The latest column from Anne Rogers…
Holidays are filled with intangibles and, in the end, it’s down to just a clutch of memories and a souvenir or two.
When I am out and about, the conversation often turns to travel – surprise, surprise! And very often the hot topic is hotels, with always a clear divide between those for whom the hotel is everything (I am firmly in that camp!) and those who just want a cheap, clean place to sleep. Regardless, it is always the hotels which are talked about, positively and negatively, long after the holiday is over.
So, 5-star or hostel, what makes a great hotel? Certainly luxe is lovely and I am fond of saying that it is in this sector where the greatest value for money lies. But it can also deliver great disappointment in the same way an insect-infested hostel with dirty linen can, and it is definitely a mistake to link price and value.
After years of experience and observation, I have concluded that truly great hotels have an underlying culture that comes directly from the owner (if it’s a small property), or the General Manager and his team if it’s a larger chain hotel. Or, in a few cases, from the company itself. A wonderful culture of careful management and genuine hospitality transcends all bricks and mortar, and it absolutely transcends price. Truly great General Managers and supporting staff are more likely to be found in smaller privately owned, unbranded hotels, rather than the larger chain properties where management and staff of varying experience and suitability are regularly rotated through.
Happily, we have moved on a little from our preparedness to purchase a hotel stay based on a postage stamp-sized picture of a bed! While often that is the only imagery available to us in either a printed brochure or online booking site, we do have the (now credible) Trip Advisor, and a number of other forums to assist in our choice. Make no mistake, hotel reputations are synonymous with Trip Adviser ratings but, again, the truly great hotels stand out because no lesser personage than the General Manager directly answers each and every comment – positive and negative.
… a carefully chosen hotel stay, paying as much as you can afford is excellent value for your holiday dollar.
In summing up, I suggest that a carefully chosen hotel stay, paying as much as you can afford is excellent value for your holiday dollar. If your budget needs reining in and you decide to target your hotel costs, remember that for a relatively small amount more than the lead-in rate, you buy a whole lot more hotel (in terms of room size, standard, view, inclusions) and a very different experience. Oh, and a good travel agent with the right connections can enhance your experience well beyond what you pay for.
My favourite hotels? I have several but standouts are The Beacon in New York – not even four star, but a truly great place to stay. Why? Location, spacious rooms, all with kitchens, the homely comfort that is only found in America, and the best General Manager going around.
I love the Portman Ritz Carlton in Shanghai. Obviously, it is in the luxury category however it is potentially disadvantaged by rather dated bricks and mortar, and surrounded by newer, modern properties. Still, it manages to welcome guests with a warmth like no other, with wonderful staff and enormous rooms. When you add the Ritz Carlton’s unique policy of empowering every staff member to do whatever it takes to delight a guest, you can understand why I am among a very large number of people who would never stay anywhere else in Shanghai.
Then there is a very ordinary motel (name never even learned in order to forget!) in a place called Deposit in New York state. It was just somewhere we stayed once for a brief overnight before flying home, but I will never forget the hard-working lady owner who, despite its age and shabbiness, kept that place sparkling clean, and I will never forget the crispest, whitest bed-linen I ever saw.
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