Staying in hotels sometimes made you feel like royalty. You’d call down to the concierge to order you a car, then ask the front desk to send up room service in the morning. You ended the night with a cocktail from your own private, in-room mini-bar, and awoke to portable fine dining delivered right to your bedside. For those brief few days, you were Marilyn Monroe and Princess Grace all rolled into one.
And then came technology. Now things like front desks and room service are going the way of phone books and fax machines – obsolete amenities that our kids will never know. While it has made staying in hotels more efficient and personalized, is losing all of this a good thing? Are all those perks gone forever? We polled industry experts and they dished on the services and objects disappearing from hotels, and whether we can expect to see them again.
Perhaps the fastest-fading hotel amenity is the front desk. Or rather, the front desk as we knew it. What was once a place of doing business and getting your room key has transformed into more of a centre of information, melding the check-in desk and concierge service.
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“It’s morphed from a transaction zone into an engagement zone,” says Joseph Bojanowski, president of the PM Hotel Group. “The need for the individual has changed. Travel is now experiential in nature, so people want to be guided through a city, rather than just have their credit card taken and given a room key.”
At the Moxy Hotel in Chicago, guests actually check in at the bar and get a cocktail with their room key. Hotel captain Rob Mastro said he’s taken guests who asked for the check-in desk to the bar and found them highly confused. Change, it seems, isn’t immediately apparent to everyone.
Status: Front desks will still be around, but their role will be different. “Some people still like to check in at a front desk, so I don’t think it’ll ever go away,” Bojanowski says. “Now it’ll just be part-concierge, part-bellman. Whatever you want, whenever, wherever.”
Partly as a response to environmental concerns, and partly as a result of a strong labour market and immigration concerns, daily housekeeping is being scaled back in many hotels as they struggle to fill jobs. Marriott even began offering 500 bonus points per night for skipping housekeeping, calling it a “Green Choice” incentive.
Automated maids are also on the horizon. Bojanowski says his hotels are beta testing robots to vacuum rooms, and foresees a time when robotic housekeepers will bring amenities, towels and other items to your room as well. Maybe as soon as five years down the road.
Status: Housekeeping will always remain. But it might be less frequent, or done by a Jetsons-come-true robot.
Taking mini-bottles of shampoos and lotions as souvenirs is as much a part of staying in a hotel as laying around in plush white robes. But thanks to a combination of environmental concerns over plastic and rising costs, those may be headed to extinction. As may the plastic bottles of water in your room.
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"Bathroom amenities like soap, shampoo and conditioner are going away,” says Michael Holtz, owner of the luxury travel agency Smartflyer. "A lot [of hotels] are going to wall-mounted canisters now. Marriott said they were getting rid of straws. There’s obviously an environmental impact, but it’s done to save cost.”
As for water, you won’t be parched in Vegas or forced to drink Central Florida tap water on your next vacation. Instead of plastic bottles you’ll be seeing more glass vessels with filtered water in your room, with a station on each floor to refill them. Many of the hotels in the PM group have already adopted this process.
Status: Expect hotels to forge ahead against single-use plastic, and find more large-container amenities when you travel. “We know guests love [the small plastic bottles],” Bojanowski says. “But they’re going away in a lot of hotels and I expect to see that change a lot more.”
There’s nothing quite like coming home starving after a cocktail or eight, stuffing yourself on $6 cans of Pringles from the mini-bar and then completely denying it the next day. Well, after decades of this, hotels have caught on and fewer are offering mini-bars in their rooms. Though cost may be a factor, they may also be vanishing as a result of shifting expectations.
"While people have gotten away from expecting a full mini-bar, they are expecting at least a refrigerator,” says Stacy Elliston, co-founder of Studio 11 Designs in Dallas who designs hotel interiors for brands all over North America. “Even luxury brands that would never put a fridge in a guest room before, they’re realizing the expectation is to have somewhere to put drinks or snacks they buy from the outside.” She cites clients from Marriott’s Autograph and Luxury collections (which have included fridges).
