Are hotels hospitable?


London Euston Premier Inn :: Hotel :: 1 Dukes Road, London, WC1H  9PJ, UK :: 17 May 2009

The most common response would be people telling you that it depends on the hotel. This is of course true, as we have all stayed in charming hotels and have our favorites somewhere. But for those who have jobs, and depending largely on your line of work, will also have been confronted with business hotels. The concept is fairly simple: a standard design, spacious,  meeting rooms, conveniently located and perhaps most importantly, with a lot of rooms. Business travelers are not flexible, time wise, and need a room on the day they specify. They do not, on the other hand, mind a view of a busy boulevard, nor do they mind over-paying for the room (as it is not their bank account). Last night, I stayed in the UK’s biggest hotel chain, Premier Inn, with 500 hotels across the country! Although it has four stars, it is a simple but large hotel hoping to capture not only those business people but also travelling families. It is relatively cheap by business hotel standards (expect a little over €100 a night). But take a look at what you really get for that amount. Let us run through the experience.

As you can see from the opening image, the outer design is atrocious, a cross between a hospital and a temporary construction site office. On entry, you will notice that the insides are designed to scare away any self respecting youngster or romantic, accentuated with monochrome purple. This is an aesthetic selection at the Premier Inn door to weed out the trouble makers – after all, which self respecting youngster would want to be seen in such an office environment?

The guest, if he stays, has to first comply with the police state rules – name, identification number, address, show papers and hand over money. The Mr and Ms Smith hotel freedom era can not take place in such a corporate glass brick institution. Naturally, as with almost all “security” measures, if you do not want to be registered, you only have to check into one of the more dodgy hotels around the station, and there is no lack of those. State security rationale seems to dictate that terrorists and the likes can spend the night in hotels, but only if it is grotty with stained sheets and costs less than 50€. In their dusty lobby you will still be welcomed as Mr and Mrs Smith… but comfort, even at a low level, is reserved for non-terrorists only.


Up to the room, armed with the keycard. Swipe a machine to open the elevator doors (impenetrable security!), floor 5 please. At the right room number, push the keycard into the slot and pull it out quickly. Instantaneously, anyone in the corridor will have distinguished the experienced traveller from the debutant as you do or do not hear the door open with a click. Hopefully unembarrassed, you can walk into a spacious environment which is now temporarily your home. A normal hotel room in 2009. I made myself a coffee, took a sip and as my eyes opened up to the purple reality around me, I saw the usual little green milk capsule with the curious inscription “Tastes like fresh milk”. But think about that for a second. That, of course, is another way of saying “this is not fresh milk but you will not notice”. Hardly reassuring. Basically, they think I am willing to kid myself into believing I am enjoying some milk in my coffee while I am actually drinking something else, something fake. And I do not know what…

P1020669I took off my coat and to my great surprise the coat hangers were placed so low that even an adult shirt could not hang there! This is absurd! They could mark the cupboard on their list as being there, but it can’t be used! I wanted to put my wallet in the safe, but this one was not free… the hotel was telling me that their staff is not necessarily trustworthy, nor are their locks, but if you get robbed it was your own fault for not having paid the extra for the safe… What kind of a world have I landed into?

On to the bathroom – there is no shower. You have to balance in the bathtub to take a shower, if you want one. This is a common feature of both hotels and apartments today, but should this not be questioned? To get in and out of the shower is very uncomfortable and dangerous for many old people. Once you are inside, if you remain standing up, there is no space to turn and your feet are on the slanted slopes of the bath tub. The hotel is aware of the discomfort and risk of falling, but instead of installing normal showers to solve the problem, they added support bars all around the tub to make you feel like an invalid. That way, like with the safe and the coat hangers, it is your fault (now for being clumsy or old) rather than theirs. This is typical big-company rationale – rather than solving a problem, you spend more to circumvent it but leaving it in place.

P1020664But if the discomfort had not hit you completely yet, try washing your hands: there is a separate faucet for the hot and cold. Again, this is common, but why do we not just admit that this is grossly outdated. Either you burn your hands under the hot tap or freeze them under the cold. If the hotel wants to insist on an 18th century experience, then the basin has to be deeper and narrower and easy to close so that people can actually wash their hands in it. Perhaps having a porcelain jug next to the sink which you can fill up like it is the French revolution might help as well. Again, it is you who is made to feel bad for ignorantly not using the sink as it was intended and hence freezing/ burning your hands rather than them just simply solving the problem (or not creating it in the first place).

On the surface of things, Premier Inn, or other similar simple hotels, offer a room as hotels have always done. But it is remarkable how little comfort such a 4 star hotel really provides. And remember that there are 500 of these in the UK and this is a recent building. These discomforts are no coincidence. It is equally remarkable to notice that it seems almost engineered to be uncomfortable and to make you feel bad. But why do they do it? Complaining about any of these elements is petty because they are so common, but you could also expect a chain to try to innovate at least a little bit themselves. Of course I would have written this all last night, but, unsurprisingly, the hotel did not offer Wifi…



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