Thursday, January 26, 2017

What is the one feature, outside basic necessities like running water, that every hotel room should have?

A bed, some clean bedding, four walls, a floor, a roof, a clean bath, and a locking door. 

And then, the question becomes, do you want to be able to rent the darn thing to human beings that you wouldn't mind having as guests? Because that's what it comes down to: each person measures their own 'need'. Define essential. Whatever item you name, you might feel very uncomfortable without it, even though not that many people feel the need for it. Or you could do without it just fine, but the guy next door will suffer through his stay for lack of it. (Do you actually watch all the channels you have on your cable TV? Yet, even if one of the 'amazing TV offers' channels were eliminated, someone would complain to the cable company.)

Image result for sleep cheap

We once tried to come up with a hotel with bare-bones amenities, where we could rent the rooms cheap cheap. (Twitter was a new thing, then, and people seemed to like the little blue bird, so inspired by that, and the 'cheap cheap' description, we even came up with a brand for it: 'Bluebird Hotel'.) 

I mean, we were downright shameless and aggressive about it, looking for every way in the book plus a few no book would dare print, to cut costs and make it possible to rent the rooms for forty bucks a night or under.

  • Double beds. No queens or kings - doubles. (Twin beds in some rooms.) You get three sheets, a blanket and two pillows.
  • No phone in the room. If you're too cheap to get a prepaid $19.95 cell phone from Wal-Mart to carry with you, there's a payphone in the lobby.
  • No complimentary toiletry items, either dispensed at the desk or left on the vanity top in the bath (of course, you can get them in a vending machine in the lobby).
  • No cable TV. (One annoying thing about that cost item is that it costs us two to three bucks a night whether we rent the room or not, times the number of rooms we have.) You want to watch TV (we buy flat screens, but we don't promise you one), there are tree to five broadcast channels available in most towns.
  • And - of course - no free wi-fi.
  • No free food, no complimentary breakfast - and if you want coffee, it, too, comes from a vending machine.
  • Carpet?  Naah. Linoleum, with maybe a scatter rug or two. Easier to clean (you give each room attendant a broom and a dust mop, not a vacuum cleaner), more sanitary, you don't have to steam them every three months, just mop them out a couple times a week.
  • We even considered having a private bath be an extra cost option, with maybe half the rooms depending upon a shared bath down the hall, like you'd find in a YMCA.
But then, we took a look at the downside.

  • There's always an old, bottom-feeder hotel down the road in which for around fifty bucks you can gut it out for a night (and they'll go down to forty if the competition from us gets to be too much). They might go a little longer between steam cleaning the carpets than we'd dare, but for one night, you could suffer along with it. They might have three-day-old muffins from the local bakery second-day store, but they have a free breakfast.
  • Dan Ariely's "pain of paying" kicks in below a certain price point - usually the one where you have to charge extra for what people are used to seeing as items that should be included.

