“The great advantage of a hotel is that it’s a refuge from home life.”
Great Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw wasn’t far off the truth with this pearl of wisdom.
Married to an hotelier, I’ve been regaled with a few tales of the weird and wonderful antics of guests bunked-down in their ‘home away from home.’
Having worked in television for much of my career, strangely enough the two worlds aren’t as different as you might think.
The customer who turned up half-naked at reception covered in talcum powder springs to mind. (For the record it was at the hotel but with hindsight, it could’ve just as easily been the TV studios.)
I digress… what I really want to know, is when it comes to hotels of the luxurious kind, what is it that provokes such extravagant and more often than you’d care to know, bizarre behavior?
If you’re a ‘believer,’ there’s evidence of so-called lodgings as far back as biblical times when Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem during the Census to find “no room at the Inn.”
With travel becoming more and more accessible to the masses, so too has swanky accommodation.
It was 1829 when the first star was born. Five stars in fact!
Tremont House in Boston offered guests pitchers of water and free soap for washing.
This, they say, was revolutionary, paving the way for first class service.
(When did we get so fussy?)
Apparently about six decades later… it wasn’t until 1893 when the Waldorf-Astoria opened in New York – the first guest-house to offer room-service.
In 1974 the first building designed to be a hotel was New York’s Holt Hotel. It provided guests with a lift for their luggage. lockable doors and private baths. The 73-room hotel was dubbed ‘pure luxury.’
The 20th Century saw the big hotel chains come to town. Prestigious names like the Raddison, Marriott and Hilton materialised in all their fluffy robe-loving glory.
And so began the five-star journey of comfort and extravagance, which soon meant much more than free soap.
While there’s actually no such thing as a global rating system, five stars on the chart is generally a sign you can expect good behavior - from the hotels, not necessarily its patrons!
You’ll normally find a plush day spa, fitness centre, world-class chefs, ballrooms, lavish pools and 24 hour guest services that are superior to any other level of hotel.
Naturally, before their surge in popularity, those that could afford the ‘high-life’ were few and far between.
If you were cashed-up enough to indulge in the five-star-fantasy you were usually of the VIP kind.
Very Important People often with Violent, Indulgent Past-times.
Is it any wonder the scandalous exploits of celebrities in fancy hotel rooms regularly made front page news.
The most famous ‘hotel trashing’ in history was that of Rolling Stones drummer Keith Richards in the seventies. The rock star dropped a television out of the window at the Hyatt in LA.
Jim Morrison hung off the same hotel balcony by his fingertips (it wasn’t long before it became known as the infamous Riot Hyatt!)
Hard to forget movie star Johnny Depp and model Kate Moss’ exploits at the Mark Hotel in New York in ’94.
In an apparent drug-induced frenzy, the pair completely annihilated their $1200 a night room. Depp blamed an Armadillo hiding in his closet!
Despite the notoriety of such stunts, stories of reckless celebrities continue to flood the media, especially with ‘social’ media taking the world by storm.
One hastily thrown cocktail and you’re trending on twitter!
Olympic gold medal snowboarder Shaun White recently apologized for “unwise choices” that led to him being charged with public intoxication and vandalism after police said he pulled a fire alarm and caused the evacuation of a Tennessee hotel.
While we’ve all seen how money and fame can be the dramatic downfall of many a shining star, these days with five-star digs more attainable to the ‘average Joe,’ regular guests are more than capable of causing their own Charlie Sheen ruckus.
Just between you, me and the gate post…there’s an outstanding hotel bill for 29 smashed champagne glasses during a recent birthday party (and it wasn’t mine!) One or two in the throws of revelry, maybe, but 29?
My spies tell me there are people who think it’s perfectly OK to defecate throughout their entire room….read – ‘perfectly ok?’
Hotel cleaners are deserving of every cent they earn and more.
It’s the room-attendants who are usually first on the scene when a guest dies in their room.
On neutral ground, hotels have long been notorious for suicides and accidental overdoses.
It’s the ‘home away from home’ where guests can maintain their anonymity. Family members can’t readily find them and are spared the tragic discovery (an occupational hazard, regrettably the hotel staff inherit.)
These days you’d want to hope things run a little more smoothly than Basil’s farcical attempts.
Thankfully, discretion is paramount and five-star etiquette ensures you should never see an ambulance at the front of a hotel.
In China, if a guest commits suicide in their room and a staff member finds him or her, it’s protocol to give them “Lai See” (a red envelope with lucky money) to ward off any bad luck. (Lai See has a lot to answer for in the good luck stakes, but we’ll talk about that another day.)
There are obviously some hotels in some cities where deaths ‘in-house’ are more commonplace….in Las Vegas, they chalk up more than one a month!
And when it comes to celebrity suicides, the list is long and distinguished. A-listers checking in under a pseudonym for all the pampering and privacy money can buy, do so at their own peril.
