Vacations-Gone-Wrong: When The Hotel Is Great — But Not The Guests

New Yorker Hotel building from below
Image via Wikipedia

I don’t plan to blog about Tyler Brule every day, but his column in today’s FT is too delicious to miss — the subtle art of making sure your hotel guests are up to snuff:

Hoteliers spend a lot of time working on both the software and hardware to make for the perfect stay – at least, the best ones do. Newspapers and magazines devote countless column inches in their travel pages covering these developments at various hotels featuring the latest spa with yet another interpretation of a hot-stone treatment (how much room is there for innovation when it comes to lining up warm stones along a guest’s spine?), groundbreaking showers that reverse the ageing process and communications technology so smart you can order room service via Wi-Fi just by blinking the number of the item on the menu. Happy customers will spread the word by talking up the food, the service and the breathtaking views.

Rarely, however, is there much discussion about the most important and uncontrollable element of all – the guests themselves. For all the websites devoted to peer reviews and all the guidebooks that make bookshop shelves sag, there’s little space given to the types of people that a certain hotel attracts or repels.

It’s controversial territory to start ranking hotels by the quality of the guests but then that’s also part of the fun. I’m convinced that if I launched a series of guidebooks and accompanying website to support this idea there’d be no shortage of special interest groups lobbying for its closure because it would be seen as ageist, sexist, racist, anti-silicone, anti-Botox, homophobic and toddler-intolerant. It would also be highly readable and before long would be available in over 16 languages.

If a hotel can get all the basics right, then all that’s left to ensure that you return season after season are the quality of guests you’ll be lying next to by the sea, perusing the breakfast buffet with at 8am and gently smiling at when you share the lift. But how does a good general manager attract the right crowd?

I think about this often, because we’ve returned five times since 2001 to a small, quiet resort south of Montreal, Hovey Manor, partly because we’ve never once spent time around people there we wanted to flee.

How undemocratic! What snottiness!

You betcha.

After all the time I spend/endure dealing with New Yorkers’ monumental egos, braying cellphone conversations, dodging them as they race down the sidewalk staring into their PDAS expecting you, peon, to move, the last thing I can possibly cope with on vacation is….more of the same. I once flew all the way to bloody Cabo San Lucas, Mexico and ended up in a hotel that was full of the same sort of people I spend energy avoiding at home. Never again.

Hovey Manor manages to be elegant but not stuffy, warm and welcoming but not clingy, cosy but not schmaltzy. We always find there a few interesting, fun companions — the former ballet dancer with red hair to her waist, a judge and her psychologist husband, the Grand Prix fans on their way to Montreal.

And, sorry, no kids. I don’t know if they are not allowed, but the only non-adult I’ve ever seen was a boy of perhaps 15, perfectly-behaved. It’s not — thank God — a place where caps are worn at the table or cellphones are welcome everywhere. However silly it sounds, and I love it, one dresses for dinner.

A vacation is a precious time to relax and recharge. So, no, I don’t want to watch you play tonsil hockey with your 30-years-younger gal pal. Nor do I want to hear your music leaking from your earbuds or have to fight over the pool-side chairs. I really don’t want to deal with shrieking little children.

So I tend to choose smaller, European-style inns or boutique hotels.

Yet, as a traveler who oscillates happily between luxury and penury, I’ll be at the Vancouver youth hostel for two nights this summer, $38 a night for a room that might have 16 others in it. As someone who shared space for many years at camp and boarding school, it’s not a big deal — unless they snore.

Have you had a vacation ruined — or made wonderful — by the people at your hotel?

5 thoughts on “Vacations-Gone-Wrong: When The Hotel Is Great — But Not The Guests

  1. inmyhumbleopinion

    I think the best way to avoid big, undesirable crowds is to simply avoid large destination resorts. And, if you’re like me, going to the “hipper-than-thou” W wannabe hotels would be second only to poking out my eyes with knitting needles, given the guests’ penchant for turning the lobby into a meat-market bar scene, complete with blaring house music. Plus, I need to bring my night-vision goggles just to navigate the place, since they seem to think dim lighting is so atmospheric.

    But since getting a good deal sometimes means going to one of these places, I suggest going at a time when school is still in session so the chances of bumping into noisy kids is lessened.

  2. Caitlin Kelly

    I agree….I stayed at a W in LA…I loved the physical place but felt SO unhip…There are boutique hotels that aren’t quite so demanding in this respect.

    My next hotel stay, which I am really looking forward to, is the Sylvia, in Vancouver, right on the beach — but small and old and a favorite of others for years.

    I like small, intimate, quiet; when we did three weeks in Mexico, we planned our trip around the hotels we chose, all small, local and stylish. For whatever reason (and we are not millionaires), the places we choose never seem to have kids, for which I am grateful. The richer the crowd, the more bratty their kids can be.

  3. jake brodsky

    I agree with inmyhumbleopinion. Personally, I find trips to “resort” places to be uninteresting, dull, and pointless.

    A real vacation to me is where I can recharge by experiencing new things, exploring places I’ve never been to before, meeting people I wouldn’t have ever had a chance to meet anywhere else, and so on. These days, I would take my kids with me to do the same thing. Sometimes we’re doing that camping in the woods somewhere. Sometimes we’re traveling across the world to see new things.

    However, they have not been to Disney World, and they’re not going there on my money. Much like adults, kids are more agreeable when they’re not being catered to and are engaged in discovery themselves. Most would not mind their enthusiasm in that context…

  4. Caitlin Kelly

    I think places like that are comforting to people who want to feel like they’ve been somewhere new — where everything is clean and familiar. I’ve never been to Disneyworld and can’t imagine when or why I would. I’ve been to Vegas and may go again — both times only for work.

  5. When I was much younger, my grandparents and mother took me to Alaska. We rode the ferries from Washington State to Alaska itself, and on the way there, we encountered the horridness of the patrons of the Princess Cruise lines. I’m sure the line itself was dandy, but the cruisers were certainly anything but. They were rude, obnoxious, clearly wanted nothing to do with any children, let along the “ferry kids” as I’m sure we were known. We were riding sub-par traveling arrangements, and therefore, we surely must have been subpar human beings, if we were human at all!

    I’d ride those ferries again a million times. Nothing beats seeing things up close, rather than from a window so far up you have to pop your ears to get there. I’ve cruised myself, and it was lovely, but I will never forget that ferry ride.

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