What’s in a room?
Once upon a time, it was a novelty to try out everything in a hotel room the moment you arrived. Testing the gadgets, trying out the lights and blinds, bouncing up and down on the bed, cracking open the mini-bar, working your way through all the TV channels – even calling someone from the bathroom phone, just because you could.
Several hundred hotels later, and it’s a lot more likely that you’ll head straight to the desk, and then to bed. You’d probably prefer a one-button-does-all kind of a room, would only go near the mini-bar if you’re parched in the middle of the night, and the only call you’re likely to make is down to reception – to complain about the extortionate local tariffs.
“If you’re on business you won’t have time to enjoy much of anything in the room – just a quick sleep and a shower,” says frequent flyer Michael Dionisio (not his real name). “So anything that makes it more pleasant and efficient to refuel is paramount.”
This sentiment is shared by many a corporate traveller. When our UK colleagues asked readers of their online forum (businesstraveller.com/discussion) what the best hotel room amenity they had ever come across was, not one mentioned the entertainment. Repeat answers included a decent pen, a hotel pressing service, or an iron (see their comments in bold).
Meanwhile, a survey they conducted found that the iron, tea and coffee, and free water won out over iPod docks, pay-per-view movies, the mini-bar, international sockets and safes, with roughly a quarter of the votes each. So, does novelty still have a part to play, or is it the seemingly simple things that matter most?
“Free mineral water, where consumption from the tap may be suspect. A bottle, even small, of something alcoholic and complimentary, if you are a premium member of the hotel’s loyalty scheme. Free Wi-Fi.”
In December last year, Deloitte’s annual Taking Off survey of business travellers found that 61% expected more from hotels in terms of amenities and services, given that hotel prices had increased. “The three things I like to see included in the hotel rate are high-speed Internet, plenty of bottled water and breakfast,” says frequent flyer Suzanne Abdullah. “I always feel cheated when they’re charged as extra.”
Of course, what you can feasibly expect to get thrown in will depend on what standard of property you’re staying in – you would have a right to expect more frills in a luxury hotel than a budget one. But regardless of the price point at which you have booked, some amenities are becoming non-negotiable.
One of those is Internet access (which is why our UK colleagues didn’t ask readers to vote on it in their poll). This is repeatedly cited as the most important in-room facility – the Deloitte survey found that 77% of respondents thought that providing it for free was important. “Other than that I’m not really interested in the technology,” Abdullah says. “As far as the entertainment system goes, I watch the news channels in the morning, otherwise I’m not that bothered.”
“A pen that works smoothly, paper of a useful size, a bowl of fresh fruit and a knife.”
A survey conducted by Accor Asia-Pacific last year revealed that three-quarters of business travellers worked during hotel stays, with 97% of them opting to work in guestrooms. “The whole purpose of a hotel bedroom has changed,” says Michael Parker, general manager of the recently renovated Grosvenor in London’s Victoria. “Ten years back, people would come to London, do a day’s work in the office, meet people for dinner, then go to bed. Now that we have Internet, they go upstairs and continue working. So, it’s all about having Wi-Fi.”
“Matches. Sadly, hardly ever given anymore.”
Paige Francis, vice-president of global marketing for Starwood’s Element, Aloft and Four Points by Sheraton brands, points out: “People travel differently today, with more gadgets than ever.” Consequently, all Aloft hotel rooms are fitted with Wi-Fi – “It’s not just free, it’s fast,” she says – along with a media hub for linking your gadgets to the HD TV. The latter is something that is becoming commonplace across a range of hotel brands.
77% of respondents thought providing free Wi-Fi was important
Roger Taylor, chief executive of Quadriga, which develops technology for hotels, believes travellers want guestrooms to match – or improve upon – the level of technology they have in their homes. “One hotel said to us: ‘We need more excitement in the bedroom,’” he recalls. “In the past, hotels were more technologically advanced than the home – when black and white TV came out, you’d go to a hotel and find colour.
“In the past five years, technology at home has moved ahead – it has changed dramatically, but hotels’ investment cycles have not. The challenge they put to us is to make the experience as good as, if not better, than that at home.”
So what of swish new techie additions such as TVs built into mirrors, now becoming a more frequent sight? “They have their place when you’re trying to make a feature of a room,” Parker says. “The challenge is if people don’t know it’s the TV, they’ll phone downstairs and ask where it is. You’ve got to make it so somebody understands it.”