Famous 60′s singer Janis Joplin was just 27 when she died of a heroin overdose at Hollywood’s Landmark Hotel in 1970.
Michael Hutchence lead singer of Aussie rock band INXS, hanged himself (according to reports) with a leather belt in Sydney’s Ritz-Carlton in the late nineties.
If it’s not high-flying death and destruction, the rich and famous are keeping five-star hotels on their toes with their outlandish demands.
Barbara Streisand likes rose petals in the bath…ah sorry, make that the toilet!
Still in the powder-room and Mariah Carey wants her taps gold plus enough mineral water for her and her pooch to bathe in.
Rock star Rod Stewart has a special “darkening team” on staff to make sure no light comes into his room when he takes his afternoon nap.
These kind of over-the-top requests are expected and more than likely granted when it comes to Hollywood royalty, but what about regular guests craving their share of the lavish celebrity lifestyle?
There are the more common requests that a concierge service performs like arranging gifts, finding a doctor, charging your phone, hiring a limo, front row seats at shows, etc, but where does a hotel draw the line?
The five-star brief is simple – to pamper and impress.
With competition and expectations mounting (not to mention Trip Advisor on the scene) so too is the need for a hotel to go above and beyond the call of duty.
The task to provide guests with an experience they can otherwise only dream about is a tough one. It’s no longer enough to have a fleet of limousines on hand to greet your VIP guests, now some hotels have their own helicopter at the ready.
This ‘your wish is my command’ attitude, whilst highly intoxicating, has opened up Pandora’s box.
Wealthy guests expect to get their three wishes and so much more.
There’s the guest who asked for a piano to be delivered to his room. Not too much to ask, but wait there’s more, how about a Lamborghini to sight-see around Hong Kong, and throw in a private jet if you would please.
There’s a regular five star lodger I like to call ‘Mushroom pocket’ who’s a serial offender with her weekly requirements. She doesn’t just want things, she really needs those dark chocolate balls on arrival instead of white chocolate balls and won’t be placated until her needs are met again and again…(preferably with the red carpet rolled out!)
Just while we’re on the topic of demanding customers – a note to any blokes out there with misconceptions about five-star Day Spas… when you book in for a full-body-massage it means just that! No therapist should have to deal with your ah, shall we say, enthusiastic desires. Really!
Speaking of extracurricular activities, it will come as no surprise to you that ‘affairs’ are rampant in top-end hotels right around the world (there are actually tips online to avoid being exposed – ‘pay cash, keep no receipts!’)
The W Hotel in New York is apparently one of the more popular spots for those secret love trysts.
And of course guests liaising with a prostitute are more common than a mint on your soft, fluffy hotel pillow. But actually admitting you had two prostitutes in your room after complaining you’ve had money stolen and then expecting to be reimbursed by the hotel? Priceless.
When it comes to compensation, some guests will try anything.
There are tips online for this too! How to ‘score’ a FREE room.
“Once you’ve checked in, if you find anything wrong in the room – a single hair in the tub or bed or bathroom floor or something, if you act upset enough the better hotels will comp your room.”
Not quite. There’s compensation and there’s compensation… television not working, air conditioning needs adjusting, a towel with a few threads? You’re probably pushing your luck.
A cockroach on those shiny, marble bathroom floors – possibly… a used condom down the side of that heavenly bed or a syringe buried behind the lavishly stocked mini bar? You might be in the money.
Some guests will actually ‘tamper’ with things in the hope of scoring something for free – take a light bulb out, pull out a cable, fill up bottles of whiskey in the mini-bar with tea. (Don’t go getting any ideas, my husband assures me, hotel staff aren’t so easily fooled!)
And while the exquisite decor and delectable food is sometimes all too much to bear…resist the overwhelming temptation to squirrel away the goods.
‘Buffet Bandit’ I’m looking at you! An extra croissant or three sneakily slipped into your Hermes handbag is not a good look. Nor are those stylish cushions from the hotel bar stuffed down your top (as much as I agree, they would look good in your lounge.)
Naturally as well as the weird, there are the wonderful …weddings, honeymoons, christenings, baby showers, birthdays, celebrations……hotels get it all and their job is, ultimately, to make everything run like clockwork.
Just as Richard E. Grant describes in his new British TV series ‘Hotel Secrets,’ five-star hotels are like giant stage show productions.
Backstage you’ve got the designers, bellhops, concierges, receptionists, chefs, pastry chefs, cleaners, (even my husband) taking care of everything behind the scenes and when things go a little haywire as they tend to — front of house, the show must go on and the audience must be oblivious to any mishaps. (Not that far removed from a television newsroom after all is it.)
So, next time you’ve saved those hard-earned pennies for a blissful five-star vacation and you find yourself sprawled out on your deluxe deckchair beside the ever-so-inviting infinity pool, cocktail in hand, dreaming your worries away, spare a thought for the backstage shenanigans.
One person’s five star reality may be another fool’s paradise…..