Status: Mini-bars will likely be phased out in favour of mini-fridges. But for now go ahead and crush those $10 almonds.
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Let’s pretend, just for a minute, that people ordering pay-per-view movies in hotels were doing so because at the end of a long day, they felt like settling down to a nice private screening of Ghost Dad. Fine. But now that family-friendly features are readily available on Netflix, Hulu, and free tube sites, revenue from pay-per-view movies have plummeted.
“They’re not a way to make money,” says Terry Goldman, chief enthusiast – what used to be called general manager – at the Canopy Portland Pearl District. “They’re expensive and people just disputed them half the time.”
That aside, hotel rewards programs now can load members’ Netflix and Hulu accounts on in-room smart TVs before guests even arrive, so they can pick up right where they left off in Santa Clarita Diet at the touch of a button.
Status: They may already be dead.
Closets and dressers
In urban lifestyle hotels catering to overnight business travellers or weekend leisure travellers, large spaces to unpack have become unnecessary. From Hilton’s millennial-focused TRU by Hilton brand to the Moxy in Chicago, large closets and dressers are being replaced by nooks with coat hooks. And no ironing boards, either.
"Marriott did a big study on their road warriors and found things people really need and things they don’t,” says Moxy’s Mastro. “A lot of times people are here for a couple days living out of their suitcase and just might need to hang a couple shirts. It’s a smaller footprint, and studies showed people preferred personal steamers to ironing boards too.”
The Moxy has a communal ironing area, which Mastro says has become a social hub much like the hotel’s "living room.” Some people used to call this a lobby.
Status: "There will always be business travellers who are there for a long time, work all day, come back and work some more,” Mastro says. So dressers aren’t dead in all properties. But in hip, urban hotels catering to short-term guests, don’t expect much space to put your gym clothes.
Local and long distance calling was once a huge source of revenue for hotels, when calling your kids to say good night cost almost as much as 1-900 numbers. Cellphones have effectively eliminated the need for in-room phones, and many hotels have replaced them with tablets that allow guests to not only contact guest services, but to make emergency calls if need be.
"It’s happening a lot in Las Vegas, and in Florida,” says Elliston of Studio 11 Design. “Owners want iPads: Your menus are in there, your entertainment is in there, you can control the lights, you can check out, all via the iPad. The only issue to get around is 911 calls, and they’ve done that through direct connection.”
The Moxy, for its part, still has phones in its rooms – but it’s chosen to have some fun with them. Each one is equipped with a black button that will play a bedtime story for guests over the phone. Some are PG. Some are not.
Status: Expect phones to be gone from rooms eventually. But with the need for emergency calls they may stick around longer than you think.
There is something quite decadent about ordering toast and coffee and having it delivered to you on a white-tablecloth cart for the bargain price of $55. Once in a while.
"People don’t want to pay a 23 per cent surcharge to have food delivered to their room,” says Canopy’s Goldman. "They’d much rather come down to the lobby, grab something in nice, biodegradable packaging. It might be the changing demographic of the customer. They’re younger and they just don’t want to pay for that.”
And hotels don’t make much money from it either.
"Profit margin and ROI [return on investment] for room service is next to nil, so people are trying to come to market with that same amenity, in a better way,” Elliston says.
The New York Hilton Midtown eliminated room service five years ago and hasn’t looked back. As one of the pioneers in that area, it’s led the way for new hotels to open without it. Nearly every hotelier we spoke to had some sort of grab-and-go alternative, and the Moxy even features a food-truck-inspired taco stand in the lobby for guests who really hate their roommates. Goldman also cited food-delivery services such as GrubHub and Caviar as effectively broadening the options for guests and eliminating the need for room service.
Status: In lifestyle hotels, room service will soon be a thing of the past. But it may never disappear completely as luxury brands choose to keep it on as a fancy amenity.