It’s the basic things hotels need to get right, then. SimonRowberry, a poster on the online forum, asked for “air-conditioning controls that are logical and don’t require a higher degree in ICT to be able to operate”. Dionisio agrees: “Easy-access sockets to charge mobiles and laptops are important. Too often you find yourself moving furniture and unplugging the only lamp, just so you can have your mobile on the bedside table.”
Power sockets in safes were also cited on the forum, though SimonRowberry notes: “When you go to bed and switch the master off, it turns off all the power and you wake to dead hardware. This is increasingly common when you have to put the key card in to power the room. The solution is to get two cards, keep one plugged in and switch the lights off manually. Not very green, but c’est la vie.”
“Something as simple as a bowl of fruit automatically gives me a good impression.”
The bed itself is a prime concern whatever level of hotel a person is staying in. “These days, you can have a consumer who is driving a Porsche, flying with easyJet and staying in an Ibis Budget,” says Thomas Dubaere, managing director of economy brands at Accor UK and Ireland. “It means consumers have become more demanding in each segment. A good night’s sleep is as important in an Ibis Budget as a Sofitel.”
For this reason, one of the main focuses of the refresh of Accor’s Ibis, Ibis Budget and Ibis Styles brands, which is being rolled out imminently, is on improving its bed product. The company has carried out trials of three different prototype beds in a London Ibis hotel, with details of the final offering as yet under wraps.
So what kind of special touches do travellers value? “Thoughtful extras are always good,” Abdullah says. “Something as simple as a bowl of fruit automatically gives me a good impression.”
She adds: “When hotels charge for things I don’t feel I should be paying for, it makes me resentful. I once stayed in a 5-star hotel where you had to pay to use an ironing board – by the hour. I don’t even remember what the room was like, all that has stuck in my head was the fact that you constantly felt they were trying to scam you.”
In the bathroom, it seems that for time-pressed travellers, a shower will always win out
Hotels shouldn’t skimp on things such as fluffy robes and slippers, either. “When they don’t have the proper ones, I immediately think it’s not a very nice hotel,” Abdullah says. “Likewise, a high-quality selection of toiletries gives me a positive impression, and I like it when they are tailored towards women, as most places are more male-oriented.
“Similarly, a full-length mirror and good hairdryer are essential when I’m getting ready for an important meeting.” Good toiletries are not just high up on the list for women, with Dionisio saying moisturiser after a long flight is always welcome.
In January, a hotels.com survey about the ideal hotel stay found that the most popular option for respondents was a kitchen pre-stocked with food and drink. As a compromise, Aloft’s solution to the often unused mini-bar is emptying it. “We know our traveller is more self-sufficient, so we’ve provided an empty fridge for people to stock,” Francis says.
“Different toiletries for morning (citrus or something to energise you) and evening (lavender or something to relax you).”
Ian – Hong Kong
If a traveller is in the room solely for business, it’s the practical things that are appreciated. “A decent safe is essential for important documents,” Dionisio says. “A good selection of pillows is vital for a good night’s sleep, a visible clock helps with time zone adjustment, an efficient overnight shoeshine and trouser press service is great, and a good razor and toothbrush would be ideal, as these can easily be forgotten.”
In the bathroom, it seems that for time-pressed travellers a shower will always win out, with forum poster Tête_de_cuvée requesting “a wet room with a screened shower area. If not possible, then a separate shower and bath.” We may all like the idea of a deep tub to soak in after a hard day of meetings, but how many of us ever get the time to use it?
Sidebar – ‘Hair straighteners, decent coat hangers, an iron and ironing board’.
That’s no doubt part of the reason why brands such as Aloft, Holiday Inn Express (in Europe), Hotel Indigo and Citizen M are choosing to equip their rooms with showers only. “Over the past three years, the showers have been made more spacious in Holiday Inn Express properties,” an IHG spokesperson says.
What about the room layout? It seems that sometimes, what people would like to see in their hotel room is actually very little – as anyone who has ever walked across an over-furnished room in the middle of the night and stumbled into an oddly placed table or stool will testify. Dioinsio says: “High-ceilinged, uncluttered rooms with space to move and work are more appealing.”
This was an important consideration of the renovations at the Grosvenor hotel, Parker says, with many rooms being knocked through to create larger, more airy spaces.
Ultimately, what is most important to people will depend on how much they’ve paid for their room and how long they have to enjoy it. What do they all agree on? Life’s too short to spend the night working out the air-con system.