Inn Thing

I don’t think I’m being unfair when I say that hotels have been violently keel-hauled into the IT-centric 21st century.

This issue we profile the Smart Hotel trend, and it’s been a long time in coming (the movement not the article). Commerce has been ‘double-duplexing their asynchronous PBX feeds’ for years but hotels have been dragging their heels. Why? I think the answer is pretty obvious: Technology dates incredibly quickly — far more quickly than the cotton sheets or marble vanity. No sooner do you unleash a press release crowing about your big new telly than the ‘poor bloke’ at the end of the street — the one with the Datsun 200B chocked up on bricks, four-foot grass and the ‘chatty’ blue heeler — has bought something bigger/better with a voucher on the back of a Go-Lo docket. Technology makes fools of us all.

But the problem for hotels is: the consequences of inaction are unthinkable. Not updating the technology makes a four- or five-star hotel look like a hopelessly inadequate joke. Business travellers, in particular, require somewhere to upload, dock, re-charge, sync, and update. It’s not some sort of ‘value-add’ option, it’s absolutely totally mandatory. If you don’t have a decent IT and AV backbone to your expensive hotel, well, then expect to see your patrons go elsewhere.

But I feel sympathetic to the hotels’ plight. It must stick in the craw of management to invest so heavily in something that is outdated so quickly and people don’t actually expect to pay extra for. It’s part of a strange hotel pathology. Almost inexplicably patrons expect certain features gratis as a matter of course, while others they’ll happily pay way over the odds for. I gave this phenomenon some thought and came up with a few of my own experiences.

So, here goes: firstly, this is my list of what I hate spending ‘stupid money’ on in a hotel:

Internet access: I mean, crumbs!, why must I give the hotel 20 bucks an hour for what is now just about a fundamental human right… I suppose you realise that Maslow’s Triangle now rates ‘broadband’ up there with shelter and basic sanitation. True.

Phone calls: I really resent hotels’ greedy grasping attitude to phoning out — pick up the receiver and feel the pain. I’ll go three blocks out of my way to buy a phone card and spend half and hour figuring out how to use it before I give the hotel the satisfaction of charging me 20-times market rates for a phone call.

Bottles of water: Eurgh. I’m talking about those 500ml bottles of ‘Canned Springs’ or ‘Tap Water Mountain’ on every credenza, bench or side table. Generally they have a cardboard collar letting you know it’ll cost $7 for the privilege of cracking the twist top. Get them out of my sight! Water falls from the sky… 70 percent of the planet is water… I hate expensive water.

But weirdly, I’ll cheerfully throw my cash away on other hotel-inspired madness… none more obvious than the:

MiniBar: A can of Euro Beer for $10? Why not… it’s been a long hot day; I’ve had to contend with a two-hour commute from the aeroplatz; and by ‘eck I deserve it. In fact, the first one barely touched the sides; might be time to try one of those Starobudpramenweiser Pilsners I’ve heard so much about. Mmmmm. That’s lopped off some of the edges.

Movies: Press this innocuous little button and an astonishing amount of dosh will be added to your bill. Then, bang!, you’re in the middle of some second-rate Harrison Ford vehicle that you feel obliged to watch, then watch again so you can see how his family so carelessly became abducted by bio-terrorists… Come 3am you feel like you’re the only person still awake in a city of five million, so you figure you’ll watch another movie to ‘send you off’. It’s just so easy, yet so painful when you go to check out. But still… I come back for more.

Breakfast: Why is it acceptable, nay, de rigueur to fork out $35 on brekky in a hotel?! I’m as guilty as anyone. I just meekly — like a lamb before its shearer is dumb — tick the ‘Ludicrously Expensive Breakfast’ box and file my way through acres of bain-maries. I’ll eat egg in at least five different ways and even ladle on the stewed weeds from the ‘Foreign Oriental Goop’ section. I’ll mix my guava juice with my pineapple juice just because I can and I’ll wrap dozens of tasty Danish morsels in my serviette for later. It’s stupidly expensive, you end up running into a bunch of people you were hoping to avoid, next door there’s a ‘real’ restaurant full of real, interesting locals… it’s not a good alternative , so why do I so willingly keep ticking that box?!

Is there a salient lesson to be learnt from this editorial? No, there rarely is. But it’s worth noting that big-chain luxury hotels do need to heavily invest and re-invest in IT or their position among 30- and 40-something business travellers will be usurped by the ‘light on its feet’ tech-savvy boutique hotels that are popping up so prolifically. – CH.

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