What Travel Writers Say

Timely Tips from a "Hotel Whore!"
How to Secure Fine Accommodations

© by Mike Keenan (with permission from Betsa Marsh, SATW)

Chateau Laurier, Ottawa from Rideau Locks

When you purchase an automobile, you normally seek advice from myriad "experts." Shouldn't the same modus operandi apply when one sets aside a few thousand dollars for travel? What about something as simple as booking your accommodations in a hotel?
     One such expert (organization) is called SATW or the Society of American Travel Writers. These are well travelled writers who cover the entire globe. In a recent newsletter, I came across a book review by SATW member, Betsa Marsh. Writer and photographer Betsa is SATW Immediate Past President, and I have had the privilege to attend her workshops. Her book review focussed on "Heads in Beds" by Jacob Tomsky, and there are items mentioned well worth repeating, useful tips on dealing with hotels.
     Betsa quotes Jacob Tomsky as saying, "Travel is one of life's great, benign addictions" and "Hotels are methadone clinics for the travel addicted." Tomsky is a self-proclaimed "hotel whore" and author of Heads in Beds, a Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality. This book is a compilation from years of experience working at the front desks and housekeeping departments of real luxury and wannabe luxury hotels. Here are many tips that Betsa quotes directly from the book:
  • Start with a "crinkly handshake" to the front desk agent checking you in. That's a crisp $20 handed over at "hello," and things will go better from there on. Think of it this way: Who is doing the typing? Who's assigning you a room? Who burns your keys?...Me. Your cute little hero, the front desk agent. We can improve your life with a keystroke. We can keep your secrets and flood your room with wine.
  • At valet parking, ask not for whom the tires squeal, they squeal for thee. Unfortunately, once your vehicle rounds that corner into the cavern of the garage or takes a right at the light, any manner of terrible things may happen at the hand of a valet parker. Tomsky started his hotel life as a parker at a luxury New Orleans hotel. "We burned the life out of a guest's clutch teaching co-worker Eddie to drive. It smelled like a metal-and-oil barbecue up there."
  • If you have a flash car and a crisp $20, pull up to the driveway, bestow the bill on the doorman, and he may let you leave your car right in front for hours.
  • Bellmen hate Bernard Sadow, inventor of the wheeled suitcase. I mean HATE. Tomsky recommends that you always accept help with your luggage and tip generously. But if you're rolling through the lobby and up to your room, please be polite to the bell staff: "I can go up alone, but thanks anyways." "No thank you, but I appreciate it."
  • If you have a problem once you're in the room, call the front desk, outline the issue and offer a solution: "Should I speak to a manger about this?" "Should I speak to housekeeping about this?" Those are wonderful and beautiful questions to ask. Most of the time the front desk will be able to solve the problem immediately or at least act as proxy and communicate your unrest to the appropriate department or manager.
  • If you really want action, get and use the person's name. Nothing tightens up an employee's throat like being directly identified.
  • Skip the anger. Here is a nice rule of thumb...a person of culture should make every effort to hide his frustration from those who've had nothing to do with its origin!
  • Reservations made through Internet discount sites are almost always slated for our worst rooms...we cull the least amount of profit from these reservations. To improve your chances after booking, call the hotel directly and speak to the front desk agent. He/she can hold a nicer room-but realize you could be bumped by a fuller-fare guest in the interim. It's worth the shot: kindness, being polite, and expressing a positive desire for a nice room can once again shift your crappy discount reservation into a corner suite...
  • If you absolutely must have a room at 7 a.m., the only way to assure it is to book the night before and pre-register. Or, you can try calling very early in the morning of your arrival and asking the occupancy for the night before. If the hotel is running at 65 percent, then 35 percent of the rooms might be Vacant Clean and ready to check in, even at 4 or 5 a.m...
  • The best possible move is to call the property directly the morning you're scheduled to arrive and let the agent know you are on your way.
  • Contest the minibar. Minibar charges are, without question, the most disputed charges on any bill. That is because the process for applying those charges is horribly inexact... essentially, you are able to eat and drink everything for free. ...housemen steal from the minibar. Even minibar attendants might steal from your minibar... We aren't going to accuse you of anything, because we all have access to your snacks. We all have master keys. Any room, anywhere, anytime. We let ourselves in when you are gone. We let ourselves in even when you are there.
  • As dozens of hidden-camera exposés have proved, housekeepers often wipe your room glasses with hot water and a hand towel from the previous guest-or a nasty rag. Maybe the best you can hope for is a shot of Pledge inside your tumbler. Drink accordingly.
  • Tipping change is bad luck, people. If you can't round your generosity up to a whole dollar, then just embrace your cheapness. Don't try to pay off your own guilty conscience with quarters.
  • Service is minimizing negatives and creating the illusion of perfection. Here's how it's done: Lie. Smile. Finesse. Barter. Convince. Lie again. Smile again.
Finally, Betsa quotes Tomsky who shares the "Standard LIES That Spew from the Mouth of a Front Desk Agent":
  • All the rooms are basically the same size.
  • Of course I remember you! Welcome back!
  • There is nothing I can do.
  • I appreciate your feedback.
  • I'm sorry the bellman made you uncomfortable. I will certainly alert management.
  • I didn't mean to sound insulting.
  • I will mail this immediately.
  • My pleasure.
  • I would like to offer my deepest apologies.
  • We hope to see you again!

Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review, Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, National Geographic Traveler, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine.

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