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Sunday, August 24, 2008

How travel writers select hotels

How travel writers decide upon which hotels they are going to include in a guidebook or story is a topic that received some media attention earlier this year after Lonely Planet writer Thomas Kohnstamm revealed in his tell-all book how he'd favorably reviewed a place after having sex with the waitress on a table. How the staff perform - on the job, not after hours - is certainly something that comes into the equation when we're considering hotels for potential inclusion in our books or articles. But a whole host of other factors are also up for scrutiny. Mr and Mrs Smith shared on their blog recently the qualities that define a good boutique hotel for them in What makes a Smith hotel? The 'wow' factor is high on their list, but also other elements, from a sensational setting and imaginative interiors to remarkable views and a 'nothing is too much trouble' attitude. While these attributes appear on the long list of criteria we tick off, the criteria we use varies depending on the project and readers. It can even vary within the same project. For instance, when we write for Thomas Cook or AA, we know their readers are mature travellers (30 years upwards) who don't want to waste money but are happy to spend up on special properties that will provide them with memorable experiences, whether it's a beach resort or luxury B&B. Lonely Planet and Rough Guides, for instance, have a much wider readership: all ages, all budgets. Lonely Planet's accommodation is structured by economics: budget, mid-range and top-end. And while there are always going to be certain constants we'll consider across all price ranges, for example, whether rooms are clean, there are things that only apply to a particular category, and the list will inevitably be shorter the lower the budget. After all, we shouldn't have many expectations of a place that only charges $20 a night. On the other hand, if the rate is $300 a night then our list is going to be long. We're going to spend more time looking at the property, and we're going to be scrutinizing it a whole lot more closely. That's not to say we don't run our fingers over the furniture at all properties. We do. We also look for mould in the bathroom, scuffs on the carpets, peeling wallpaper, cigarette burns on the furniture, and, yes, we'll have a bounce on the mattress. But the four and five star properties will be the ones we'll check in to. A lot of travel writers will do it the other way around - they'll sleep at the budget hotel and do site inspections of the top end places. But the way we see it is if a backpacker has a lousy experience at a hostel they may only be blowing $30. If a traveller has a dreadful time at a luxury property, they might have wasted a whole week's pay, especially if they're stayed a few days. Although it's important to get it right for all hotels, it's far more crucial at the top end than it is at the lower end. Therefore, it's more important that we experience the boutique and luxury properties than it is for us to stay at a youth hostel. And let's face it, you get to a certain age when you can no longer share a dorm with strangers and you simply prefer to travel with certain comforts. We didn't become writers to travel like teenagers. Nor to copulate on restaurant tables either.

The photo? One resort where you're guaranteed a very special experience: the Six Senses Hideaway Hua Hin at Pranburi, Thailand. We stayed in the private pool bungalow, pictured, last October while researching spas, hotels and restaurants for the DK Eyewitness Thailand guide.

1 comment:

Erica said...

I agree, there comes a time when you rather opt for comfort than a cheap dorm room. I think I reached that point last year after staying in a London hostel, where two of the guys in my dorm snored all night, the whole room smelled of cigarettes and someone somehow managed to steal my USB memory (which I didn't notice until I had already checked out).

Most of my hostel experiences have been great though. I just rather prefer hotels or camping, sleeping in tent.