I have been watching Hotel Babylon, the hit British TV series dedicated to the assumption that de luxe hotels are wonderful glamorous places, full of sex, intrigue and power. The show is fun though, unlike the book it is purportedly based on, it doesn'treally offer a behind-the-scenes look at the grubby world of five-star hotels. And other than one puke-inducing insider tip (be careful when you use the glasses they leave by your sink—the maid has probably cleaned them with the same rag she used to wipe the toilet)—there's not much there that we didn't know already.
I wish somebody would do a guide for Indian (and perhaps, all) hotels about the things that guests really care about. If any of you are potential authors of an Indian Hotel Babylon, then here are some things that I suggest you include.
• All hotels waste too much money on fancy bath fittings. Why can't we just get a hot water tap and a cold water tap? At one Delhi hotel, the man who showed me to my room had to make a special detour to the bathroom to explain how the shower worked. No guest, he admitted, could figure it out without a complicated set of instructions.
Much the same is true of the stopper in the bath. The general rule of thumb is that the more complicated the system for the plug hole at the bottom of the bath, the less likely it is to work. It is much easier to just provide a rubber stopper. It is cheap. It is low-tech. And it works.
Also, hotels should stop wasting money on bidets. I have yet to meet somebody who uses one.
• Rare is the Indian hotel that understands lighting. The fancier hotels call in interior designers who are experts at creating mood lighting at restaurants. This is all very well for discos and nightclubs. But when I check into a hotel room, I expect to get enough light to be able to read in bed and to be able to choose my clothes. I am not interested in poncy and expensive light fixtures or in faders and dimmers.
• Perhaps most hotel rooms are designed by ugly people who can't bear to look at themselves. How else can you explain the paucity of proper mirrors? Rare is the hotel that has a full length mirror with enough space in front of it for you to be able to look at yourself. Could this be because foreign interior designers do not realize that Indian women wear saris and expect to be able to see their whole bodies while they dress and not just their faces?
• If I had my way, all hotel rooms would be mandated by law to contain electric kettles with an ample supply of tea and coffee.
Even though all hotels charge too much for tea and coffee, I'm sure it is not worth their while to send room service waiters up to the rooms for individual pots of tea. Far easier to let guests make their own.
• It is the same with ironing. It's a funny commentary on the world of luxury hotels that although all of them will have hair dryers in the rooms, most will not bother with irons. And yet, more guests certainly need to press their clothes than need to dry their hair. So, what does it cost to put an iron and an ironing board in the rooms?
• If however, there is no kettle and no ironing board, then hotels have a huge obligation to get that part of the service right. But often they take far too long to iron a suit. And room service coffee is nearly always disgusting. Worse still they cheat guests. Order one tea and they'll send you a pot and a cup. Order two teas and they'll send the same pot with two cups and charge you double.
• I am never fully comfortable with the notion of butler service. It works in ITC properties (and at the Taj Land's End in Mumbai) where there are designated butlers assigned to each guest with whom you can build up a relationship if you are a frequent guest.
But at most other hotels, they've just changed the uniforms of the old room service waiters, called them butlers and made them perform tasks they are unequal to. So, if you want to tell the laundry guy that you do not want him to starch your shirt, you can no longer do so. You tell the butler who tells laundry and of course, the message gets garbled along the way. You can no longer call the room service kitchen and ask them to customize your food. You tell the butler who usually is not even familiar with the menu.
• How difficult is it to check the room before the guest checks in? It should be part of the drill. But I have lost count of the number of times lights don't work, bulbs have fused, the TV has packed up, etc. etc. Hotel staff just couldn't be bothered.
• And finally, why is it that hotels can wobble so much in quality? A year-and-a-half ago I checked out of the Taj Land's End because the service was so bad. Now, it is, along with the Grand Maratha, easily the best run hotel in suburban Mumbai. If the Land's End can get it so right now, how come it screwed up so badly 18 months ago? That's the biggest mystery of my personal Hotel Babylon: Why is going back to a hotel like Russian roulette? Why can't frequent travellers be guaranteed a degree of comfort, consistency and reassurance each time?
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