It is a bad sign when it takes more than a few seconds to find a light switch.
Most business travelers can recall staying in a place where nothing is where it should be. A place where there are outdated ipads offering touch screen controls for simple things. A TV remote control that needs to be charged for hours before use. Curtains and AC that operate only by a touch screen hidden behind a closet door. Power chargers or plugs that are built into a secret drawer. Basic items like an iron and ironing board that are sent only after a call to reception, yet the unnecessary second television embedded in the bathroom mirror comes standard. Shampoo bottles that have metal caps sealed shut by moisture and impossible to open with anything less than the grip strength of a pro tennis player.
Yes, these are all real examples from a few of my past hotel stays, but what I recently realized was just how commonly disliked this experience is. In hallway and elevator conversations this past week, I heard several guests talking about the same thing. Just how pointless much of the “luxury” in our hotel really was. Of course, I know that even staying one night in a place like this is a privilege. The hotel I’m writing about now deserves its five stars and the food, amenities and location are all top notch.
Still, despite the outwardly facing beauty of the property, during this particular stay a loud high pitched noise in my room led to a one hour visit from maintenance to replace an entire fan, overservicing from the cleaning staff or minibar restocking led to multiple disturbances during phone calls and every time I left the room all of my things would be repositioned into neat little rows in completely differently places than I left them.
Reflecting on my stay, what stood out was just how fascinating of a case study this was in what one organization and its leaders had chosen to place value on and the nature of what we might describe as luxury in the first place. Everything this hotel offered, from the design of the rooms to the aggressive hospitality of the staff were things they had clearly been trained to do in order to try and please their guests. Much of the design seemed to intentionally indicate to their guests that they had spared no expense.
Luxury is a term that is often used interchangeably with expensive. Sometimes luxury isn’t a question of how much money you spend but rather how deeply you understand what matters to your customer. For the business travelers in our group who were likely craving convenience above all else, all these attempts at luxury were falling short because they made the experience more complex. The experiences that feel luxurious for business travelers aren’t necessarily the ones that cost the most or offer the most symbolic trappings of luxury. Instead, they make us feel important and our stay more relaxing.