligently address the technological needs of business travelers, hotels continue to be obsessed with “stuff.” I have been in rooms lately that proudly boast in-room fax machines or in-room computers or, worst of all, Internet access via the television set. A pox on all their houses.

Let’s be honest. Most in-room faxes are hideous, old-technology thermal paper models. In-room computers are useless because they never have the software you need and they surely don’t have your files. And I will pay anyone reading this $100 cash money if they can prove that they have ever successfully resized a Web page on one of those through-the-TV hotel Internet setups. And all this “stuff” is obscenely overpriced. In this day and age, why does a hotel think I’d pay $3 a minute to send or receive a fax?

(By the way, hotels get a temporary pass on the issue of in-room, high-speed Internet access. Many properties have been burned by high-speed suppliers who’ve disappeared without notice. I want high-speed access in my room. I need high-speed access in my room. But I do understand why so few hotel chains have managed to offer it consistently across all its locations.)

Why doesn’t every hotel, resort and motel room on the planet have an in-room coffeemaker? I mean, what do those little 4-cup jobs cost to buy in bulk? Five bucks a unit? Add maybe another buck for a couple of in-room coffee mugs? If you charge $4 to brew a pot of joe – which is what the deluxe hotels generally charge for those self-serve bags with the coffee, filter, creamer and sugar – the whole investment probably goes into the black (no pun intended) by the third time a guest makes a pot.

Do hotel general managers realize that a sizable proportion of the frequent-flying public travels with garment bags? Have you ever tried to hang your garment bag in the narrow closets that plague 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 one strong hook to accommodate a hanging garment bag? I mean, what would it cost to anchor a high-quality hook on the back of a hotel-room door?

And another thing: More and more hotels have taken to sticking up signs under their in-room fire sprinklers. The placards warn guests that the sprinklers are not to be used as a hook. If guests are desperate enough (and, I admit, stupid enough) to hang things from an in-room sprinkler, and hotels are sticking up warning signs, don’t you think even one hotel general manager would realize that his guest rooms are light 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 a good, strong hook in every room in the joint.

I long ago stopped wondering why a 10-ounce bottle of Diet Coke costs $6 from a mini-bar. Even I don’t have the energy to rage against that particular machine anymore. But who, I wonder, chooses what goes into the mini-bar? And why does this undoubtedly well-toned devil insist on filling the mini-bar with Toblerone (10 grams of fat an ounce), bags of Famous Amos (9 grams of fat for four cookies), mixed nuts (15 grams an ounce) and Ruffles (10 grams of fat per one-ounce bag)? I barely fit into my clothes as it is. If I have to make a late-night dinner out of what’s in the mini-bar, then can’t it at least stock some low-fat items like pretzels and popcorn?

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