The hospitality industry is continually introducing innovations to travelers to make them forget the misery of extended business trips and spice up an otherwise confining box. Monica Kim of Conde Naste Traveler has assembled a list of some of the top 10 hits (we can’t imagine travel life without them) and misses (who thought of that?!).
We had the best of times … we had the worst of times. Cheers and jeers for the trends we loved (and loathed) in 16 years of reporting the Hot List of best hotels, restaurants and spas.
Remember when hotels didn’t have pillowtop beds … or rain showers … or turndown gifts? We do. Here, the 10 best hotel innovations from the past decades — just try to imagine your hotel stay without them (it’s not easy).
1. The Celebrity Chef Restaurant, debuted c. 1997
Jean-Georges Vongerichten opened his much-lauded namesake restaurant in the Trump International Hotel and Tower 15 years ago. Now, celebrity chef collaborations are the norm, and foodies flock to hotels for their prix-fixe menus.
2. The Pillowtop Bed, debuted c. 1999
It’s launched a thousand copycats: Westin’s Heavenly Bed, a lofty mattress topped with down blankets, now found throughout the hotel universe.
3. The Return of the Read, debuted c. 2000
Forget those mediocre hotel magazines. Today’s bibliophiles head to the hotel reading room for a large selection of titles. The Study at Yale in New Haven has its collection curated by the legendary N.Y.C.-based Strand bookstore.
4. The Rain Shower, debuted c. 2001
The quest for perfect water pressure made strides with the introduction of rain showers (which harness gravity to let large drops fall at a soothing, rain-like rate).
5. The Turndown Gift, debuted c. 2004
Chocolates on your pillow? So ‘80s! Hotels have raised the stakes on nighttime treats. Sri Lanka’s Amanwella offers straw hats and books.
6. The Flat-Screen TV, debuted c. 2006
Rooms received an upgrade as hotels phased out clunky box-shaped TVs in favor of sleek flat panels.
7. The Pool Amenity, debuted c. 2007
Crying kids no longer define the resort pool experience. Instead, how about a spritz of Evian water or some fresh fruit as you work on that tan?
8. The Free Minibar Treat, debuted c. 2007
The minibar is infamous for price gouging, but some hotels have begun offering complimentary snacks. All Andaz Hotels let guests have their pick of any non-alcoholic drink and a selection of small bites.
9. The Paperless Check-In, debuted c. 2010
After battling crowds at the airport, the last thing anyone wants to do is wait to check into the hotel. Self-check-in kiosks (like those in airline terminals) make the process seamless.
10. The Wireless Concierge, debuted c. 2010
You need to find a restaurant or last-minute theater tickets. You are also miles from your concierge. Don’t fret. Some hotels now have a remote concierge service accessible via text message. All you need is a cell phone.
We’ve witnessed the birth of the best of hotel innovations … and, alas, some of the worst. Here are the ones we wish would just die already.
1. The Pillow Menu, debuted c. 1997
Mustique’s Cotton House Resort was the first to offer a bedside card with a selection of fancy pillows, and the idea soon went worldwide. But really, who cares? It’s an overly cute service that sets off our gimmick radar. Just keep the pillows clean and neatly stuffed. We’ll pass on the buckwheat hulls.
2. Club Lighting, debuted c. 1998
You could be in sunny South Beach and not know it, thanks to the dim, multicolored lighting in some hotels. Last we checked, we paid for a room, not a private discotheque.
3. The Hotel Channel, debuted c. 2000
Question: Wouldn’t it be fun if guests had a TV channel with information about the hotel accompanied with a sound track of elevator music? And if whenever they turned on the TV, it would always revert to that channel? Answer: No. It takes hours (well, it feels like hours) to scroll through every channel to find one we like. Why would we want to repeat that process every time we hit the power button?
4. The Bath Butler, debuted c. 2000
Butler-drawn baths were a hot commodity in Asian hotels that arrived stateside last decade. It’s a lovely idea: dipping into a cedar ofuro pre-drawn with steaming water, with a smattering of votive candles to set the mood. But perhaps the charm was lost in translation, because we can’t help but find something creepy (and depressingly regressive) about someone turning on the bath faucet for us.
5. The Canine Concierge, debuted c. 2006
Forget doggy sweaters: At the Rome Cavalieri, your pet can get a cashmere jumper monogrammed with rhinestones (not to mention access to a nearby pampered pet spa service, which offers “comb outs”). But isn’t that time and money better spent on the two-legged guests?
6. The Mandatory Resort Fee, debuted c. 2006
Long ago, hotels charged one flat rate for your stay, and that was that. But then they started sneaking in all sorts of hidden charges, one by one — including, most notoriously, mandatory fees for the pool, tennis courts and gym. These extras should be included as part of the stay, not as covert costs to make the hotel appear less expensive.
7. The All-in-One Room Controller, debuted c. 2006
In what’s become the (extremely) lazy man’s deus ex machina, a single gadget now controls everything from the lights to the temperature. But these gizmos are often so confusing that far more time is spent figuring out how to turn off the lights than would’ve been spent simply walking five feet to the switch.
8. The Wall-Less Bathroom, debuted c. 2007
Sure, a bright, wall-less bathroom is practical on Anguilla, but in a big-city suite, it looks like the room is missing a wall. This is just too voyeuristic for our tastes.
9. The Motion-Sensor Minibar, debuted c. 2008
One too many disappearing Toblerone bars led to the introduction of the minibar sensor a few years ago. Now, if you dare to move a soda from its rightful place in the fridge, a charge will automatically be added to your bill. Yes, hotels need to prevent theft, but treating guests like Jesse James is not a good business strategy.
10. The Half-Wall Shower, debuted c. 2009
This unfortunate fad is in the same family as the wall-less bathroom. With only half a glass panel and no doors or curtains, these showers do look great, but just try not to get water on the floor: It’s next to impossible.