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Why are modern hotel rooms so damn inconvenient?

I saw this tweet from the actress Shabana Azmi last week:

“When will hotel rooms start putting plug points near the bedside? When will hotel rooms stop having top lights in bathrooms which is most unflattering for wearing make-up? Ceiling spots need to be nixed forever. Have covered lighting instead! Uff!”


I agreed with everything Shabana said as did many other people judging by the hundreds of ‘likes’ the tweets quickly received. (I even agreed with “Uff”.)


   But I would go even further. At the time I read Shabana’s tweet, I was at a fancy new hotel in an Indian city. They gave me a butler, received me with great ceremony and led me to a very nice suite. So far so good. Except that the living room seemed to be badly lit. Perhaps all the lights were not on.


   I asked my butler if he knew how the light switches worked. He went over to the sleek console that controlled the lighting, pressed a switch and threw the whole room into darkness. At that stage, I began to get slightly alarmed. Did he really know how the lights worked?


   It turned out he had no clue. Many hotels think that we will be delighted to get a personal butler (well, yes and no; it depends) so they designate a hand-picked employee to look after guests they wish to impress. This is nice, but usually the hotel doesn’t even bother to send the butlers to the room before the guests arrive so that, at the very least, they know where the lights are.


   Which is sad, because we all need help or even expert guidance around modern hotel rooms. Eventually, after my butler fumbled around with the light switches, I gave up.


   Look, I told him, why don’t you just get somebody from housekeeping to come and put on the lights?


   He saw the point. A young man from housekeeping arrived. But he too could not figure out how the lights worked. He fiddled around and then miraculously, hit the right button so that the lights in the dining area came on.


   Great, I said, could he explain to me how it worked? Er, no, he couldn’t. He wasn’t too sure either what had just happened. Okay, I said. Just don’t touch anything now that we have managed to put the lights on.


   I went down to dinner shortly afterwards. Housekeeping returned to service my room. They put off the lights again.


   Till the time I checked out the next day, the lighting panel became the hotel equivalent of a Rubik’s Cube. I tried various combinations but nothing worked. Each time one light came on, another went off. So for most of my stay I remained in a partially-lit living room.


   I am not complaining too hard. It was a very nice hotel run by very nice people who could not be blamed for the design of the lighting console. But this sort of thing happens too often for me not to wonder: which idiot designs these rooms? Why are modern hotel rooms so damn inconvenient?


   What’s worse is this: the simpler the hotel room and its fittings, the cheaper it is to build. So why do hotel companies spend so much money on complicated fittings that nobody – including the hotels’ own staff – can figure out?


   Nor is this a new phenomenon. A decade ago, when the Aman group opened its first city hotel in Delhi, I stayed there for a weekend. The lighting was so badly designed that I could not figure out how to put off the bedroom lamp. Eventually, I had to remove the bulb before I slept. (The Aman is now The Lodhi, run by its owners DLF who, presumably, have hired a new electrician.)


   But complex switches are only part of the problem. Most hotel rooms are poorly lit. The people who design them are clearly people who do not read much themselves and assume that guests will be functional illiterates. In many otherwise lovely suites, I have found it impossible to read in the living rooms because the lighting is so bad.


   In many normal double rooms, the weak lighting ensures that the room will become even more depressing in the evening unless you keep the TV on. The bedside reading light situation has improved somewhat in recent years but it is still impossible to read in bed at most hotels.


"One reason why the Oberois are a class act is the attention to detail that marks their style. I have never had difficulty finding a light switch or reading a book at any Oberoi hotel."

   Other areas that are traditionally badly lit are the bathrooms (as Shabana’s tweet reminds us) and the baggage/wardrobe area. In many (most, actually) hotels this area is so badly lit that you can’t even choose your clothes or find anything in your suitcase.


   Why do hotels do this? One reason is obvious. Electricity costs money so the dimmer the light, the greater the saving to the hotel.


   But on the other hand, how does it make any sense for hotels to install expensive lighting consoles that only baffle and inconvenience guests?


   Oddly enough, it is the foreign chains which, despite the millions of dollars they invest each year in expert advice, guest feedback and research, that get it most wrong. The Indian chains are, generally speaking, far better at guest comfort.


   One reason why the Oberois are a class act is the attention to detail that marks their style. I have never had difficulty finding a light switch or reading a book at any Oberoi hotel.


   So it is with ITC, at least in the Nakul Anand era. All the hotels that opened on Anand’s watch (the Gardenia, The Grand Chola, Grand Bharat, Kohenur and some others) have been designed to offer the best lighting. Even if you don’t use the bedside iPad to control the lights, you will always find normal switches. And there are thoughtful little touches. At many of the hotels, sensors will automatically activate an anti-stumble light if you get up in the middle of the night to go to the loo.


   So if these guys can get it right, why can’t other hoteliers?


   I could actually write a book about all the things that the people who design hotel rooms get wrong. (Why is the room safe placed in a position that is so low that you have to crouch to put anything inside? Or why is it so high that an Indian woman of average height cannot look inside!)


   But we don’t have space for my full diatribe.


   However, one area must be mentioned: the bathroom.


   I remember seeing a tweet about Casino Royale, the first Daniel Craig James Bond movie. If you remember, there is a scene where a dispirited Bond walks into the shower area with his suit still on. He turns on the shower and drenches his clothes.


   As a tweeter said, this demonstrated the great James Bond’s ingenuity. Nobody else has ever been able to walk into hotel shower stall and work out at once how to turn the water on. For most of us, it requires at least three minutes of fiddling with the knobs before we can figure out how the damn thing functions.


   At many modern hotels, having a bath has become the most traumatic part of the day. Shower controls are the bathroom equivalent of light switches: they have now got so complicated that they leave most guests confused. You feel like you are in the cockpit of a spaceship bound for Mars because here are so many different knobs and buttons.


   And don’t get me started on baths. Research has shown that fewer than 10 per cent of guests use the bathtub. But hotels keep it anyway because it looks more luxurious. This suits me: I like baths.


   But here is the thing: hotels work on the assumption that the bathtub is decorative. Often the stopper at the bottom does not work, so you can’t really run a bath. (This is because hotels use fancy stopping systems that quickly pack up). Then, water pressure is so low that at many hotels the large bathtub takes 20 minutes to fill up, by which time the hot water in the tub has gone cold.


   There is also what the trade calls ‘brown-water syndrome.’ When you turn on the tap, the water will be a dirty brown colour. It will return to normal after five minutes but by then you will be so disgusted that you won’t feel like stepping into the tub.


   I could go on (and will, on another occasion), but here’s my question: why do people who claim to be in the luxury business charge us so much only to needlessly inconvenience us?


   If you find out, do let me know.



Posted On: 15 Dec 2018 03:40 PM
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