When I was a little girl I would drag my mother into hotels and particularly their WC’s to see what they were like. I don’t think my quirk was a toilet fetish (sorry, pervs) but I linked the status of the loo to the establishment overall. Even now I do the same. If the bog ain’t up to scratch, quite frankly, the hotel or restaurant can ‘bog off’.
I remember pulling my mother into the toilet of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem (aged 11 or so) and it got the thumbs up because of the red plush carpet on the wall. Over the years I have stayed in hundreds of hotels. As a former celebrity and travel PR, much of my life was lived out of a suitcase and as a person who genuinely loves to travel (and who also is a complete perfectionist) my quest continues to this day.
I would actually love to own a boutique hotel. I adore hotels and the associations therein. For me, indulgence is a fluffy bathrobe, all my senses overwhelmed, decent room service, surrounded by magazines, books, newspapers and crap TV. All on a massive comfy bed (with a delectable beau perhaps!). My hotel would be unforgettable though. One with a difference and hopefully I wouldn’t make the same mistakes made by others. If you asked me what makes a great hotel or indeed restaurant, the most important factor is attention to detail. ‘The devil’s in the detail’ is one of my favourite expressions and whilst you may not care if you have designer toiletries when you get in from work and just want to crash, you DO care and notice if the mattress is comfortable and the linen is decent. I would actually offer both.
So in light of the above, the Premier Inn strategy works as a functional and reliable source of somewhere to stay for work or pleasure, whilst hopefully keeping costs down. Rooms are clean, beds are decent and bathrooms are usually a reasonable size. But a functional hotel doesn’t give you an ‘experience’. For me, a hotel is as much about the fantasy that accompanies that stay, whether it be of a lustful or restful nature. It gets my pulse racing, regardless.
I have stayed at five and six star hotels over the years and very few have impressed me. The ‘famed’ Burj in Dubai couldn’t accommodate my dietary requirements when I went for tea. What that means in real terms is that they couldn’t be bothered. Which is where this piece started. I would never go back. Ditto Dubai as a destination. As with any job, role or position in life, if you don’t care, you might as well not be there in the first place.
When hotels make that extra effort, you appreciate these little touches. At The Ritz Carlton in Vienna (swoon) where my half Viennese best friend nearly blew up the hotel, they prepared home-made gluten-free bread for me. I felt special and loved. The bread was delicious (and it wasn’t poisoned, despite my friend’s antics). I don’t think many chefs actually taste some of the GF bread they give guests. Most of it tastes like chalk or rubber (not that I regularly chew on either).
The suites at The Chedi in Oman are impressive. I nearly set fire to the room with all the candles burning for ‘me, myself and I’. I did feel a bit of a knob on my own in a ‘romance’ suite with a 10 foot sunken slate bath filled with rose petals and lemon water but it was still glorious: from the smell of the room to the quality of the spa treatments, it was like taking part in a little slice of Heaven. I also changed shower rooms depending on my mood (there were separate ‘His and Hers’ rainfall showers).
In London, The Café Royal hits the spot every time. Even popping in for a coffee at the café, you feel part of history, staring up at the photos of some of the truly good and great that have frequented this genuine London landmark. Not only are the WC’s great (I still check, like some weirdo and wish I could sign off the loo checks on the wall) but the food is wonderful and the staff attentive. Everyone can be a movie star at Café Royal.
One of the main problems with a lot of hotels is quality of staff (or lack of) and rubbish food. I have told many a Central London hotel that they could be increasing their turnover by at least 30 per cent if they kept their guests dining in-house. I love a bit of room service (and I mean in the traditional sense, wink) but I usually end up at Whole Foods, M&S, Da Mario in SW7 or Maroush because a lot of (London) hotel food is expensive and crap.
A good menu is not difficult to create and it doesn’t have to cost over the odds. Simple fayre usually works well for business travellers and leisure guests from overseas should sample a showcase of local cuisine rather than go away thinking that British or xx cuisine is poor. I sometimes wonder who designs hotel menus and whether any thought is put into the ‘why’ behind choices.
And now we come back to my greatest obsession: hotel bathrooms. I am big on bathrooms (and toilets, clearly) and some hotels will try and cram a tiny creaky shower in the corner of the room, built for garden gnomes (I am not anti-gnome). Some bathrooms are clearly designed by men, without being sexist in any shape or form, but with no regard for space and enough of the same for all of a lady’s essential toiletries and makeup. Ditto lighting for makeup – if the lighting isn’t right, your face may end up looking like Neil in ‘The Inbetweeners’ with his fake tan (in the first film). And why are hairdryers always only five volts even if the machine states 1600V? Are there mice running on a wheel to power them?
And now to another obsession: hotel windows. I won’t stay anywhere that doesn’t have a window that opens. I feel locked in and could actually smash a wall…so airport hotels and mid-town Vegas don’t work for me. Plus airco turns me into an advert for the ‘Tunes’ throat sweets (who remembers this ad?) with sinus pain. In Kilburn, NW London, there is a hotel whose windows don’t open but I think this is more to do with insurance and local crime rates rather than jumpers from a tower block.
Bottom line, hotels need to regularly up their game. There is always a new investment project or flashier reception being built and recouping costs on a hotel is no laughing matter. Who cares if there is gold leaf on the ceiling (as per a few hotels I have been to). We aren’t going to lick it off are we? What guests want is never rocket science but different travellers have varied requirements. Management need to put themselves in their guests’ slippers and maybe even visit the toilets on occasion.
Perhaps I will get a hotel in the future, one offering a spa, gym and Sunday BBQ’s by the pool for non-residents. I know the name, can visualise it all and know that I would build a loyal customer base, probably mainly from my mates wanting to be fed! You can guarantee three things. Staff will be well trained (in the host country language); toilets will be the epitome of bathroom porn and food will be excellent, offering local and seasonal produce, tailored to the guest.
The Grown-Up Hotel Inspector has a lot to live up to.