What features make a hotel room worth returning to?
Published: April 6, 2011 at 11:37 AM
Inside the Loews Royal Pacific at Universal Orlando Resort, from last summer's roadtrip
It should go without saying that a hotel should be fairly priced and provide a secure, immaculately clean facility with comfortable beds, as well as working plumbing and climate control in each room. Rooms also should have adequate water pressure and places to store one's clothes. And you shouldn't have to hear the goings on in adjacent rooms, either.
Beyond that, though, here are some of the must-have "extras" a modern hotel that wants my business also should provide:
Free WiFi at broadband speeds: Internet connectivity has become a basic utility in modern life, as essential as the telephone. Business travelers demand the ability to connect back to their network at office speeds, and even leisure visitors expect to be able to connect with the broadband capability many of us have back at home.
Unfortunately, at the last few hotels where I've stayed this year, the WiFi connection crawled at speeds I haven't endured since I last had a dial-up connection. Hotels must accept that Internet connectivity isn't a fad, and add capacity to support a full house of guests at broadband speed. The conspiracy theory holds that hotels are trying to protect their lucrative pay-per-view movie business by throttling WiFi connection speeds. The reasoning is that if you can't watch, um, a certain kind of video for free online, you'll give in and pay to watch it on your hotel TV.
Please. How about quit trying to nickel-and-dime us? As cell phones killed hotels' lucrative phone-charge business, the Internet is eliminating the pay-TV profit center at hotels. Smart hoteliers should accept that, provide excellent WiFi service and price their rooms fairly, given the loss of phone and pay-TV and video-game revenue.
High-definition televisions: Speaking of televisions, they've better be hi-def. When I see a standard-def TV in a hotel room now, I react the same way as I did when I was a kid and we pulled into a motel with black-and-white TVs. Not only is the picture so inferior to high-def, standard TVs take up too much space in a rooms where space is already at a premium. TVs have become markers for the overall quality of a hotel. If it hasn't upgraded its televisions, I wonder what else it hasn't fixed or improved recently.
Free toiletries: Blame the FAA for this one. A decade ago, I would have said to ditch those little bottles of shampoo, to save a few bucks on the room. But now, personal-sized shampoo, conditioner and - ideally - toothpaste and mouthwash are essential for a traveler who flies with only a carry-on. (That's me.)
A powerful hair dryer: This is the one "essential extra" that I don't need, but my wife demands it. And not some skimpy, underpowered hair dryer that shorts out as soon as you turn it on, either. Again, this is a great element to check to see if a hotel is paying attention to its details.
Available electrical outlets: We're traveling with cell phones and laptops these days, and need places to plug them in. Unfortunately, older hotel rooms hide their electrical outlets, since at one time they were needed only for the room's built-in lamps and appliances. Today, a King room should offer at least four open and accessible outlets. A two-bed room should include at least six. And two of those outlets should be located on, or next to, the table top.
Now, let's talk about the amenities that aren't essential, but that I still find nice to have in a hotel:
Free breakfast: I hate having to go out to eat for breakfast, if I don't have to. Having breakfast ready to go at the hotel helps me get a great start to the day. Free breakfast set-ups speed me along since I don't have to wait for service - just hit the buffet, get your food, fit a seat, then clean up and go.
Space to dry clothes: Doing laundry in your room is the traveler's secret to packing lightly. (Again, no matter how far I travel, it's with only a carry-on.) But even people who travel with their entire closets need a place to dry a swimsuit now and then. Yet, it is surprising how many hotels are designed in such a way as to make hanging wet clothes to dry nearly impossible. (I hate those shower rods that curve outside the tub!)
Free in-room refrigerator: Minibars don't count. It's nice to have a place to chill water bottles for the next day, or stash a leftover sandwich for a later meal. But for families traveling with infants, or people who need refrigerated medications, the in-room fridge moves up to the "essential" list.
Swimming pool/fitness center: Again, not a deal-killer, but after a long day in the car or on a plane, man, is it ever nice to be able to stretch and get your muscles moving in a pool or gym.
Large window with a pleasant view: I wish more hotel companies would think harder about siting when building their hotels. No, all hotels can't offer views of the ocean or the mountains. But did you really have to place a wing of rooms so that they all overlooked trash bins?
Finally, here are four things I'd love to see hotels eliminate, as they work to add the features listed above:
Minibars: Again, quit nickel-and-diming us in the room. I endorse the current trend to replace in-room minibars with lobby pantries. With a central location for food serving the entire hotel, you're less likely to be stuck with stale items that have been sitting in your room for weeks. Getting rid of the minibars also allows housekeeping to focus on cleaning your room, instead of stocking and policing the minibar. No minibars also means less costly theft and fraud disputes for the hotel, too.
Water bottles for sale in the room: Ditto.
Newspapers: We get our news online now. Delivering an unread newspaper to every room wastes an enormous amount of paper. If anyone really wants a paper, make them available for sale in the lobby.
Resort fees, or any other mandatory fees or surcharges, outside the room rate and taxes. For that matter, hotels ought to do better by including applicable taxes when quoting rates on their websites. Give us the real cost, upfront, and disclose any additional fees (such as daily parking rates) where we can see them.
What do you think? What's most important to you when deciding where to stay on the road?