Suggestions for Hoteliers

It amazes me that with competition for hotel rooms so brutal that hoteliers are missing some very obvious features that would bring back repeat customers.

The number one annoyance I have in a hotel is noise. I’ve slept in more than a few four star hotels and noise has been as big a problem there as in the two star hotels. Maybe I’m a bit different but I’m used to sleeping in relatively quiet surroundings. When a door slams in the middle of the night I usually wake up. When lots of doors slam in the middle of the night I wake up a lot. This makes for a broken night of sleep. There are solutions to the problem. The doors themselves could be insulated with heavy sound proofing material. But there are more obvious things that could be done. The doors could have resistance hinges so they don’t slam shut. The doorknobs could be engineered so they don’t make so much noise opening and closing.

And I still hear much more of my neighbors than I would prefer. My recent stay at a Courtyard Inn proved as much. It’s not quite as bad as some apartments I’ve lived in. Hotels are usually built these days with lots of concrete between floors. This is good because I don’t usually hear people above or below me. But Wednesday night I was inadvertently entertained/annoyed by a very noisy couple in the room next to me engaged in what Bob Eubanks (former host of “The Newlywed Game”) called “whoopee”. It might have been more titillating at half my current age and at an earlier hour. And I’d rather have been the one getting the whoopee. Given my druthers though I’d rather not have heard it. Sex happens. Sleep sometimes doesn’t.

Pipes can be annoying too. I almost always hear water running in rooms next to me. I can tell if it’s the shower or the toilet that’s in use. I’m sure today that pipes can be insulated and made reasonably soundproof. It shouldn’t make much of a difference in the cost of a hotel anyhow so why not just do it during the construction of a hotel?

Hotel rooms don’t have to be bland. In appealing to the least common denominator hotel rooms become wholly uninteresting places to inhabit. Why not have 10 percent of the rooms done with truly decorative or offbeat colors, or with something other than Early American furniture? Given the choice I’d likely go for the decorative room. I might even pay a few dollars extra. And I’d be more likely to remember the place.

Beds should be something hotels get right by default. But I am amazed by the variations out there. I had a king sized bed all to myself at the Courtyard Inn I stayed in this week. But I am six foot two inches. The standard king sized bed is a bit more than six foot in length. That meant that my feet were sticking out. I guess I could have slept sideways in the bed but that’s ridiculous. And sleeping diagonally feels weird.

And why not use fitted bottom sheets? I can understand there may be an economical reason to avoid fitted bottoms but I’ve rarely slept in any hotel room where tucked in bottom sheets didn’t pull out overnight. The bedding is almost always too dense (multiple blankets and/or a heavy comforter) or too light. In the latter case my legs often end up exposed and cold when I arise.

The mattress should invite deep sleep. I prefer firm mattresses but there are some mattresses that are firm but snug and meet even my wife’s picky standards. Whatever mattress was used at the Peabody Hotel in Orlando met my seal of approval. It was as comfortable, if not more comfortable than the high-density foam mattress I have on our queen size bed at home. It’s very rare to get a hotel bed that is conducive to deep sleeping. I’d say only one in ten hotels meet my high quality standard, and I almost always stay in three star or better hotels.

Then there are annoying interior room noises. The most obvious one comes from the air conditioner/heater unit, almost always built into the wall. These suckers are usually noisy. They abruptly cycle between on and off throughout the night. These noises are not always something I can sleep through. I prefer a hotel with central heating and cooling for that very reason. But as long as I am dreaming, how about humidity control in the room? Most hotel rooms become too dry for my taste. A couple days in most hotels can leave me with eczema.

Curtains should not only offer privacy but also actually keep out the light in the morning. Some of us are very light sensitive and this time of year the sun is up early. That doesn’t mean I want to be up early. It doesn’t take much sunlight creeping above, below or between the curtains to wake me up. And while we’re on the subject of annoying light, how about doors that are low enough so the light from the hallway doesn’t come streaming into the room during the night?

There is almost always one annoying thing in a hotel room. This week it was that my sink did not stop completely. This is not a hard problem to fix. You would think that someone would go through all the rooms in a hotel once a month checking for things like this. But apparently they don’t or they figure we don’t care.

Non-smoking rooms are great and I always ask for them. Nonetheless there are still hotels that haven’t figured out that a whole floor should be nonsmoking, not just a few rooms at the end of a hall. And if the air is controlled centrally a hotel defeats its purpose if smoke from adjoining rooms comes into my room via the ductwork. This isn’t rocket science. Just do it! When possible hoteliers please put the smoking and nonsmoking rooms at opposite ends of the building.

Okay enough of the whining. I am sure I could find more things to complain about. And yes I am aware it could be worse. Most of the hotels I sleep in these days are very clean. The staff is very professional. The maid service is usually excellent. Most hotels routinely add a continental breakfast in the morning. Not only is it convenient but also it saves me a few bucks. It’s been years since I have found a bug in my hotel room. So the good news is that the three star and up hotels are ninety percent there. Why not go the extra mile and show all your customers that you say you care about that you really do care about them? It’s not hard: give us an environment conducive to a good night’s sleep. Upgrade the mattresses, cut the noise and make sure the room can keep out exterior light. If you do you can bet if I have to visit your city again I will be coming back to your hotel.

