If you’ve grown up in a modest and humble environment, can you really have an appreciation and even discriminating eye for the finer things in life? I’m living proof that yes, yes, you can. I’ve gone from a plastic spoon to a silver spoon and frankly I think that’s a better way to do it. There isn’t necessarily an expectation but an appreciation. And certainly, there’s a need for value.
Let me be clear, though. Value is different that budget. In my earlier years, if I required a hotel (actually, I only stayed a motels or motor lodges as they were often called), it would be something along the lines of a Red Roof Inn, Best Western, or the Janie Lynn Motel. Oh, the stories I could tell.
When I started working in the travel industry in 1995, I would occasionally travel for work and would be required to stay a hotel that met the government per diem. I was traveling on a government dime but internally, it was how we kept our travel expenses low. And back in the day, you’d often find special “travel agent rates” available at luxury hotels for much lower rates than budget hotels.
And that’s where I developed a taste for finer hotels. I specifically remember my taxi pulling up to the Willard Intercontinental in Washington, DC, where Abraham Lincoln once stayed. As the bellhop helped me out and took my bags, I felt very confused. Where was he going with my bags? How would he know where to take them?
I was shown to my room and given a tour, pointing out the fresh flowers in the bathroom and the ice already in my ice bucket. I settled in, looked at my per diem, and ordered room service: soup, fruit, and water which came to a whopping $22.00. I felt so out of my element but I knew it was an element I could become accustomed to.
Over the years, I’ve learned to find the best values out there when it comes to hotels. I look at everything from user ratings on sites like Trip Advisor to prices on sites Booking.com and directly on the hotel website. (My secret weapon is the Hotel Tonight app which helps you find last minute deals on hotel inventory). And I’ve come to expect a few things from the places I stay.
If you’re a traveler like me, wanting to know what you should expect, or if you’re a hotel, wanting to know what I expect, here are some of the things that make a hotel tops in my book.
You can call it customer service but I prefer to look for friendliness. People that actually enjoy the service industry and take pride in taking care of their guests. It can be a housekeeper, the front desk, the bellhop, the valet, the concierge, or ideally all of them, but making me feel welcome helps the hotel feel like a home away from home.
True story: Dr. Joyce Brothers used to carry her own sheets with her when she stayed at a hotel because she was such a germ freak. Now I’m not that bad. I recognize that thousands of other people have stayed in that bed (ewww). But I expect the floor to be vacuumed, the sheets to be fresh and free of stains, and the bathroom to be spotless. Because nothing grosses me out more than finding that mysterious hair in the bathroom.
3. Good linens
Can I just tell you how happy I am that we’re mostly done with the days of the polyester bedspreads in hotel rooms? I love the trend of focus on quality sleep by offering bedding like plush down comforters.
An early adopter was the Crowne Plaza in Dayton, Ohio that actually gave me a sleep kit when I checked in, complete with an eye mask, lavender spray, and a relaxation CD to help me sleep. But in recent memory, the most comfortable bed I think I’ve ever slept on was at The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe. No surprise there.
4. Free wifi
Hotels are slowly starting to understand that wifi is an essential part of our personal and professional lives. Offering free wifi is something that I look for and remember because it’s an essential for me these days.
5. Great bath products
I think I could pack a whole suitcase full of toiletries when I travel so being able to rely on quality product like shampoo and conditioner at a hotel is a big plus. Another bonus is that I get a chance to try some amazing brands I might not have otherwise heard of.
Recent favorites included the line of bath products (that all went home with me) from the Loews Hotel Annapolis and the chocolate scented products at The Hotel Hershey, naturally.
6. A good hairdryer
Yes, I can easily bring my own hairdryer but it’s nice when I don’t have to. I can usually rely on the hotels where I’m staying to have a hairdryer but the type of hairdryer is important. I recently stayed at a popular midtown NYC hotel and was disappointed at the cheap, plastic travel hairdryer found in the room. My hair is so much more cooperative when I can count on a good hairdryer.
The character of the hotel is so important to me and it doesn’t have to be a specific type. I’ve stayed in quirky historic hotels like The Brown Palace in Denver and ultra modern hotels like the Okura Garden Hotel in Shanghai. I’ve stayed at well known hotels in New York City like the Waldorf Astoria but also fell in love with The Refinery Hotel in the Fashion District. They’ve all made their mark because they have character and they’re memorable.
There is, of course, a lot more to being a great hotel. There are the obvious things like value (not just price) and location. There’s the availability and cost of parking. The view from the room, the restaurants in the hotel, the gift shops, the coffee maker. But the seven things listed above are what makes a hotel stand out and most likely to earn my repeat business.