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What comes to mind when you think of your perfect hotel? Does your mind first race to the shape of the building? Is it a proud art deco palace somewhere along the Côte d’Azur with the property’s name lit up along the balustrades? Or do you think of a gleaming, polished tower with suites in the clouds and lifts that move so swiftly that they make your stomach flip?
Perhaps your perfect hotel is dainty and delicately formed with just 30 keys, a little bar and familiar faces who greet you by name on arrival – without the need for a recognition programme trotted about on a tablet device.
And what about the interiors of your perfect hotel? Do you like a grand entrance that’s all honey-toned marble and two-storey floral arrangements? Is the furniture Louis-something and the corners of the lobby populated by groups of women from the Gulf and their minders, all sipping tea? Do you like it brightly lit and a little dazzling so there’s a bit of theatre? Or is it a dimly lit affair where you can slink in and out with a minimum of fuss and attention?
When I think of my perfect hotel property my mind usually races back to the 1960s, decade of my birth, when long-haul jet travel was properly getting into its groove and business travel became a concept for marketeers to sell to hotel groups, airlines and travellers’ cheque companies.
Architecturally, the hotel is probably sprawling and low-slung and the architecture is in the “international style” of that day. There’s a large forecourt where taxis pull up and sharply dressed attendants unload the luggage while bellboys shuttle the bags to the rooms. The general managers stand just beyond the threshold to offer a gentle welcome.
The lobby is vast but well considered with plenty of places for guests, visitors and observers to perch or settle in. The carpets are thick enough to keep everything down to a reassuring murmur and there are lots of clocks to remind you what time it is in international hubs such as Dakar, Tehran, Montevideo and Anchorage. There’s a tiny kiosk (nothing more than a counter), staffed by a friendly woman, with copies of Der Spiegel, the Economist, Panorama, El País, the Nikkei and other essential international reads. Somewhere just off the lobby there might be a small arcade to cater to the needs of the international traveller – a place to buy gifts for clients and family, a shop with expensive cufflinks, white shirts and astronomically priced Swiss underwear, a salon that specialises in elaborate up-dos and, of course, a barber shop that does an excellent wet shave, buffs nails and keeps facial hair in check.
Before getting to the rooms there are at least five restaurants, all top of the trade with their various cuisines (Italian, Japanese, French and whatever’s local) and two wood-lined bars (mahogany or walnut work best) run by gentlemen with slicked-back hairstyles, white jackets and a ready lighter to fire up a cigarette or cigar. (Yes, dear reader, I may never have puffed a cigarette but I rather like a well-ventilated bar and the smell of cigarettes, pipes and the odd cigar. So do millions of other people.)
As for the guest rooms and suites, they should be sparsely furnished and designed for purpose – sleeping, washing, soaking, working and a little pleasure. They’re neither too small nor too big, there are proper walk-in wardrobes and built-in benches to handle hard luggage or sloppy duffels. The bathrooms are contained and private rather than extensions of the living and sleeping area.
The colour palette is calm and warm, the wood is blonde in standard rooms and dark in the suites and there’s a console beside the bed with buttons to summon services rather than a menu with phone extensions.
Up until a decade or so ago, there were still a few properties like this around the world. Even hotels that perhaps don’t match my architectural description still boasted many of the features I have outlined. Today, too many hotels have been re-engineered and “guest experience” has become the new marketing tool that consultants try to sell to unwitting hotel groups that have completely forgotten what business they’re in. (Why has every premium hotel group started to harass its top guests with ridiculous surveys that are emailed seconds after checkout? It is one of the most annoying trends in the industry and needs to stop. Truly good managers know if there’s a problem and seasoned guests make themselves heard – you don’t need to email reminders to find out “how you’re doing”.)
The good news is there is still one hotel that still looks like it could have featured in Ian Fleming’s work; the sad news is that it’s about to be knocked down. Next week’s column marks the start of a personal campaign to save it.
Tyler Brûlé is editor-in-chief of Monocle magazine