Much ado about nothing: Glen Mutel

Head to a five-star hotel if you want a taste of the opulent. But, be warned, you might get more attention than you bargained for.

By Glen Mutel
Published 14 Jul 2014, 11:30 BST, Updated 1 Jul 2021, 11:53 BST

I'm not one of those people who spends their life in and out of fancy hotels. I've never been blessed with buoyant finances, and even if I had, I think I'd find it hard to put down £200-plus on a bed for the night. With that type of money in my back pocket, I'd probably bag a nice, cheap room in a smart hostel and blow the rest on food, booze and sightseeing.

Still, that doesn't mean I'm immune to a spot of pampering, and I admit, I've had quite a few opportunities to sample the pleasures of luxury accommodation, either through lucky deals or as a perk of being a travel writer. On these occasions, you'll be relieved to hear I did my best to enjoy the enormous beds, spa treatments and rooftop swimming pools. I am indeed a trooper.

As I'm sure you're aware, there exists a certain breed of hotel that considers itself a cut above. For these places, a mere five-star rating just isn't enough, as they strive to provide the type of experience fastidious Maharajas dream about. But, having fluked my way into a few of these places, I think I've spotted an irritating trend.

It seems to me too many ultra-plush hotels equate luxury with fuss. They believe the more a customer pays, the more attention they should receive. Well, while this is true to an extent — I'd expect more mollycoddling at the Ritz than in a roadside motel — there comes a point where quantity must give way to quality; where the amount of attention you receive becomes less important than the nature of that attention.

What's happening here is that luxury hotels and resorts are simply buckling under the weight of their own billing. The pressure of providing 'luxury' — as opposed to merely five-star — service proves too much for the staff to handle and, as a result, they end up clucking around you like overzealous aunts at a family wedding.

Now I know it might seem churlish to split hairs over standards of pampering, but the fact is, given the prices charged, these establishments simply must get it right. And getting it right doesn't mean asking somebody if they're enjoying their meal every two minutes. For there are only two answers to this: one is "Yes, but I'd be enjoying it much more if you left me alone"; the other is "No, but I can't bear to tell you this, as I don't want to see you weep".

Nor does getting it right mean sending three waiters to bring my room service. Nor does it mean calling me in my room every hour to ask me if I have everything I need.

I once stayed at a luxury beach hut on an idyllic island. It was morning and I'd had a late night, so after enjoying breakfast in bed, I decided to spend a few hours drifting merrily in and out of sleep. Alas, it wasn't to be. For although I'd put the 'do not disturb' sign on my door, the fact there were still uncollected breakfast trays lying beyond it was more than the hotel staff could bear. Over the next two hours they phoned me four times, begging me to let them collect the bloody things. When I finally rose, I discovered a breakfast waiter hovering outside my door like a disconcerted hornet.

This type of thing usually occurs in plush resorts where staff outnumber guests — a set-up that compels hotel workers to buzz around, justifying their existence. But as everyone used to know, in the very best establishments the staff are invisible. Except, of course, when you need them. And while you can't expect all employees to have this magical intuitive knack, at a high-class, high-cost hotel, these skills are vital.

For top-class prices, guests want top-class judgement, not top-class fuss.

Next issue: how I fell out of love with caviar.

Published in the Jul/Aug 2014 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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