Wanderlust: Hotel hiccups


After 10-plus years of reviewing five- star hotels around the globe, I know my thread counts. I've mastered the art of writing hotel haiku, as a fellow travel writer describes our 200-word summations of US$200 million properties, waxing lyrical about gorgeous marble vanities, endless infinity pools and lavish spas. But what readers don't get to hear about often is what occasionally goes wrong with newly opened resorts.

These hiccups take different forms. Sometimes, I am merely the first to document structural missteps, like the layout at the Sala Phuket, which forces guests to pass dramatic second-storey suites with floor-to-ceiling windows hung with only diaphanous curtains. When the wind blows, those flimsy things fail to mask full frontal views of the guests within. On my visit, it was a corpulent Russian gent who seemed to be enjoying his exhibitionism as much as the cigar in his mouth.

When iconic Marrakech property La Mamounia reopened in 2009, it was my turn to be caught naked. I was dressing for dinner when the doorbell rang. The 'do not disturb' sign was on but before I could utter a sound, the overly eager butler was staring straight at my fresh from the shower nakedness. It was of little compensation that he had my evening's attire, neatly pressed and on a hanger in his right hand, the left one belatedly covering his eyes.

More recently, this spring, I checked in at W Opera Parisa in Paris, which has been converted from an 1870s Haussmann era building in the ninth arrondisement near the city's grandest department stores Printemps and Galeries Lafayette. The staff treated us well and our room looked whimsically chic. After dark, I went to open the window that looked out upon the surrounding Parisian rooftops. When I couldn't make the knob budge, I asked my bigger and stronger travelling companion, who soon failed too. We called the concierge who informed us that guestroom windows are sealed shut. No-one knew why, but everyone on duty agreed this was not going down well with the new hotel's first batch of guests, including us, who checked out just past sunrise.

At the Taj Tashi, though, the first business hotel in Bhutan's national capital, Thimphu, I felt the walls closing in on me. This seven-storey structure was the first in the Himalayan kingdom equipped with an elevator. On arrival, I followed Nyima, my butler, into it. The doors shut and I waited for Nyima to press the button for my floor. Then I waited some more. Writing this now brings back that same tightening across my chest as every effort to allow Nyima to perform her duties fought a battle inside my head against a deeply entrenched claustrophobia. After what felt like an eternity – but was really only a few minutes – I leaned in and pressed the button, only to have Nyima shriek with delight as the elevator lifted upward, reminding me that what we take for granted remains a treat to many.

As I see many hotels in their nascent stages, most of these are just teething problems. And I'm impressed by properties which identify problem areas then exceed expectations, such as my flawless second stay at La Mamounia in November. The best hotels, like people, learn from their mistakes.



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