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Monday, August 25, 2008

How travel writers select hotels: the criteria we use, part 1

As travel writers, we don't wait for the site inspection to start ticking the check boxes. We begin judging a hotel from the moment we arrive. If we're pulling up in a car loaded with luggage and camera gear, we don't want to have to search for someone to help with our bags and find out where the parking is. We want the reception staff to welcome us. We want check-in to go quickly and smoothly and not have to wait around for 15 minutes, and later, when we come down to ask for dining tips (one of our tests) we want the staff to pick up the phone and book us a table (which is exactly what happened at the excellent Golden Palace Hotel in Turin recently.) So what other criteria do we use to select hotels for the guidebooks and stories we write?
Arrival: if it's a four or five star, does the porter take care of our bags quickly and carefully without a hassle, if there's a valet does he park our car, or if not, does someone point us to the garage without fuss; and if it's a budget or mid-range hotel, are we greeted and given instructions promptly?
First impressions: if it's a boutique place, is it stylish and chic? If it's a design hotel, does it have that wow factor? If it's a beach or spa resort, is the setting sublime and do we immediately feel soothed and relaxed? If it's a luxury hotel, is there a welcome drink, fresh flowers, comfortable sofas? Is the lobby somewhere where you wish you had time to sit? No matter the level of hotel, is it welcoming? Is there atmosphere? Is there low music? Is this a place you're happy to have arrived at, and already you're wishing you were staying longer?
Check-in: is the welcome warm, as if you've arrived home? Are you checked-in efficiently and with a smile? Is it hassle-free? Do staff explain when and where breakfast is, what time check-out is, where the key facilities are, and point you to the elevator? If there's someone to show you to your room, do they do it speedily? If not, are you given directions so you're not wandering the corridors impatiently?
The room: is this a room you can enter and immediately wish your own was like this? Is it easy to open the door, turn on the lights, control the AC? Is it clean, quiet, spacious, private, and comfortable? Is there lots of light? A door or window that opens to let in fresh air? Is there a balcony and a view? Is it a room you can relax in? Is the bed so comfortable you never want to get out of it? Do the sheets have a high thread count? Are there lots of pillows? Is the layout well designed, i.e. you're not tripping over things, bumping into furniture, you can find somewhere to open your bag and still get around the bed? Are the amenities well thought-out and do the facilities fit the price range? For a five star we're looking for everything from a fully-stocked mini bar with enticing stuff to eat and drink to an espresso machine, kettle and box of delicious teas? Is there an ironing board and iron and a large safe that holds two laptops? Is there wi-fi that works? Is there information on the hotel and destination? A good 24 hour room service menu? Local magazines to read? Complimentary bottles of water? A bottle of local wine and real wine glasses? Are there slippers or flip flops in the cupboard?
Read part 2 here.


Anonymous said...

I can't quite believe you're spending you're own money on these wonderful luxury places you're reviewing. Do the sheets have a high thread count? We had to pay 10 euros per person extra to have sheets at all in the Sardinian campsite bungalow we stayed in!

My criteria for accomodation when travelling with a family on a budget is more around total cost for 5 people, pool and internet access access to keep the kids happy & self catering facilities of some sort to keep the costs down. If I get a smidgin of luxury & good design to keep me happy that's a bonus.

Lara Dunston said...

Hi Heather

But this is our job. This is what we do. And doing these spa treatments was exactly what DK was paying me to do. From my "own money", well, if you mean the fee for the work, that's partly what it's for, to pay for expenses, along with our research and writing time.

Journalists also get media rates at these places - which is like a corporate rate, essentially a heavily discounted rack rate. While Lonely Planet doesn't let its authors accept media rates, all the other publishers do. And occasionally hotels will throw in a spa treatment, if for example, we're paying $250 a night for the Four Seasons.

Perhaps you should start writing about family travel and pitch your idea to publications that cover family travel? Then you might be able to get some stories that will pay for your holidays - and then some.