    • Look at Ryanair. They draw a lot of criticism for cost-cutting measures and a never-ending search for extra revenue. People don't bear in mind that they're a low-cost airline: they only notice the advertising on the seatbacks, their charging you to use the toilet, the penalty charges for not having your boarding card upon arrival, silly 'gotcha' extra-cost points like that. Lesson: if you don't want to be a low-cost airline, don't be a low-cost airline. Trying to make up the shortfall in revenue by squeezing passengers on surcharges keeps the cost down, but increases the pain of paying for them.
    • Or even more to the point when it comes to hotels: look at Value PlaceDandy pricing model: I like it. You check in, you pay a couple hundred bucks - but instead of having the room for one night, you have it - with rather spartan furnishings but what the heck - for an entire week. And if you want it for another week, you pay the same thing again. They only rent them by the week, but even if you stay only three or four days, it's worth it (and as we'll see, that's where I think they get a lot of their profit, people not using the entire week, so they can rent the room again and collect on it twice). But they don't learn from people like Ryanair, and they make people mad, too - pick a few in random locations, and read through their TripAdvisor reviews. If you need extra towels, they charge you. If you want a coffeemaker in your room, you pay twenty bucks and they'll provide you with one. (Forget that: I'll go to Wal-Mart and buy one for that money; and if I drove there, I can take it home, and bring it next time I stay in a Value Place.) If you want your sheets changed before your week is out, you are charged extra for extra housekeeping services. Lesson? Below a certain price point - usually around sixty bucks a night - people don't notice how little they're paying. They only notice how they're being denied, or deprived.
    • That said, one of the things I hate about AAA and AARP and their 'entitlement rates' (Michael Forrest Jones' answer to What is and why do hotels have a rack rate? ) is that, if we could, in a stroke of genius, find a way to get the cost of a hotel room down to ten bucks a night without ending up in bankruptcy and maybe even make a small profit, forget having the world's gratitude for slashing everyone's travel costs - quite the contrary, we'd still have the occasional customer stomp out the door in a huff because we wouldn't give him 'his discount' and let him have it for eight-fifty or nine bucks.
    • Even at high price points, charging people for extras in a hotel drives people nuts (Michael Forrest Jones' answer to Why do expensive hotels nickel and dime you? ). Do you really think people who choose a bare-bones hotel because they don't want to pay a lot of money are going to put up with it?
  • When it comes time to expand your new, innovative chain of 'Bluebird ('cheap cheap') Hotels', you'd get a better return buying an existing, older, hotel or motel property than you would doing new construction - and at that price point, and the narrow margins you'd be leaving yourself with that business model, that difference in return on investment might be critical. But we'd be in the awkward position, once we took over an older hotel we'd bought, of not refurbishing and replacing things (which usually needs doing once you buy an existing hotel), but stripping out amenity items that people were used to having, in order to make it as bare-bones cheap as our existing properties. Something just didn't feel right about that.
  • In any hotel, you can count on at least one guest a night, give or take, who just cannot make do with what is provided for him or her in that room. And you'd be surprised: it goes for any market tier - economy, mid-market, upscale, luxury - and it will remain true no matter how lavishly that room is furnished. Someone's going to call down in the middle of the night wanting extra pillows, even though we put four to six on each bed. Someone's going to want an extra blanket, or extra towels. 
So . . . yeah, we could conceivably give you a room containing nothing more than bare-bones essentials at a really low price - assuming we could all agree on what is bare-bones essential

But you probably wouldn't like it. It would get old fast, once we either start denying you things that you feel it shouldn't be that hard to let you have, or charging you extra for them. Even in an economy-tier property, we have to leave ourselves enough of a margin to put the little pack of soap and bottle of shampoo in your room, to have a toothbrush behind the desk to give you if you forgot yours, to give you fresh towels every day as needed, to have wi-fi available even if for no better reason than the staff sometimes needs to go online.

These will vary by person. One guest will want extra bath toiletries. Another won't even use the ones we leave in the room for him, but want an extra pillow. One will go through the line at the complimentary breakfast and load up enough food on the tray for five people (even though he only paid for two), another will stay for days and not even take a cup of coffee. Our margin has to allow for flexibility.

My mom's brother ( Training for the Hospitality Industry (9780866121057): Lewis C. Forrest: Books) spent a career as a hospitality consultant, and likes to tell the story of a restaurant owner who rigged a device he could use to insert eight open, nearly-empty ketchup bottles into a wire rack, inverted, and let them drain into a converted bread pan, the bottom of which was slightly sloped, allowing the dripping ketchup to run toward one corner of the pan, into which a hole had been cut and a nozzle inserted, so that the ketchup would - eventually - flow into a waiting, empty ketchup bottle he had placed underneath, refilling it. The 'extra' bottle of ketchup produced as a result of doing this on a nightly basis, he explained, was "his profit". 

I don't believe a word of what that guy told him. There's frugal, and then there's cheap. I wouldn't go so far as to say that rigging and using a device like that isn't worth doing, if he has the space, but if a two-dollar bottle of ketchup makes that much difference in whether or not your restaurant, or any other business, is profitable, then you're cutting it too close. But the story makes my point. The little packages of soap, the little bottles of shampoo, the extras that you don't use, that I can save for another guest (who, hopefully, will leave them behind and won't use them, either, although eventually, someone will), carry down to my bottom line.

That's how I can afford to rent you a room for sixty bucks a night in such a property, and give you the extras that you'll occasionally need in a sixty-dollar-a-night hotel, so long as you don't demand too many - I leave myself enough of a margin to cover a modest amount of extras.

(Oh, and to answer the concern you mentioned more specifically - I have my own issues with open shower stalls . . . or roll-in showers . . . if for no better reason that I don't need my floors flooded. Water damage is going to be the result if it keeps happening over and again . . . But I probably wouldn't complain: I'd take some care to keep the water where it needs to be, and as long as the water was warm and comfortable and I could get myself clean, let the hotel's owner worry about the consequences of his suboptimal bath design.)

Originally appeared on Quora

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