In my former life as a Conde Nast Traveler Hot List reviewer, I traveled mostly undercover, experiencing the same uneven service as everyone else: I got stranded at the airport when the hotel lost my flight arrival information and fought with indifferent staff over inexplicable charges at checkout. Things have changed. Now that I travel far from anonymously as a luxury consultant, hotel managers stuff my rooms with gifts tailored to my tastes.
A strategic mention to the Guest Experience gurus at Upper House in Hong Kong last month that it was my birthday (even though I arrived three days after the increasingly fraught date) netted me a gift-wrapped, double padded yoga mat tucked inside the very Manduka carrier bag that's provoked me to abandon Buddhist non-attachment. Along with vastly upgrading my downward dogs, this house team of pamper pros piled the Victoria Harbor facing dining table of my corner suite high with presents like a year's supply of Asia's best hotel pen (size matters) that I'm already putting to the pages inside a subtle UH embossed Moleskine notebook, a stack of engrossing books ideal for my jet lag induced insomnia along with a pointy silver page holder I initially mistook for something more S&M and, to pack it all up, a black leather tote I can almost climb inside.
Upgrades are nice. So are complimentary airport picks ups in the new four door Porsche, but there's gravitas in a good VIP gift, thankfully still a mainstay of the hospitality industry even in these lean times. I used to mock people for using a seemingly unnecessary passport coveruntil the public relations team at Grand Hyatt Hong Kong presented me with a sleek leather one of my own, lined with nifty sleeves for frequent flier cards, immigration forms and extra passport photos. One look inside my carry-on, a handy canvas tote from my first stay at Upper House, reveals a bevy of useful indulgences, from The Berkeley's Pratesi travel pillow case and Amankila eggshell blue leather wallet thoughtfully sectioned for multiple currencies to my Four Seasons Resort Bali at Jimbaran Bay sterling and stingray key ring and a well worn makeup pouch embroidered with the funky palm tree logo of Es Saadi Gardens & Resort in Marrakech.
A favorite gift was the gray cashmere shawl I found in the back of the Rolls Royce Phantom driving me away from the Peninsula Hong Kong a few years back. It had been made especially for the Pen's 80th anniversary.
While VIP gifts are meant simply to rub me the right way, some feel downright life changing. I can see so much more clearly thanks to the high tech sunglasses cleaning cloth given to me at Desert Palm resort in Dubai. During a Bastien Gonzalez pedicure compliments of One & Only Reethi Rah in the Maldives, the renowned nail man convinced me to go bare. My never again lacquered nails are healthier than ever. When a man dumped me, but asked if I would still edit his articles, I took refuge in my snuggly PLOH bathrobe from the Grand Hyatt as I wrote my way around Bhutan with Amanresorts. Before departing this tiny kingdom in the clouds, the spa manager ceremoniously handed me a colossal jar of Amankora's bespoke honey and sea salt scrub. Who needs a partner with all this pampering?
Presents need not be pricey to leave a lasting impression, though I sincerely believe my writing has improved since taking notes in my Hermes Ulysses notebook gifted by the Landmark Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong to mark my milestone birthday last year. I took childlike pleasure in the enormous teddy bear who wrote me a welcome note, asking to come home with me from Taj Exotica Resort & Spa Maldives and the large conch shells found by the surf coach on deserted beaches around Nihiwatu, a rustic chic retreat 250 miles east of Bali. The trendsetters at Huvafenfushi in the Maldives keep my music tastes up to date, thanks to an ongoing stream of CDs from super hot spinners I would never otherwise know like DJ Ravin and Stephane Pompougnac of Hotel Costes.
Other than occasional missteps like ludicrously weighty coffee table books that I adore reading but loathe lugging around, most hoteliers understand the balance in VIP gifting between luxury and practicality. Sometimes however, desire trumps sensibility. This explains why I traveled for nearly a year with my triple-ply camel colored Mongolian cashmere blanket from the owner of Terelj Hotel outside Ulaanbaatar. I've found the perfect place for it, atop the custom Stearns & Foster bed promised to me by the General Manager at Four Seasons Langkawi.