If you spend as much time as I do living out of a suitcase (over 150 days last year), the hotel room becomes your second home. As you would with your first home, you pick carefully – electing to stay at properties that cater to your specific needs. The kind of hotels one picks depends on (i) how frequently one travels, and (ii) how long that person has been living the frequent traveler lifestyle.
The evolutionary process is as follows – First one picks the best known properties in each city. These are frequented by millionaires, rock stars, or during the one’s first 6 months as a frequent traveler when one still enjoys the novelty of trying new things and is prepared to forsake seamless efficiency for pomp and show. Properties like the George V in Paris, The Grand in Stockholm, and the Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabhi fall into this category. Travel feels like an opportunity at this stage and one is keen to make the most of it by staying where one can hope to spot a celebrity or try out a well know in-house bar or restaurant in the evening. After about 6 months of body-clock destroying travel, when staying in hotels has become a chore rather than a pleasure, the traveler shifts loyalty to the most efficient and convenient hotels – chains like the Ritz Carlton and Four Seasons dominate this category. One elects to order room service instead of dining at the restaurant, no matter how renowned the chef may be. Amazingly efficient and easy to get used to, but after another 6 months, this gets stifling and boring. By this point, one has accepted that staying in hotels is a permanent part of their lifestyle and simply accepts it – it becomes as unremarkable as brushing your teeth in the morning – no long a pleasure or a chore but a part of life. After this point, one selects hotels that offer a good loyalty program and cater to ones specific tastes. My colleagues and friends who travel as much as me tend to selected hotel chains like the Hyatt, Starwood or Hilton. While these names may sound less prestigious that the ones in the previous category, they tend to have specific brands catering the discerning traveler – Hilton has the Waldorf Astoria Collection, Hyatt has the ultra-sleek Park Hyatt chain and Starwood has the very trendy W Hotel chain.
The frequent traveler will select hotels that allow him or her to preserve, to the maximum extent possible, their lifestyles at home. The first thing I do each morning when I wake up is to down an espresso – consequently, I have a strong preference for hotels that have an espresso machine in the room. Any hotels can send you a coffee in the morning but this means pre-ordering the night before or calling room service after you wake up and waiting – neither gets as close to my day-to-day routine as having a machine in the room itself. On a similar note, I like going to the gym as often as possible so give my custom to hotels that have well appointed gyms that are open 24 hours a day. These may seem like small things but they make it slightly easier to wake up in a different bed each morning.
The frequent traveler also wants to be seriously rewarded for his or her loyalty. We live in a constant state of jet-lag, give up time with our families and forsake any chance of having a normal social life – we want something in return. From hotels, that something is loyalty points – like airlines have mileage programs, hotel chains have point programs that allow their most frequent guests to be rewarded with free stays, upgrades and other freebies. Few people recognize that these programmes can be far more rewarding than frequent flyer programmes- I am spending 10 nights at the Park Hyatt in Tokyo later this year paid for completely with Hyatt points earned in just 3 months. That’s worth well over Rs. 2 lacs !
Over the past few years, several cities have seen the rise of small boutique hotels that offer interesting locations, interesting rooms and exceptional service. The best examples I have seen are the Dylan, a converted merchant house in the heart of Amsterdam with an in-house Michelin starred restaurant and the Hotel Bellechasse in the Saint Germain district of Paris with its quirky Christian Lacroix designed rooms. As loveable as these hotels are, these must be relegated to the occasional trip with a less-than-packed agenda. If I were traveling for holiday though, I would always pick such hotels over the chain properties. They are not the easiest to find but magazines like Conde Nast Traveller do a great job of finding these hidden jewels for us.
Originally published in Frappe (2009)