How well have we read your mind?
You have come to stay in out hotel — never been with us before. We know nothing about you except the number of nights and the numbers on your charge card. How well have we figured out in advance what you need? And how well have we figured this out for every guest in the hotel for years on end, to distill it down to an essential sameness, so that we can give everyone the exact same room, and have them all be happy?
Is this brilliance? If we were able to anticipate all situations with a single, one-size-fits-all solution in any other field — say clothing, cars or medicine — we would alter life as we know it. Perhaps hotels and hoteliers are the geniuses of our age.
Or perhaps the task is too easy, and we really are that much the same. Or maybe our ideal solution is not the universal success we assume.
The classic hotel room, in all its branded iterations, is constantly being tweaked. Does it answer our needs?
Is the bed right? With so little space, does a king bed make sense, or would a queen conserve space for other uses? Could we put two twins together, that pull apart, European style, dispensing with doubles altogether? Would a trundle make the room a social and business center, with sleeping capability? Mattress on the floor or a platform? Our bedrooms are not uniform at home …
Do we all watch TV? From bed? In the bathroom? Do we want to see a TV in the room when it is off? Might we use our laptop instead, or the hotel’s? Does the room width —conceived as bed length plus walking area plus CRT tube-type television, 12 to 13 feet (3.7 to 4 meters) — need to remain this distance, now that the TV depth has shrunk to a couple inches?
Do we approach the hotel room like a doctor approaches a checkup, with a standard list designed to cover all vital signs, administered by assistants, and five minutes of the doctor’s time? Or like a sushi chef, who puts regular sushi on the menu, but offers and embraces the opportunity to customize your meal from all that is available?
Does our standard kit of parts serve all of hotel customers equally well, or even well enough? That is, does the basic configuration of bed (king), night tables, desk, dresser, TV and armchair answer the needs and desires of every traveler? Or is this sushi regular, and can we offer a menu that allows each guest an experience customized to his or her tastes? Imagine a restaurant menu limited to “standard” and “deluxe” dinner; they would be out of business quickly.
Our homes do have much in common with each other. The configuration of living room, dining room, kitchen and bedrooms, and even the furniture configuration — for instance, the living room sofa, armchairs and TV — are common enough that housing developers and furniture stores operate with a confidence that their products meet the market need.
But a momentary comparison of the standardization of homes with that of hotels will quickly indicate that the hotel market offers fewer choices, and if we extend this comparison to other fields, hotels are more standardized and offer less choice than most. Price does distinguish the choice of one hotel over another, as does location, and there are qualitative and quantitative differences, but — brand profiles notwithstanding — the kit of parts is essentially the same.
What would a custom hotel room be like, and would it be feasible to offer this? There are two basic approaches to customization, making each one different upon request, and making a range of choices. There are things in our lives that are so ordinary that we unquestioningly take them for granted. If you were to question the basic hotel room, what would you change?