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Five Weeks on the Road: A Rant to the World's Hoteliers

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I was the CEO of a hotel company for two dozen years. We started with one bankrupt, no-tell motel and grew to a vibrant hospitality company with 38 hotels. Now, I'm on the other side of the counter... I'm the guest. And, I just spent five weeks on the road, in 11 Asian cities, with hotel experiences ranging from a funky Indian homestay to the world's leading luxury hotel (according to the 2012 World Travel Awards).

Here are my revelations about how the hotel industry needs a "wake-up call" with respect to improving the guest experience.

You mean I have to pay extra for plumbing?

Imagine buying a plane ticket and, upon strapping on your seatbelt, the flight attendant asks if you you'd like to pay extra for better oxygen. You'd be shocked, right? So, while this may be stretching for an analogy, here goes: I can understand why a decade ago many hotels started charging for online access. But, today, getting online as a hotel guest is as basic an expectation as using the sink or toilet. So, why are luxury hotels charging guests for their Internet plumbing? It's partly because hotel owners have become addicted to this highly profitable line item on their P&L statements. What's particularly galling is that some chains like Marriott will provide free online access for their mid-price business hotels (Courtyard) yet charge for access at their more expensive, full-service hotels. And, then, as if offering more water pressure in the shower if you pay for an upgrade, you can get faster bandwidth if you spend $10 or $20 bucks more per night. Of course, most businesspeople will do this because time is money. Hoteliers of the world: wake up and smell the plumbing! This is an awful way to treat your customers in the hyper-tech 21st century.

Am I supposed to wear my glasses in the shower?

Yes, I'll admit it. At age 48, even after being a carrot addict for years (thanks to the myth that my eyes would stay young), I succumbed to reading glasses. Not a big deal, although it's as if the hoteliers who determine the size of fonts on the bath amenity bottles never knew reading glasses existed. In one hotel, I mistakenly put body lotion on my hair and hair conditioner on my shoulders. In another, I washed my hair with shower gel and my armpits with shampoo. It wouldn't be too difficult to increase the size 8 font on those little bottles to a size 16. While I'm at it, let me protest the way most hotels have set up their light switches in a completely counterintuitive manner. There are moments I just want to Clap On/Clap Off the lights instead of feeling like Inspector Clouseau looking for clues. And, while you're at it, please simplify the temperature controls, the TV directions, and just provide the basics in a clock radio. Treat us like kings and queens, but very simple-minded royalty who don't want to become investigators or engineers to figure out how everything works.

Now I know why idiot hotelier call it the gift shop!

Heaven forbid you've forgotten some travel necessity (for me, basic sleeping pills are a dream for my first few nights on the road 16 time zones away) or some other basic non-doctor ordered medication, as you're unlikely to find it in the gift shop. What you'll find is overpriced local jewelry, outdated city guidebooks, and teddy bears wearing a sweater with the name of the hotel. What you won't find is cold medicine, vitamin C, or earplugs. And, you're delusional to think they might carry spare iPhone cords, camera battery rechargers, or international electrical voltage converters. Hoteliers have exhibited truth in advertising in this case, as it is a "gift shop" (or maybe a "crap shop"). But, it's a crap-shoot trying to get anything that you truly need in this tiny little tchotchke emporium. Let's rename the space the "Travel Necessity Shop" and maybe the things we so desperately need on the road will magically appear.

Get to know me and then show me!

If I asked you what kind of car I should buy, you'd ask me all kinds of questions: sporty vs. practical, dogs or kids, color, size, price? Yet, when you make inquiries of what to do and where to eat at the hotel front desk or concierge counter, rarely do they take the time to be an armchair psychologist to try and understand your true needs before sending you to the equivalent of Fisherman's Wharf for bad seafood or Chinatown for bad Asian cuisine in San Francisco. I'm not a robot and neither are you, Mr. and Ms. Concierge. Ask a couple of leading questions that help you to know a little bit about me and I bet you'll give me a better answer about where to go.

Who's in charge here?

Twice on this trip, I experienced a classic case of hotelier finger pointing. There was a silly rule at a hotel. I asked the front desk about it. They agreed it was silly, but these are the rules as set by someone other than the General Manager of the hotel and there was nothing they could do about it. Often in the hotel industry, a hotel can be privately owned, yet carry a worldwide franchise flag like Hilton with its global set of standards, but be managed by a management company separate from the franchise, and with an asset manager reporting to the owner holding the franchisor and management company accountable. With four different players, who's on first?! No wonder things can get confusing. Car manufacturers (with dealers) and hospitals (with doctors' syndicates) have similarly dysfunctional slicing and dicing of the accountability and decision-making. I'm not sure that the hotel industry wants to use car lots or hospitals as our role model for how to run a great service business. Give me Apple, a company that chose to integrate their products, functions, and retail experiences in a seamless way so that, when something goes wrong, there's no question that Apple is accountable.

Okay, enough ranting. The hotel industry takes serious stamina. Imagine if your business was open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. And, it takes plenty of patience as people do all kinds of strange things in the anonymous space we call a hotel room. But, the industry could use some more smarts as well. I hope these little rants, while slightly snarky, will encourage hoteliers of the world to imagine what life is like on the other side of the counter.