What makes a good hotel?

Almost since mankind began to travel from one place to another, this question has been asked repeatedly and with great earnestness. Innumerable studies have been done, surveys have been conducted, and extensive research has gone into trying to find a proper reply to this simple enquiry.

The answer, actually, is as simple as the question. If you enjoyed your stay at a particular hotel, then for you, it was a good hotel! Applying this wisdom to our own context as people who globe-trot constantly, we have a simple rule-of-thumb:- out of the hundreds of hotels we stay in all over the world, if we remember one with pleasure – it must be a good hotel!

The commercial world has tried to set standards in a measured, scientific and systematic way. The result is a ‘star’ rating that is as bland and as unhelpful as it is wide-ranging and comprehensive. Measuring a hotel’s excellence by its size, or the number of its rooms, or the variety of its facilities is like telling you a cake will be delicious because the bakery was big, modern and hygienic! Star-ratings are only useful in indicating general facilities and prices. The actual excellence depends very much on what the hotel actually provides, and how closely this matches your own needs and preferences. Ratings often have little bearing on the quality of an establishment.

For example, the room-service was atrocious in one of the world’s most luxurious business-hotels in Dubai, while the room-compendiums are surprisingly comprehensive in modest little commuter hotels in Japan. The reception at some large top-grade American hotels can be plain and impersonal, while many small Asian resorts have exquisite lobby-areas and warm smiling welcomes. Great beaming hospitality may envelop you in an unpretentious Irish bed-and-breakfast inn while you might have to get your own stuff at a busy premium-branded European establishment.  We had nightmares with security at a luxurious hotel in Cairo, Egypt, but felt perfectly safe at an economical boarding-house in Singapore.

Standards can vary greatly within a single country itself. A certain expensive hotel in Shanghai has an army of unsmiling, immaculately-attired but poorly-trained staff, while a modest little cliff-side rest-house on nearby Huangshan mountain has superbly helpful people, some who sport the coveted Golden Keys of Les Clef D’Or, the world’s most recognized professional hotel concierge organization. Even the same request can get different results in a single city! Asking for a room-massage may get you a qualified physiotherapist at one five-star Bangkok hotel, a wizen old traditional herbalist at another, while at a third similar establishment a sleazy prostitute may ring your doorbell.

Standards can be totally inconsistent within a single chain as well. People who are used to the ‘cheap-thing-no-good’ norms at a Holiday Inn or Howard Johnson’s in the USA will be amazed at the luxury and hospitality that surround them when they enter hotels of these chains in Asia – and for a similar price, too! Some chains like the Accor group try to develop a whole raft of sub-brands to categorise all their properties into consistent slots, but we found the Mercure Hotel we stayed at in Lyon quite different from the Mercure we occupied in Perth, and the Ibis we graced in Dubai had little to compare with the Ibis we visited in Jakarta.

Government policies, rules and regulations may cause unexpected variances in what you would expect in a star-rated hotel. Taking five-star hotels as an example, the posh hotels in a certain Far East country are not allowed to provide complimentary shampoo, while other countries ban those plastic laundry-bags which are useful for taking your laundry home. Some countries prohibit the provision of Gideon Bibles in hotel-rooms, while others ban liquor anywhere in the hotel. Some governments do not allow hotels to pick up their guests at the airport, while others close all restaurants during certain religious observances. As such you may breeze into a luxury hotel and find that it does not live up to your expectations of a ‘good’ hotel through no fault of its own.

And in that last sentence we return to the point we are trying to make:- what constitutes a ‘good hotel’ is actually a very subjective and even personal matter. Whether you are staying at a traditional beach-resort in Bali or a regal country manor near Balmoral, a skyscraper hotel in Kenya or a small motel in Kentucky, a family inn in Innsbruck or an airport-transit in Incheon, ultimately, a good hotel is one that leaves you in an extremely happy frame of mind!

In our own extensive travels around the world, however, certain hotels stand out from the crowd for specific attributes. In our own quirky and entirely subjective evaluation, these are our Best Hotels Of The World. …read all about them here.