It is a truth universally acknowledged that a good hotel room starts with a great bed. But the perfect hotel room has so much more than that. Of course, every traveller is different, which means it’s near impossible for any one hotel to satisfy every type of guest.
Sports columnist and author Dan Wetzel recently complained on his blog about the lack of desk space in his Marriott hotel room – as in there was no desk in his suite. It’s a piece of furniture the hotel chain has been actively removing from its properties for the past year (it claims millennial guests don’t have a need for them, and would rather have that space appropriated by, say, the bathroom). But I wouldn’t miss a desk if it meant I had room to spread out a yoga mat.
So, what exactly makes a hotel room one to write home about? What could hotels be doing better to make travellers feel more at home (and therefore brand loyal)? It comes down to making the life of a guest as easy as possible, anticipating needs and offering the odd treat (heated bathroom floors are always a winner). Interested in specifics? Here goes.
Provide lots of information online
Before I check into any hotel I’ve scouted it out via the property’s website. I’ve had equally enjoyable stays in a tiny room at the pod hotel Citizen M in Glasgow and in what could pass as a small condo at Stockholm’s Hotel Skeppsholmen, a historic building retrofitted to house hipster-approved luxe accommodation. I was equally happy with both because I knew exactly what I was getting before setting foot onsite.
Citizen M promises an “XL king-sized bed” and photos show it stretching wall to wall, taking up half the room. The hotel’s website also states “absolutely no trouser presses, bellboys or boring pillow chocolates,” and the company keeps its word. The room was small and simple, but I knew what I was getting myself into. (Citizen M also offers 21st-century-appropriate goodies like free movies on demand, a remote that controls just about everything in the room including the blinds and mood lighting, and long distance by VoIP.)
Hotel Skeppsholmen, in Stockholm, has taken the time to detail online where guests can find travel accessories in the rooms, explaining that there are outlets for computers and phones in the work area and that a minibar and safe can be found in the closet. Bottom line: An informed traveller is a happy one.
Make rooms idiot proof
The Peninsula hotel chain, which has 10 hotels including properties in Chicago and New York, is one of the most luxurious in the world. To physically illustrate the brand’s commitment to guest service, its bellmen and women still wear those little flat-topped caps. So if a guest were to make an exasperated call down to reception asking for a manual on how to switch on and off all the lights in the room (a call I’ve almost made at a handful of hotels around the world) it wouldn’t surprise me if The Peninsula simply assigned a staff member to man the lights for the guest. But, wisely, the chain prevents this from becoming an issue by labelling the light switches – and having an all-powerful master switch.
Being advanced doesn’t mean being complicated. When it comes to technology and room organization, hotel designers would be wise to remember this. (Also, hoteliers, please – please! – make it possible for your guests to use hair dryers in front of a mirror so that they can see what they’re doing with their brushes.)
Can’t offer space? Offer something else
Not every room can be a suite. I get that. But if the room is stuffed so tightly with furniture (desk included) and accessories that I can’t move without bashing a knee into something, that’s a problem.
Can’t fit a desk into your guest rooms? Kit out a lounge area — Fairmont’s President’s Club lounges are great examples of how to do it right. Snacks on hand, plenty of seating and great views make these spaces fantastic temporary offices.
If in-room space is at such a premium that you guest can’t stretch without hitting a wall, go all in on fitness facilities.
And if you can’t figure out how to make rooms cosy, don’t fake it. Invite guests to another comforting space in the hotel. The Shangri-La in Toronto does a lot of things right; perhaps most of all, its elongated fireplace in the lobby. Its rooms are comfortable – the warm lobby even more so.
And if you can only do one thing
Offer free wifi. It’s surprising how many hotels still charge for this service (and often it’s the big chains, which charge up to $25 a day). Internet access should no longer be considered a nice thing to have. No matter what type of traveller, no matter what type of trip, wifi is as much as an essential as a great bed.
Maryam Siddiqi is an award-winning editor and writer who travels carry-on whenever possible. She also founded and edits La Carte, a quarterly magazine for the seasoned traveller.