Pity the poor hotelier. Like the England football manager, we all think we can do his job better than he can. After a month travelling east and west, I have a checklist of what I like and don’t. I want — I need — a hotel brand with great personality, personalisation, warmth and wit. A big name and even bigger address is always welcome.
Great technology to take away all the boring stuff is a must. I like to know my room number before I arrive, which newspapers I’ll receive and to upload all my hotel appointments to my Google calendar before check-in. That means a good app.
When I arrive, a good doorman is essential. Hello and welcome to you, too. But I don’t need a bellman. I’ve wheeled my bag 6,000 miles to get here. I think I can handle the last ten yards and save a $10 tip, thank you very much. I’d like to be greeted by name in the lobby and go straight to my room. I’m tired. A welcome drink is always welcome, but not in the lobby and not if it’s the wrong drink for the time of day. I don’t want coffee at bedtime. Wine? Well, if you insist.
My room — no, make that suite — must have a view, and outside space if possible. I’d like a mini-kitchen with an espresso machine and fresh milk in the fridge, plus complimentary still and sparking water and a few fresh limes.
Lighting must be as easy to adjust as the air conditioning is to control. A master switch next to the bed to kill all the lights — but not the air con — is essential. A safe with a charger that does not go off when I leave the room would be good. Electricity that does not go off when I leave the room would also be useful. But please feel free to shut down the air conditioning if I open the window — I’m not wasteful. In the future, I’d like my TV channels pre-set to my likes: I don’t want to spend ten minutes finding the BBC headlines, al-Jazeera or Canal+, whichever takes my fancy.
I’m working, alas, so, please can my desk be arranged so I can look out of the window, not stare at the wall? And while we’re about it, can the international sockets and the fridge be at waist height? I’m not big on grovelling. Free local calls are great, thanks, but can you also make sure I don’t have to log back on to the wifi whenever I leave my room?
I can’t start the day without a caffeine fix, so can I call someone for a complimentary cappuccino when I wake up and have it delivered while I’m in the shower? (Not literally.) Smell is hugely evocative — and comforting — so upscale branded toiletries would be grand.
I’m on my own but I’m not a misanthropist. So how about a large communal refectory table at breakfast — everyone loves Le Pain Quotidien — or at least informal lounge seats? The best breakfast dish is a poached egg on savoury fresh English pea pancakes.
If I’m staying a while, a lobby with warmth — open fire, bar — is essential. I can’t work in my room all the time. Soft drinks at soft prices in the lobby are a big bonus. I’ll probably be having room service later, so maybe some simple, good value, light meals, such as steamed veg, spaghetti with tomatoes and olive oil or hot and sour soup with prawns. I might have time to go out later, so a little ‘What’s On’ in the city tonight would be useful.
I like to run — is there a park nearby? Good. But I don’t like to lug around my running shoes. Will you lend me trainers and new socks in my size? You will?
Perfect. I like spas as much as the next person but you can leave your over-long, overpriced facials. I’d like a barber who does a proper shave in half an hour or, at least, a good barber around the corner that you can recommend.
When the time comes to go, I don’t want to check out. You know me; you have my credit card. So please email me the folio to approve the night before. If I approve it, charge my credit card, then email the receipt to my assistant. If I am heading off by road or train, I’d love a picnic to take with me.
Enough of what I love. My checklist ends with what I hate: the word ‘luxury’. It’s now so overused, it’s meaningless. The same goes for ’boutique’. When vast, clunky hotels have the temerity to call themselves boutique you can’t even use the word with irony. I also hate room keys that demagnetise, wifi I have to pay for, time-limited wifi anywhere in the hotel, pools without wifi. Did I mention the wifi?
Where can you tick off this Ultra checklist? You can’t. But one brand gets pretty close, and it’s not an obvious one: St Regis. Once stuffy, I know, but Starwood has given its top-notch brand a modern makeover. Its E-Butler app is the best in the business. Its new Laboratoire Remède toiletries are well worth pilfering. The Bentley Mulsannes and Flying Spurs in the unique St Regis bronze hue look as chic on Orchard Road, Singapore as they do on Fifth Avenue, New York.
The rooms are elegantly modern on Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi, with sliding screens, warm woods and vast bathrooms. They are pukka and proud in New York, with black and white check marble and silk wall coverings. In Singapore they are ‘Armani goes to Asia’ style.
The desks in the rooms are free-standing, so you can sit looking into the room or looking out at the view. Take your pick — the Arabian Sea, Singapore’s lush green gardens or the Empire State Building.
Every suite comes with a butler (many are women) who offers in-room check-in, morning cappuccino(s), a cheeky glass of wine on arrival and pretty much anything else, provided it’s legal.
The addresses are grand and the lobbies are warm. The history and heritage endures: there’s an ancient post box and post chute in the lobby in New York. There are no starchy dining rooms: the restaurants are more like lounges where you can eat and drink whatever you want, whenever you want.
One day, Salvador Dalí and his wife Gala checked into suite 1501 at the St Regis, New York and did not leave for a decade. I know how they feel.
Pictured above: Grandeur in the St Regis New York