On Hotels: Why People Stay Where They Do

Everybody knows what they like. Everybody has their own approach to where to stay on the road.

Compare this gentle rant against high-end hotel properties with this list of favorite high-end properties. What we have here are two writers headed in different directions.

But I agree with both.

We've all got our stories on the anti-expensive-hotel side. In December, 2006 the hotel just outside the O. R. Tambo International terminal at Johannesburg (which was not then an InterContinental Hotel as it is now) charged us for every last beer, orange drink and tonic water in the minibar. All of them.

That was because we cleared all of them out and placed them in the cabinet beside the minibar so that we could store food we brought back from their restaurant. When it was time to go we reassembled the minibar, but it was one of those pressure-sensitive models which charges you for anything that's lifted from its assigned place.

Of course we were adamant that that wasn't right and would not stand, and it didn't. But we had to send a member of the front desk staff up to confirm all their Pepsis were in place, all momentum came to a screeching halt for fifteen minutes at checkout, and the ill will transformed what had been a pleasant enough stay to an experience I'm still writing about today. Just far, far too mercenary.

Funny, now we've had another problem with that very same hotel, now rebranded the Johannesburg O. R. Tambo Airport InterContinental Hotel. We stayed there last month on New Year's Day, en route to Namibia, checked out on the 2nd and settled our bill by credit card.

Our next credit card statement showed an additional, unspecified $300+ charge put through by the hotel six days later, while we were far out in the South Atlantic. That little episode is still under dispute, but as far as that particular building, I am beginning to discern a trend.


Zoma But not all expensive hotels are so… frustrating, and for one specific purpose, expensive hotels have a very important place. We're happy to spend the cash when the primary goal is refuge.

Once you've spent the day with people who eat larvae, or hurtling through the flooded Mekong delta, being unrelentingly stared at by rural villagers somewhere deep in the developing world, or anything else that's far, far outside your own experience, it's okay to seek calm and comfort for the night.

After a day of scrabbling around trying to impose some structure on the randomness of Phnom Penh, the Raffles Hotel le Royal is a haven of all things soothing – even if the fortune it costs to stay there contrasts too much with the fortunes of the local people.

After a day in the scarcely-controlled chaos of the Zoma, the Friday market in Antananarivo, the answer is not to retreat to a five dollar shared hostel. The pool at the then-Hilton, conveniently just slightly removed from town, was just the thing (The old Madagascar Hilton is now the Carlton. Can't speak for its current incarnation).

Once for complicated reasons we spent the night in a linen closet on a Vietnamese train, with people constantly coming by for bedding. Not that it was that bad, mind you, but I was distinctly happier the next night at the regal old Hanoi Metropole Hotel.

Some people are enriched by cultural immersion. When we sailed the Sepik River in Papua New Guinea, one night our ship docked off a village named Mindimbit near the bank of the river. Canoes glided silently alongside, and their curious inhabitants, mostly
adolescent boys, held their faces to the windows and peered at us 
inside. Fires glowed yellow along the otherwise unlit shore.

Cultural immersion fans might have sought out a mud and reed hut on the river bank to spend the night. We rather preferred our little cabin on the ship. So we know ourselves – we're not the cultural immersion types. And when seeking refuge – and a little space – we're all about spending the money on a nice hotel.

Just remember to be careful with the minibar. And check your next credit card statement.


(Photo of the Zoma, the Friday market in Antananarivo, Madagascar.)

Read a story about our visit to the Zoma here. For photos from Phnom Penh and more photos from Antananarivo, see the Cambodia and Madagascar galleries at EarthPhotos.com. Also see the Sepik River in the Papua New Guinea Gallery, and the flooded Mekong delta in the Vietnam Gallery.

2 thoughts on “On Hotels: Why People Stay Where They Do

  1. Thanks for linking to my post Bill, and I agree with your distinctions. It sounds like the hotel in Joburg (whatever name it has over the door) needs some basic training in customer care.
    Like you, we also have welcomed the escape from the dust and mayhem of huge cities that a nice hotel provides, particularly in Asia. Sometimes a step away from cultural immersion can preserve (or revive) your spirits and have you ready for the next day. Great post.


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