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Monday, November 5, 2007

Assessing hotels: flip flops, yoga mats and other thoughtful extras

When we're inspecting a hotel as part of our research for a new guidebook, we're often whisked around the property at a rapid pace by the sales, marketing, PR or media execs, or even the GM at hotels that care. We're given a tour of the entire place - guided to breakfast rooms, restaurants, cafés, bars, pools, fitness centers, spas, kids clubs, and often business meeting and function rooms (despite our protests that our audience isn't interested in these, nor are we, and we have no intention of writing about them), and we're shown half a dozen different rooms. Fortunately I research and write with my partner Terry so we take turns at role-playing. One will ask questions, show interest and make small talk, while the other scribbles notes furiously, snaps memory pics, and - while the first is carefully keeping the hotel staffer out of sight - scrutinizes how clean the bathroom really is, prods the mattress for firmness, closely notes how worn the carpets are, and so on. No matter how thorough the tour is, it can never compare to actually experiencing a hotel. It's only then that you find out how warm the welcome truly is, how friendly, efficient and professional the staff are, whether the food tastes any good, how comfortable the mattress really is, whether the room is quiet or noisy at night, etc. And only by staying at a hotel for a couple of days do you really appreciate the attention to detail and thoughtful little touches. I will risk making us sound like snobs to say that this is where five stars such as the Four Seasons really excel, and boutique hotels and budget digs often fall down. Take the Four Seasons Thailand resorts. While you can expect to find big fluffy towels, soft bathrobes and slippers, beautiful toiletries, and handmade soaps, and practical amenities like umbrellas, flashlights, hair-dryers, and shoulder bags for the pool, where they really surprise is in their unique extras matched to the resort. At Koh Samui, you'll find complimentary his and her flip flops, a yoga mat in the cupboard and an i-pod docking station. At the Golden Triangle Tented Camp there's a denim mahout's outfit for your elephant riding; complete your mahout training and you'll be given one to take home. At the end of your cooking course at Chiang Mai, you'll be presented with a gift of chopsticks, rattan place mats, a chef's apron, and certificate. It's these little touches that make a room comfortable, a stay seamless, and a hotel experience memorable. We'll never forget a stay at a simple family-owned budget hotel in Turkey where soon after setting down our backpacks in our room the owner brought us a big bowl of plump juicy strawberries, and he drove us to the bus station the next day. It may not have been the Four Seasons, but those thoughtful gestures were just as unforgettable.

1 comment:

Maryam in Marrakesh said...

his and her flip flops and yoga mats? that is truly fab!!!