Hotel Rooms Shouldn't Require A Service Manual

The buttons next to my bed all had a warm, inviting glow. Adorned with words like “wake,” “sleep,” “open” and “close,”  I assumed they were there to make my life easier and my stay more comfortable. After all, this was an ultra-modern hotel in New York’s SoHo neighborhood, showcasing the latest technology at every turn.

Unfortunately, this attempt at convenience was anything but. I discovered the “open” and “close” buttons that controlled the floor-to-ceiling drapes, and framed my view of the Manhattan skyline, either opened or closed them all the way. There was no way to stop them in between. For that, I had to leap out of bed and use the control by the front door.

And pressing the “sleep” button turned into a jarring experience, turning off every light in the room and the TV. Plunging me into total darkness and depriving me of the final, tense minutes of the Knicks game, I was forced to grope around until I apparently hit the “wake” button, which of course turned on every light in the room to a blazing intensity.

Which got me thinking. Are we so focused on adding technology and trying to be cool that we’re forgetting what guests really want?

Is being in the bathroom and seeing your name scrolling on the LED screen of the telephone next to the toilet really supposed to make me feel recognized and somehow more comfortable? Or is it just weird and pretentious?

The lights running along the bathroom mirrors were an incredibly beautiful design, but it took a while to figure out how to turn them on, and when illuminated, they only ran up the left side of the mirror and left everything to the right in dark shadows. 

You wonder who conceives of and designs this stuff and whether they ever run it through the ultimate litmus test—their customer?

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised by the results from the J.D. Power 2012 North America Hotel Guest Satisfaction Index Study released in July that showed that guest satisfaction with hotel rooms has fallen to 752 points (on a 1,000-point scale) from a high of 770 in 2007. Of course, much of that stems from many properties deferring maintenance through the recession years, but it’s certainly not being advanced by rooms that force guests to need user manuals to make them functional or by designs that are slaves to style instead of comfort. 

Guests expect all the conveniences they’re used to and comfortable with at home. And that’s not just flat-screen TVs and broadband access. It’s lights that are easy to use. And typefaces big enough that they can read them in low light. They want rooms that are intuitive and simple and that don’t come with an intimidation factor.

A recent study from the Tisch School of Hospitality Management at NYU estimates that over $5 billion is being spent this year on hotel and guestroom improvements. As a marketer, I see that as $5 billion being spent that should enhance our industry’s hotel products and get people talking positively about their experiences.

But there wasn’t anything positive to say when I checked out of my $600-a-night room in my $450-million New York hotel. After all, I had just left a massive bathroom with a wonderful stand-up shower, complete with a rainfall showerhead. But there was not one hook or fixture anywhere within arm’s length to hang a towel with which to dry off. For all the thought given to technology and design and style, I had to place a clean towel on the floor. 

As we all continue to manage the rapid pace of change that is around us, forever leveraging new technology and creating unique environments, let’s not lose sight of the basic desires and essential needs of the traveler. It’s vital we remember to put ourselves in the shoes of our guest and see the world from their perspective. Let’s ensure our investments and energies are focused on things that matter most.

Like a well-placed towel hook.

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5 comments about "Hotel Rooms Shouldn't Require A Service Manual ".
  1. Esther Surden from E. Surden Associates , December 3, 2012 at 10:16 a.m.
    Good consumer-oriented post. I've encountered some of the same things myself.
  2. Karen Smith from Kimberly-Clark , December 3, 2012 at 10:19 a.m.
    I often wonder if the people who design public spaces ever do any human factors studies in them. I've had the same issue with hotel bathrooms (I call it make-up roulette - too much? too little? Who knows!). Airport restrooms are another thorn, as I wrestle my briefcase, rollerbag, and sometimes overcoat into an awkwardly small space where the door opens and closes inward instead of out. Seems so simple to do a bit of consumer testing, or even rational thinking.
  3. Henry Harteveldt from Atmosphere Research Group , December 3, 2012 at 11:08 a.m.
    Gary, I recently stayed at a four-star hotel where the beautifully-designed bathroom also overlooked placing a hook by the tub/shower for a towel. I applaud the designers for their vision and creativity, but hotel product or brand managers and executives must add a healthy dose of common sense in hotel room designs.
  4. Tim Orr from Barnett Orr Marketing Group, Inc. , December 3, 2012 at 5:40 p.m.
    Could have been worse: What if you had to rely on online help? Way back in 1970, in "Up the Organization," Robert Townsend said no company should be allowed to implement any form unless the CEO had first successfully filled one out. Your hotel designer probably never stays in his own hotel.
  5. Esther Dyson from EDventure , December 4, 2012 at 8:19 a.m.
    And don't forget those high-tech heating/cooling controls with teeny, incomprehensible icons. At one hotel, the hotel operator told me, "Yes, we get lots of calls about this, but they don't want to spoil the look." Just like the American Airlines folks (at JFK) who didn't want to mess up a malfunctioning check-in kiosk by putting a sign on it. better to let hurried travelers spend 5 minutes figuring out for themselves that it wasn't working...