For a long time, it was just another advertising line – a hotel that makes you feel completely at home. It was used so often ( and still is) in advertising campaigns, no one ever pauses to ponder what it means. Do you feel as comfortable in the plush hotel room as the sagging TV couch at home? Does it tickle your ego when the stranger at the reception calls you by name only because she has the history of your visits to the hotel and you are a returning ‘valuable customer’? Do you turn cartwheels in the corridor just because you are ecstatic to be back? Or wait with bated breath for the waiter presenting a reheated dish and cracking a smile as wide as the tip he expects you to cough up? Do you like waking up groggily in the morning with an antiseptic voice on the phone saying ‘Good Morning Sir, this is your wake up call’ as opposed to your wife prodding you in the ribs and shaking you awake?
Apart from the fact that you pay an insane amount of money every day for all the privileges, hotel rooms across the world are painfully similar. A bed, some invisible art, a TV on the wall, a couple of bottles of water, a fridge with overpriced liquor, snacks and chocolate bars, a toilet and shower with little knick knacks like a comb, a toothbrush, shampoo, soap and soft towels if you are lucky, a desk with hotel stationery, a stratospherically priced room service menu and a ‘hotel smell’ – a combination of air-conditioning, food, perfume and cleaning chemicals. It hits you the moment you enter hotel lobbies and even the timed spraying of distinctive air fresheners does not mask the inevitable cloud that returns. The buffet is another point where the spread is lavish, but by the end of day three, you would be perfectly happy to have a simple ‘dal chawal’ at home instead of all the exotic stuff in the gleaming stainless steel serving vessels.
And yet, the quest to provide the home away from home continues. Apparently, hotels in the US have been jumping in to fill the gaps left in airline services, since they perceive quite correctly, that if people cut back on travel they cut back on hotel stays as well. So, they are now doing everything from special lounges for their repeat customers to getting them good seats on airlines, apart from taking care of baggage hassles.
They are lending them sneakers and workout apparel, to reduce the bulk that people carry on trips. They pack sandwiches so that guests do not have to endure airline food. And they are storing entire wardrobes for regular guests so that they can walk in with a minimal amount of baggage and slip into fresh clothes on arrival.
It beats the cost of maintaining vacation homes at various locations. But these are high-end travelers who are used to getting more anyway. Don’t expect this in a growing market economy where the number of rooms available is a lot less than the demand. It’s only when the shoes bite and the occupancy rates fall that the generosity will begin to show.