hotel room

11 more things to hate about hotels

This week, I had to spend time in more than one hotel for work-related reasons. Whilst undergoing this trial, I read Sharon’s inspired post about UX anti-patterns in hotels. I started to compose a tweet in response, then moved to a thread of tweets and then reluctantly realised that I wasn’t going to be able to resist compiling my own catharsis-as-blog-post list of bad hotel UX patterns. Connection problems meant I couldn’t send this direct from the hotel, so here it is.

Note: I’m assuming that this typical hotel comes with the essentials. I probably shouldn’t. I once had a lengthy discourse with the night manager of a budget hotel because I found that there was no duvet in my room. I complained and was told that they’d all been removed because “no-one wants them in the summer”. He eventually found me a duvet that had escaped the cull in a corner of the storeroom. It’s best not to dwell on the state of that duvet, dear reader: let’s just say that it was in a worse state than the man who entered reception during our discussion and who was so drunk that he had to simultaneously hold onto the vending machine and try to purchase something from it.

1. Personal safety

You’re staying somewhere that’s not your home. What’s the number one thing you’re concerned about? Probably that this new space is, at least temporarily, yours and not someone else’s. What do most hotels do an appalling job of providing? Any confidence that the strange noise you hear as soon as you remove any item of clothing is not a cleaner, drunk or escaped prisoner about to join you. Locks that don’t lock, or locks that do lock but that you’re not sure whether they have locked? I’m a middle-aged white man and I’m not ashamed to say that some of the security arrangements at hotels that I’ve stayed in scared me even more than that time when I came face to face with 100 rampaging feral French school children in a London Travelodge.

2. Weird art

Is there anywhere that you can see hideous visuals on walls more reliably and frequently than a hotel room? My experience of the higher end of the market is limited but  it seems that extra posh hotels generally let you know that they are extra posh by adding some additional sculpture / wall mounted art to the mix. I’m writing this sat in an otherwise decent hotel room with two pictures – one in the bathroom – both of which are black and white photographic prints where the water in the bottom half of the frame is tinted purple. This looks like a cross between a film error of the “oops Dad I opened the back of the camera by mistake” variety and a large puddle of blood. I’m staying in a city that has a turbulent recent past, so it’s possible that the second approach was intentional. I’m hoping it’s not, as that’s not the type of thing to dream off cozily underneath. [Update: there are also some pics next to the lifts with the same approach, but with green tinted skies. No idea there either, unless it’s a metaphor for industrial pollution.] I have a secret suspicion that the bad visuals in hotel rooms are because the people who commission hotels only ever see the first five to ten artworks in a series and by the time it gets to the 176th room the artist is so desperate to go back to doing something meaningful that they churn anything out. Whatever the reason, the first hotel that guarantees either plain walls or a digital photoframe where I can choose the image will get my business.

3. Heating

I can think of few advantages of Western individualist capitalism [1] that I prize more highly than being able to control the temperature in the place where I live. Not only do hotels frequently remove this privilege from me but they seem to imagine there’s a real danger that I might die of frostbite. I know the differences in food, toilets and receptionists frequently hint that the difference between a hotel and a hospital is minor but this is one area where I’m firmly of the opinion that a divide should be maintained. And don’t even get me started on temperature control/“air conditioning” options that seem like luxury but wait until 2am to make the kind of noises usually made by expiring public transport buses and then leave you to wake up with a mouth/throat region that feels like someone has been scrubbing it with sand all night.

4. Recycling

It’s 2018 and we’ve realised that throwing stuff away constantly is a bad idea. But the one time I’m most likely to have to buy stuff encased liberally in glass, paper, plastic and other materials that should be recycled, and the one time I can’t carry these home, is when I’m in a place that won’t let me recycle them. Great job on the eco-towels policy, folks, but seriously, meet the 21st century and let me recycle the diet coke bottles, the sandwich wrappers and even the odd beer can (the latter because £6 for a pint of rancid Fosters in your themed bar is a more egregious form of robbery than your Wifi charges).

5. Stairs

I get that hotel designers like lifts but it’s clear that none of them have never ever tried to use them at 8.00am in the morning when everyone’s trying to check out. Give me some stairs, don’t make me hunt for them behind terrifyingly unmarked doors and please don’t let me exit in the basement into some kind of storeroom universe by mistake because you haven’t stuck any signs on the stairwell exit doors to let me know which one is ground floor. We’re all getting fatter, probably because we spend too much time in hotels, so you might as well let me walk a couple of flights of stairs if I want to.

6. Restaurants pt 1

Can we come to an agreement? If you really do have a French trained chef on the premises, feel free to market your creative menu at me. But if my food comes congealed out of a microwave ready to blister my mouth with random areas as hot as the surface of the sun, how about we skip the idea that it frees my tastebuds and come to an agreement that I will give you a tenner, and you can put a random microwave meal in a cardboard box on my table?

7. Restaurants pt 2

I know some people like bacon and fried eggs and that they hold a dear place in the heart of the British nation [2] and that they’re sometimes OK if you manage to get there at 5am when they’re actually cooked but can we please send the people cooking and eating these malodorous substances into another room? I never want to have to turn up in a work meeting smelling like I’ve spent the last week working behind the counter of a transport caff just because I went and ate two pieces of toast in the hotel restaurant. (Top tip: if you have to do this, *always* wear yesterday’s shirt for breakfast, no matter how bogging it is: the restaurant smell will more than cover any other odour.)

8. “Information systems”

I occasionally want a TV that works like a TV. I never, ever want a system that takes two minutes to switch on and welcomes me to the hotel by my first name like a particularly creepy stalker every single time I switch it on, before offering me 22 menu options for me to decline before I get to the TV.

9. Thin Walls

I don’t need to elaborate on this one, do I? If Dante had been alive today, then one of the circles of hell would have been waking up at 3am in the morning to the sound of an alarm clock and someone saying “you must get up, you must get up”, only to realise that it’s happening in the next room to yours and that you can go back to sleep, at least until the next person walks down the corridor, or the lift moves up the lift shaft behind your bed and makes that annoying “ting” sound again. You can get bonus points awarded here for ever having stayed in a room where there is a shower or toilet installed on the floor above directly above where you are sleeping.

10. Bathroom mirrors

I’m shortsighted and this probably exacerbates this problem, but I can’t be the only man who finds that the damn shelf they put in every bathroom beyond the sink means that the mirror is so far away that it’s practically in a different postcode. This leaves me to shave by feel rather than by sight, which is made worse by the fact that the lighting usually manages to put the light behind the person standing in front of the mirror, so that I can’t reliably check the results without clambering onto the shelf in front of the mirror (top tip: don’t try this).

11. Devils’ Dandruff [3]/ “Coffee Creamer”

Willingly unleashing a greasy oil spill similar to the Deepwater Horizon disaster on the surface of an unsuspecting beverage is surely the kind of human behavior that we have left well behind, along with throwing rocks at mastodons and movies with Steve Gutenberg in.

[1] I’m not entirely joking: Communist blocks and housing often had the heating centrally controlled and set.

[2] If you want to experience a contemporary re-enactment of the Hunger Games, then I recommend 9am on a Saturday at the all-you-can-eat buffet breakfast in the Premier Inn at Weymouth. I like to think that my queuing etiquette is close to exemplary, but thirty minutes of that was enough to have me buffeting OAPs in a fight to the death for the final mini muffin.

[3] aka milk powder.

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