Over the past decade I had a chance to go on many business trips, where staying in hotels (from fancy ones in Japan and Slovenia to a shockingly bad one in Cambridge) was either inevitable or preferred by the company or institution that paid the trip. My own favorite way is to stay with people, but unless I have close friends or family in a distant location, I feel bad about staying with hosts and having close to no time to interact with them. Companies or conference organizers tend to book hotels by default, so over the years I developed some general insights about hotels as a ‘species’.
I must admit that I dislike hotels as a concept – the sterile, impersonal and hyper-structured accommodation, which barely differs across countries. To be fair and listen to the other side, I searched for travel blogs and articles that are positive about hotels. One in the Huffington Post praises comfortable beds and 24/7 room service. I believe these things, apart from features available only in luxury hotels, are welcome additions, but not necessities for most people. Comfortable beds are neither universal nor unique to hotels. Another article is more convincing, citing several ways in which professionalism and safety can make travel more comfortable. Still, they hardly outweigh the disadvantages.
- Hotels have intrusive cleaning routines. It is tempting to feel at home after a stressful day in another country or city. But home is more than a quiet room. I feel at home when I have things I need where I need them. Yet just as soon as I arrange things the way I like them and leave, cleaning staff put them in standard places and destroy the order I created. They put useless decorative covers on beds, put towels where I found them rather than where I need them, and tuck the blanket back under the mattress, which I can′t stand. The result is that I will spend several minutes every day arranging things the way I like them again. Surely enough, I would rather use my time for something more enjoyable. Cleaning staff often move my personal toiletries, left around a mirror, or fold my pajamas, which only reminds me that a stranger has been touching my personal things. All of this is unnecessary, unappreciated labor for staff. AirBnB or hostels, on the contrary, will give you a clean room and just let you be.
- Hotels are wasteful. Fortunately, asking to leave towels on the floor for replacement is becoming an industry-wide standard, but this is only the first step. Instead, a new standard could be to place a laundry basket for dirty stuff, assuming that everything else will be reused. But honestly, unless they take a mud spa, nobody needs their towels replaced daily. Many ‘luxury’ items are so wasteful that it′s almost embarrassing to use them. I must admit that I often dump waste from the bedroom to the bathroom bin before I leave so that cleaning staff do not throw a plastic trash bag away with only a plastic packaging of some thing in it. Breakfast buffets somehow encourage people to fill their plates and leave them half-full. But I wouldn′t know how to arrange it better. Perhaps several smaller tables with different things or smaller plates would help? It should become perfectly normal to sample just a little bit of food first and then to refill one′s plate only when still hungry.
- There is a dark underworld of labor exploitation. Have you seen the movie Dirty pretty things? Hotel workers often come from the most disadvantaged groups in the society to take up jobs where their main task is to be invisible. Unlike in hostels, where staff is typically friendly and out there, guests are unlikely to see who works for them, apart from the receptionists. It is tempting to follow the etiquette of leaving some tip for them. Yet apart from all the cultural caveats that come with tipping, and leaving the issue of untaxed income aside, it is never certain who gets to use the tip. Some of my friends worked at hotels during their work and travel USA summers, and they told me that their managers used check-out lists to collect tips before workers arrive in the rooms. So, once again, behind each hotel stay there is probably a poor woman, possibly an immigrant, doing all the cleaning and unnecessary rearrangements in my room for low pay, and she may not even get the tip. Airlines have a better habit – they introduce the names of flight attendants before the trip. Who cares that most clients will not memorize them. It feels much cozier this way.
- Hotels do many things just because that′s how it′s always done. Many people love those little personal items – tiny containers of shampoo, shower gel, and lotion, plus so-called vanity kits. Yet there is almost never any toothpaste (with an exception of some hotels in Japan). Why? Hand soap can be used for shower, and lotion is most often useless. People who really need it usually bring their own. Most people can go without washing their hair one day. But toothpaste is something everybody needs two times a day. It is also something I often happen to forget when I travel, and it causes discomfort. How nice it would be to find a nice tiny tube of toothpaste, especially when flying budget airlines, which limit liquids on board. But no – hotels would rather give me another lotion or, if they try to think out of the box, a nail file.
- Many hotels still use ridiculous tricks to extract additional cash. I wonder if I know anyone who has ever used a minibar. Most of the time this is just an unnecessary piece of furniture with ridiculously overpriced drinks. A more advanced trick is a shelf with snacks, which is not labelled as a minibar but charges just as much, or a complimentary treat placed next to overpriced minibar items for confusion. It′s as if these things are specifically design to create negative emotions.
Many things could be done to relieve staff from unnecessary labor and avoid negative emotions associated with the stay. It looks so easy and simple, but the industry would rather lobby against alternatives than learn from their advantages. Sure enough, there are options in between, such as single-room hostels or cozy bed-and-breakfasts. Hopefully they will be setting the standards in the future.