Riyadh’s 5-star barbershops

Growing up in the 1960s, I recall thinking to myself whenever I saw the revolving red white and blue pole displayed outside a shop at the end of my street, that it was an invitation to step into Candyland, because that’s what it looked like to me at the time — a delicious gigantic candy stick.

However, I later found out — much to my dismay and utter horror — that this was in fact the place where I was taken by my mother once a month, under extreme protest, to have my Beatles tribute hairstyle snipped and clipped by an overzealous Italian gentleman named Franco, who always seemed to leave me looking like a mad gardener had pruned my hair instead of a qualified barber.  

Since then I have had several interesting experiences with male barbers in many different countries and with female hairdressers when no barbershop could be found — experiences that were often a little awkward, especially if they could not speak English and if I was seated next to well-coiffured ladies enjoying a pink perm. 

If you are still reading this week’s post you may be wondering how this story has any kind of relevance to the hotel industry. Well, many of the readers of this blog who work and live outside the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will be surprised to learn that one of the prerequisites for obtaining a 5-star rating for a hotel in our country is the onsite operation of a fully fledged, fully certified, male-only barbershop, which must operate from early morning to late evening, and it must pass stringent health and safety standards issued by the Saudi Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities (yes, Antiquities).

I first encountered this rather unusual requirement when I arrived for work on the first day in my previous Riyadh posting, whereupon I found a cozy little two-chair barbershop located right next to my office, which was handy for me, I guess, but rather confusing for our guests in search of a shave or a trim, as they had to take an elevator to find us buried deep in the basement of the hotel for security purposes.

Although the sight of a busy barbershop in your hotel lobby is not something that may immediately appeal to many international hoteliers, I must admit that the incremental spend in our coffee shop and restaurants from our barbershop customers and the number of guests who stay with us because of the excellent barbershop service is quite phenomenal, and as such I can definitely recommend my colleagues around the world to give it a try if you find yourselves with an empty shop within your premises.

As a footnote, if you think having a barbershop in your hotel lobby is unusual, how about a resident palmist? I was “fortunate” to have such a gentleman resident in my previous hotel in Pakistan, reading our guests’ palms and telling their fortunes, and boy was he a valuable USP — no, not a unique selling point, but a unique selling palmist, as he was well known and highly respected nationwide and as such generated a tremendous amount of traffic and revenue for my outlets. 

Do you have or have you ever spotted an unusual shop or service in a hotel lobby?