The latest Marriott innovations – the 4D virtual reality booths, the “social lobby“, the digital guest walls and so on provide an excellent source of media content – people write about it, share links, images, tweets, “likes” and so on and so forth in perpetuity. It is a fully self sufficient machine that creates jobs and fills the hotel’s social media pipelines with plenty of fluff. I would like to tell whoever is in charge of the recent flood of ads promoting the chain to take a breath and consider what makes people prefer one hotel to another.
There are basic things like safety, hygiene, reasonable pricing and appropriate location, without which, people who are used to being well-treated won’t even consider you. Then there are extras, things that stay in one’s memory and make people want to come back: extraordinary service, breakfast worth getting up for, a good gym, an exceptional view, a good restaurant, fashionable in-room gadgetry and so on.
Let me tell you why, having been a Marriott guest for years, I am excited about Virgin’s move into the hotel business. I look forward to my future Virgin Hotel experience because, apart from the fact that the company has a little more character than your average chain, the recently aired ad is quite specific in redefining the extras I have learned to expect. Instead of the usual iPod docking station and free newspaper, it promises free WiFi with no bandwidth restrictions, minibars stocked at street prices and ergonomic, transformable beds. Persons who need more time to put their eyelashes in working order won’t need to occupy bathrooms, they are going to get makeup tables. Those wishing to call their spouses without waking up occasional lovers will be able to close a partition, turning the room into two separate areas. I don’t know whether any of these promises will be kept. I don’t know whether the sliding doors will provide enough isolation, ergonomic beds are comfortable and free WiFi will require to share personal information Virgin will later sell to their partners to spam the hell out of me. I don’t know whether I am going to like the actual experience. But I am excited about their line of thinking: it feels as if someone who stays in hotel rooms a lot analysed the ordeal and then addressed all the things we normally hate.
I don’t have anything against Marriott specifically, although the fact that their ads interrupt my Hulu viewing doesn’t help; I am sure one could take a closer look at Hilton, Hyatt or InterContinental. But Marriott gets to be the focus of attention here as a company enamoured with attention-grabbing, pointless gimmicks that do not add any value to customers, but just make more money for the hotel. What do “social lobby” and “digital guest wall” have in common? You need WiFi to use them. I generally find the practice of hotels that promise to make my stay “unforgettable and effortless” and charge for WiFi idiotic. Asking for a WiFi password is effort enough, realizing that you only get free Internet in public space is certainly unforgettable as is reading that the chain routinely jams WiFi signal they don’t get paid for.
Boasting innovation, promising to help me “connect, relax and recharge” while charging me for Internet access is oxymoronic. Yes, as moronic as a castrated bull. Because the Internet is what allows us to connect with our loved ones, share with our friends and relax with a movie. Imagine that, movies are now delivered by the Internet – what an innovation, right? So instead of reinventing fresh salad or placing the hub for available business travellers to hit it off (not the worst idea, by the way) in the most public part of the hotel (instead of integrating it into the bar top), may be you should go to YouTube and watch that Virgin video. Don’t forget to pay for WiFi, your free connection isn’t fast enough to watch two snails shag. Oh, and if you are after a few more ideas that would make our stay at Marriott a little more exciting, in no order of priority:
- Electric toothbrushes and shavers – you can easily keep them both sterile and theft-proof.
- An affordable car service that can pick me up when I am stuck after a late dinner in a foreign city and there are no cabs.
- Condoms. Just in case sitting in your new “social lobby” unexpectedly pays off.