There is likely to come a point in any travel writer’s career where he or she has to trudge around a city, inspecting a few hotels for a city guide of some description. You might be staying at one or two hotels, but if you need to recommend more than one or two, then there’s some donkey work involved in making sure a few others are up to scratch.
Over the last couple of years, I’ve had to do rather a lot of this. And it’s not the most glamorous of tasks.
The rookie mistake to make is to set up appointments to inspect said hotels. This will generally mean arranging to meet the marketing manager or PR director (whatever fancy title they’ve given themselves) who will want to show you every single aspect of the hotel – including conference facilities and highly generic gyms that you don’t care about – have coffee and lumber you with a large press kit.
You’ll also end up with an impossible schedule, as the marketing managers will set up appointment times that are convenient to them, rather than you. You’ll end up at one side of town at 1pm, another at 2pm, another at 3pm – and inevitably running late.
It didn’t take long doing this for me to realise that setting up appointments was a fool’s errand. To inspect hotels in anything like an efficient manner, you need to tackle them in a roughly geographic order. That means some advance preparation – deciding which hotels you need to inspect and marking them on a map.
ENJOYED THIS POST? HELP FUND THE SITEMy first book - Hardly Paradise: Anti-Postcards From A Grumpy Traveller - features 70 of my favourite travel stories from around the globe. It is out now on Kindle for just £2.99.
If you've enjoyed what you've read on this site, then buying the book would be the best way of saying thank you and helping to keep it going.
If you've not got a Kindle or just aren't interested in the book, that's OK. But if you click through on the link below, then buy anything else from Amazon (travel gear, guide books etc), I'll earn a tiny commission. And that would be nice too.
Turning up unannounced leads to its own problems, of course. The first being that you have to deal with the receptionist, explaining who you are and that you’d like – if possible – to see a room (plus whatever other facilities are going to be relevant).
On the whole, most receptionists are quite good about this. If there’s a room available, they’ll show it too you themselves or get one of the doormen to do it.
Others are less easy to deal with. The classic response is to say that you need to set up an appointment with the marketing manager, or that the marketing manager needs to be here to show the rooms to journalists.
I’ve developed strategies around this. The first is to ask whether the marketing manager is there at the moment and, if so, would they be able to show me now.
If the marketing manager is not there, I’ll get crankier. No, it’s not possible to come back when they are there as I’m leaving town tomorrow. Would it be possible for someone else to show me? You can phone the marketing manager and check it’s OK, but I’m pretty sure they’d prefer to not be there and have the opportunity of inclusion in the guide than to be absolutely certainly left out.
It’s rare that this doesn’t work. Logic and common sense will generally prevail over jobsworth ego. And when it doesn’t, then I’ve learned all I need to know about the service ethic at that particular hotel.
The other objection tends to be that the hotel is fully booked and there are no rooms available to show. This is occasionally true – but more often than not it’s used as an excuse to get out of showing the rooms by a lazy receptionist.
This is where timing comes in. There’s a window in the day where you’ll get a higher success rate for on-the-spot hotel inspections. Go before midday and you’ll have dirty rooms with queues of people checking out. Arrive after 4pm, and a lot of the new guests will be starting to check in.
Between noon and 4pm tends to be the sweet spot. The hotel might be fully booked, but a decent proportion of the guests won’t have arrived yet. And that means the magic: “Well, would there be any rooms that people haven’t checked into yet?” line tends to work.
It forces the receptionist into looking whether there are any clean, unoccupied rooms – and, nine times out of ten, there are. Then, finally, someone will take you to look at them.