Why are hotels so awful?

Yes yes I know, but really. Hotels are the locations for some of the most memorable moments of our lives – finding an honour bar at 1am in 1998 leaps to mind – but some of the moments which we most enjoy recounting to crowded pub gardens about when it all went wrong. Other guests in your room, being offered Lynx as an air freshener, or the 1980s favourite; your hotel not having been built yet.

The last point is more of a Why Are Developers So Awful point, but the end result is the same: joyous break ruined. 

The brands come in for a lot of stick on this front. Oh everything’s the same whenever you go. You feel like you’re on a meaty conveyor belt, possibly at an abattoir. Why would you keep cookies in a drawer? It’s easy and often fun to attack the brands, particularly on launch when they think it’s OK to name their new flag after something in Latin. But let’s not forget how we got there: brands were responding to the horrendous reality that every single hotel was different and had the capacity to be awful in whole new ways.  

The brands got sick of being tarred with the cookie cutter brush (always cookies, all the time here in hoteland) and responded to this by launching many, many new brands. If you have enough, you can have one for every single person in the world which they will love and be loyal to and never go anywhere else. That or they let you expand into already-busy cities without breaching any agreements. Who can say. 

So far, so multiple logos. But having a fancy font does not a fancy stay make. It’s about the service. Before you question any potential career moves into Obvious Advisory, it’s still not getting done. And, if my fears over not being able to work restaurants when they reopen are anything to go by, there are a lot of hotel staff on furlough who are going to need some time to get back into the swing too. 

In my remarkable book, I pointed out that Airbnb and its chums had reminded hotels that service was a thing which people could do and made guests happy, spread over 82,000 words. 

What we have learned this pandemic is that Airbnb is still alarmingly popular, now with investors too. A great deal of that is to do with it being very pandemic friendly in terms of the reassuring ability to self clean as well as location. The most popular locations were remote (click here for a photo of a bloke with a chicken). It makes for a relaxing summer break if you have a chateau with views fives miles in every direction to help spot plague-carrying interlopers. 

The platform is making hay and announced that it was having a drive for more hosts, which it was hopeful of achieving giving the likely imminent recession pushing a need for support in paying mortgages. Fun fun. It also foresaw a change in work practices, allowing people to live in random locations – hey! In Airbnbs!  – for months at a time, while also renting out their properties. The ultimate Airbnb loop. 

Now Airbnb is all PE owned and all about the cash you can poke fun at its revenue-driven motivation, after years of homespun ads about being part of the community and learning how to use a loom, but the sharing sector hasn’t lost sight of what helped set it apart entirely. Vrbo has launched an owner service where hosts can gain better visibility by, in part, earning higher ratings.

So back to hotels. Revpar remains the KPI of choice, ahead of ratings and it’s just possible this is a shame. 

The moderately good news is that the number of travellers around at the moment is limited. Hotels who want to stand out cannot hide behind spas and restaurants (very few ever hid behind restaurants, to be fair) but must focus on service. It’s easier to do with fewer guests – remember that Airbnb hosts don’t have hundreds at a time – so there are chances here for loyalty. The better news is that there are a growing number of products in the market now which can help hotel staff leave the box ticking behind and remember about service. Not so awful now. 

Scroll to Top