THE BLOG
04/16/2013 08:19 am ET | Updated Jun 16, 2013

'Overservice' in Hotels and Resorts: An Embarrassment of Riches

Steve Tyler of Aerosmith famously said, "Anything worth doing is worth overdoing." And for most of my life, I'd have to say I agree. Right up until the day I finally had to escort a hotel attendant out of my room because he. Would. Not. Leave.

This was at the Leela Palace in New Delhi, India, where my boyfriend and I were assigned a butler. At the time, the butler stood in our room, asking if we needed anything. I wasn't sure if the butler would just stand there, if he wanted us to give him something to do, or if he was hitting on my boyfriend, and so, we asked him to draw us a bath while we were at dinner.

When we returned, he was still there, next to the bath. Call me crazy, but I had no idea that I had to dismiss him.

It is the phenomenon the world has come to know as "overservice." Before I continue, let me say that I am not penalizing hotels and resorts for simply following through with services they advertise. A butler buttles -- I get it. The staff is supposed to be attentive, and in fact, it is when they are not, that usually prompts an irate blog post. Rather, overservice is when things get to be too much.

Overservice is a valid item that is currently being talked about among people within the luxury travel industry. You often hear "the service was too much" or the "staff was too focused," or even that "privacy is a concern at that hotel/resort/property." Say you find yourself in an upper-crust retail establishment on your trip to New York or Paris. Yes, we know that it's the clerk's job to provide the very best service when you walk into Bergdorf's or the finest of boutiques, but I would prefer to shop at my own pace and not have the associate looming like a vulture waiting for me to make a move. If I need assistance, I'll simply ask for it.

I do understand that five-stars only goes so far in the hotel industry. However, hotels only have one tool to set themselves apart from the most central location, largest bathrooms, or fully stocked gift shop. It is the level of service the staff provides. The hotel managers and owners train their staff to provide the highest service oriented items and perks for the guests, and sometimes that means going above and beyond the comfort level of the guest.

When I travel, I see that overservice seems occurs more than not. For example, after landing from a long international flight, I become irritable when hotel staff walks me up to my room and proceeds to explain the room amenities, how to turn on the lights, work the bathroom glass frosting feature or other minutiae that is flying over my head. At that point, the guest is in a new environment and the staff does not realize this, yet they would rather go on and on ad infinitum about their hotel room. To me, great service is understanding how the guest feels. I can figure out how to turn on a light. If things really get complicated, I can read the little whats-it instruction booklet on the nightstand.

Overservice can also extent to ways hotels and its employees make a few extra bucks. Take for example, the lavish hotels where the bellmen are on your heals from the moment you walk through the revolving door, insisting on taking your luggage. And you have just one bag, with wheels -- how hard can it be? I want to carry my own bag with valuables up to my room, but it makes me uncomfortable to insist that I take my own bag with me. While the hotel thinks this is a service, it unsettles me. I still recall the time when I stayed at this one Four Seasons, and while playing a game of tennis with my partner, one of the hotel staffers stood right by the net holding a towel and bottle of water. While I was rather impressed, and it is not like I didn't know it was his job to stand there, but I would've preferred not having this stranger watch my every foot fault or forced error on the court.

There are some properties out there, wildly luxurious ones (that mere mortals like you or I will not experience) that literally research you, top to bottom, to create a vacation that is exclusively "you." They use social media to know what you look like and what your preferences are. They all but conduct a background check on you; in the daily staff meeting, introduce you and your life to the staff on a projection screen. To me, this is a privacy issue. Suddenly, rooms are decorated in your favorite art or misted with your preferred scent. The staff knows your name. How did he know my name, I frequently ask -- again, it unsettles me in a place that is supposed to be my home away from home.

Like temperature or mortality, service comes in degrees. Too little, and the hotel or store comes off, at best, as lazy. But too much and it begins to seem that it's trying too hard. Anybody who has ever dated knows what a turn off over-exuberance (or desperation) can be. While some aid is sometimes always needed and appreciated, it should not be demanded of me that I take it. As a guest, I do not require a cheerleading squad touting the hotel (I know the place is good, thank you) and I certainly don't want to get the idea the staff has a file on me (black ops is a lousy marketing tool). Let me enjoy the space. Let me explore it, interact with it, absorb it and be amazed by it.