Life in the Courtyard

In sitting here in my hotel room. It happens to be at a Courtyard Inn on the north side of Raleigh, North Carolina. I am here on business of course, and I won’t wend my way home until Thursday. During the day I head a few blocks north and hang out with three hundred or so party hearty hydrologists. Yes, hydrologists from across the eastern United States have come to Raleigh to trade notes, listen and have a good time. I’m here mainly to listen and observe. I am no hydrologist but I have to learn their lingo and have an appreciation for the work they do. “From the gage to the page,” is what I have to learn. My business is to serve the data collected from thousands of points across the United States, much of it in real time, to the public over the Internet. The Internet part I understand pretty well. But how the data gets from a gage stuck in a well or in the middle of a stream and makes it within minutes to the World Wide Web is something of a mystery to be explored in intricate detail. So that’s why I’m here.

Part of the good time of this conference was a barbeque and Bluegrass party tonight. I was okay with the barbeque, but nix on the Bluegrass. No offense to my good neighbor Steve (who loves Bluegrass) but Bluegrass music makes me itchy. I’m not a huge country music fan anyhow, but all that banjo picking, high-pitched male voices and endless songs about Jesus is about as welcome as a couple hours of rap music. So I wisely opted out. It was perhaps not the politically correct thing to do since my boss, her boss, her boss’s boss, and one of my employees were all going. But we all have limits. We’ll all do dinner tomorrow night.

So tonight I revel in the mundanity of my hotel room, Room 268 at the Courtyard Inn. It’s not a bad experience. I got out for a little food and spent some time loafing at a Borders bookstore down the block. After listening to presentations and chilling with Susan (my terrific boss) all day I don’t really mind spending the evening by myself.

I stayed at this very hotel back once before in 1998. Then I was here on business too, but for another employer. I’m beginning to feel my way around this city a bit. Raleigh like many cities in North Carolina is growing by leaps and bounds. However, the growth is not downtown. It is in the northern and western suburbs. I got a little lost finding my hotel because I got on the Raleigh beltway only to discover they had added an outer beltway since the last time I was here. My atlas is a bit old.

Raleigh is both a city and a state capital. But it doesn’t strike me as much of a city. It’s five miles or so from the inner beltway to the center of town. There are a couple buildings that look like they are twenty stories or more, but that’s about it. I drove into downtown tonight just to look around. It is one of these downtowns that must close up promptly at 5 p.m. Actually I doubt the place ever gets crowded, unless the legislature is in town. There’s not much there there in Raleigh. Much of the action seems to be in nearby Durham, or on U.S. 70 that connects the two cities.

One thing that is new this trip is that my hotel room now has a high-speed Internet connection. That was the reason I chose the hotel. I hope it is not much longer before this feature is universally available everywhere, including all the Motel 6s out there. I’m sorry but a dialup connection just doesn’t cut it anymore. I need high-speed Internet wherever I spend a night. And although I’ve gone through some annoying connection hassles it was worth it. So really I don’t need an evening social life: the laptop is my social life. I am virtually at home here in my soon to be forgotten hotel room, doing pretty much what I would do if I were at actually at home, like reading my personal email, checking my favorite political sites and blogging.

There are admittedly some dubious side effects to having high-speed Internet access while on a business trip. For one I feel I have to read my work email. I don’t really want to do it. But I get such a volume of email that I feel like I can’t let it wait. Otherwise when I get back to work on Friday I’ll be inundated, and I need to do real work on Friday, not read email. So I’ll spend an hour or so hurriedly going through it and sending most of it into the bit bucket.

While I like the high speed Internet, I can see why Marriott needs to offer it. That’s because there are choicer lodgings just down the street. There is a Hampton Inn next door, and two extended stay suite hotels just past it. Here I just have a plain room. Granted it is a nice and clean room, but it’s just a room. Courtyard Inns are a ubiquitous way station for the business traveler. You know exactly what you are going to get. I do find it curious though that when I look out into the swimming pool I never see anyone in it. We are the business class and the business class doesn’t take evening dips in the pool. We work on our laptops in our rooms, we make calls, and we may watch a movie on HBO if we have the time. In the mornings we pay $7.95 for the hotel breakfast bar and studiously ignore each other. Instead we feign interest in the McPaper (USA Today) placed outside our door every morning.

I am glad I am not boarding at a Motel 6. I love the high-speed Internet access in my room. But really there should be more to business travel than this. Yet this is more fun than the known alternatives. Crabtree Mall is only a few miles away. I could kill some time there. But it is nothing special. It has all the same stores I have 250 miles away at home. From sea to shining sea, America seems eternally bland to this business traveler.

I’ll be glad to get home.