They’ll do almost anything to get you in bed

The hotel business is an extremely competitive one, often with little separating one luxe property from another. Last year finally saw global occupancy rates bounce back to where they were before the recession, when 2009 was the worst year for hotels since the Great Depression. Currently, Asia-Pacific hotels are doing well, leading all regions with 70 percent occupancy rates in the latest statistics, with Hanoi hotels adding to the encouraging performance with a 10.7 percent increase to 78.1 percent. Ho Chi Minh City has its own share of rooms to fill, reportedly with 40,900 units, including 4,587 rooms in 14 five-star hotels.

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In this economy, brand loyalty can only get you so far. Standing out from the crowd is imperative. Ever since the first pillow menu appeared in a tiny 17 room boutique hotel on the equally tiny Caribbean island of Mustique in 1997, luxury hotels have been in a race to outdo each other with amenities and services they offer. Some are going for decadent. Others for comfort. But in almost every case, hotels are trying to meet the growing demand for value demanded by travel savvy guests. A recent survey conducted by the travel marketing company MMGY pointed to “value for the price” as being the number one determining factor in selecting a hotel, regardless of the room rate, cited by 9 out of 10 respondents.

This is forcing properties to up the ante, as several trendy perks from years ago, like free newspapers, frequent stay programs, flat screen TVs and super premium bed linens, are now seen as the norm rather than providing added value. The traveling public is clamoring for more.

Over the Top
In this race for the best perks, some properties have put a twist on the old, like Saigon’s own New World Hotel. Not content with the foam versus feather option, the property has added unique pillow choices like buckwheat, latex and charcoal. Phung Van My, Director of Rooms, says of the variety on offer: “Everyone has different needs. Some people have aches or muscle pain, so the latex or contour pillow is good for them. The buckwheat pillow molds to the guest’s head. The charcoal pillow is stiff with a cushioned middle area.”

In the same vein, instead of the usual toiletries, Francis Ford Coppola’s ultra-luxe Palazzo Margherita (Bernalda, Italy) offers bath products that have been made by Dominican friars in Florence since 1221. If you were to check into the Lakshman Sagar in Rajasthan, India, you might find a twig where the toothbrush ought to be. These all natural, antimicrobial neem twigs are a hit with eco-minded guests and are said to offer the same dental protection as toothbrushes without the need for toothpaste. And instead of the unflattering slippers found in most hotel closets, the Hotel Refugia (Chiloé, Chile) gives out sheep’s wool slippers hand-woven by local artisans which can be taken home by guests.

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Miranda Stolfo explains that the slippers are typical of the region where people of the older generations are constantly warning youngsters against the dangers of going barefoot indoors, and many Chilotes wear them around the house. Indeed, properties are learning that small things can really make a difference. Not long ago, I stayed at the Marriott Khao Lak (Thailand) where a made-to-order fresh fruit smoothie bar at breakfast was a great hit. Something so simple and relatively inexpensive turned out to be very memorable. No tired boxed juices need apply.

Not to be left out are amenities catering to the profitable kids and pets segments. The Coast lounge at The Ritz-Carlton, Palm Beach, has a recording studio where teens can create a live radio program, mix and scratch on DJ turntables or learn video production and editing. Christine DiRocco, Director of Public Relations, told Oi, “The teens section is no parents – just ‘cool’ younger, chaperone type staff members. Parents love that they have their own time, plus their kids are happy which equals win/win.”

Not to be forgotten are the furrier members of the family. For an additional room charge and cleaning fee, man’s best friend gets an exclusive W pet bed and a special surprise during nightly turn-down service at W Hotels. Couldn’t bring Fido with you on the trip? Not to worry. Kimpton
Hotels will deliver an in-room goldfish to help you through pet separation anxiety as part of their “Guppy Love” program. In case you’re wondering, the staff feeds and cares for the goldfish so all the guest has to do is enjoy its company.

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Some properties are obviously going for over-the-top decadence, like a helicopter airport transfer from the Hong Kong Peninsula (USD2,063 one way for up to four guests). Other properties are taking advantage of our penchant to travel brag. A recent study found that travel stories and photos make up 42 percent of content most often shared on Facebook. A new term, “smoasting” (a reduction of “social media boasting”), has even been coined to describe the latest trend of posting don’t-you-wishyou- were-here travel photos. For those too busy to do the dirty work themselves, the Madison Hotel (Washington, DC) is offering a package that includes a social media butler who will give your fans a play-by-play of your vacay on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.

Pay by the Hour
The more pragmatic hotels are simply re-thinking the obvious and ‘repurposing’ their rooms. The Art Series Hotels with properties around Australia, trialed an Overstay Checkout earlier this year whereby guests didn’t need to check out until someone else actually checked in. Guests simply called reception the morning of their departure, and the hotel let them know how late they could check out, whether it be late afternoon or the next day. Adam Ferrier of Naked Communications, the company that helped develop the concept, told Oi, “Some guests have booked and paid for one or two nights and ended up overstaying an additional seven, eight or even nine!” During the one month promotion, the three properties gave away a total of 1,203 hours and 339 free nights.

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To residents of Vietnam, seeing signs for hotel hourly rates is nothing new. What is new is that exclusive, upscale hotels in cities such as Paris, London and New York are joining the club. Ostensibly for business guests who might just need a place to get some work done and prepare for a meeting before taking an evening flight home, the concept of legitimate (or not) short-stays has caught on with hundreds of high-end properties whose rooms are otherwise unoccupied between 11am – 4pm.

Dayuse-hotels.com is one example of an online booking service catering to this trend. Launched in November 2010, the site now offers hundreds of properties in 10 countries for people who need a second office, a second bed, or a discreet place for some fancy afternoon delight. Savings can be substantial. The boutique Ten Manchester Street in London is regularly GBP145 per night. The day use rate with two glasses of champagne? GBP90.

What’s your favorite hotel amenity or service? Email us at travel@oivietnam.com

Bio: Having visited nearly 60 countries as a travel writer and award-winning photographer, James Pham blogs about his adventures at FlyIcarusFly.com