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A FIVE-STAR HOTEL SNOB GOES SLUMMING
By Michael Matthews
October 24, 2013 -- I'm a hotel snob and I admit it.

I like a hotel to have a doorman, bellboys and uniformed staffers who stop to let you pass and call you by name. I like a hotel with a wonderful bar, superb guestrooms and bathrooms fit for royalty.

So now I am laying in a king-size bed, my head on a pile of pillows, my body between soft sheets. Directly in front of us is a huge television with more than 200 channels, including pay-per-view ones like HBO. My wife and I are both reading and the bedside lamps are bright enough so your eyes aren't strained.

The room has a good-size desk with plugs in all the right places. The windows have blackout curtains. There's an alarm clock that even I managed to set. In the sitting part of this small suite, there are two comfortable armchairs facing another television. There's also a sideboard with a microwave oven and mini refrigerator. Everything is well-lit and comfortable.

Where am I? In suburban Phoenix, staying at one of the two Drury Inn and Suites properties in the city. I went slumming--after 50 years in hospitality, anything other than a five-star hotel is slumming--because I recently wrote that J.D. Power named Drury the number-one chain in guest satisfaction in the "midscale" lodging section. It was the sixth consecutive year that Drury rated best-in-class and its satisfaction score this year was almost as high as Four Seasons and Ritz-Carlton in the luxury tier.

I needed to know why so many smart travelers liked Drury--and like it year after year after year.

We arrived in mid-afternoon and there were no doormen or bellmen, but we were warmly greeted. Before I could even give my name, our dog Millie was offered a biscuit. I signed in and agreed to pay for any damage the dog did. There was an additional charge of $10 a night for the dog, so it was an expensive biscuit considering our small suite cost only $124 a night. (Regular rooms at this particular Drury start at $105 a night.)

Since we had a dinner appointment about 30 minutes from the hotel, we missed the guest happy hour. But it looked nice, with full bar and lots of nibbles and hot hors d'oeuvres. A brand standard at Drury properties, the 90-minute Kickback happy hour takes place in the dining area off the lobby. There's no regular cash bar or other food and beverage outlet.

At 6 a.m. in the dark of a chilly Phoenix morning, I had to walk the dog and ventured through the hotel lobby. It was tiled, with a wonderful sitting area decorated with leather chairs and a fireplace. I found it most welcoming.

On my return, I gathered the wife and off we went to breakfast. Drury doesn't do one of those stale, processed affairs that is so often offered at mid-market lodging chains. Drury's so-called Quickstart Breakfast provides extremely good, hot coffee; juices and fruit; pastries and breads; cereals and waffles; and fresh eggs accompanied by sausage, bacon and sides such as biscuits and gravy. It was very nice--and all bundled into the room rate.

Drury has a host of other amenities for its guests, too. There's free WiFi and newspapers; 60 minutes of free long-distance calls each night; free soft drinks and popcorn in the lobby during afternoon and evening hours; and a frequent guest program that Drury claims is richer than anything offered by its competition.

Was there anything that disappointed the hotel snob in me? The bathroom, quite honestly, was a bit of a letdown. Although there was a good, strong shower with the now-ubiquitous curved shower rod, the bathtub was far too small. There was only one washbasin. And I didn't think the bathroom lighting was bright enough--although the missus didn't complain.

Before I set off for my Drury stay, several JoeSentMe readers E-mailed me and pleaded that I not review the family-owned chain, which is strongest in the Midwest, Southeast and Southwest.

"Our company headquarters is near one and we stay there often and use them around the country," one reader explained. "I just don't want you telling the world about them. They are our secret."

I understand why anyone who's discovered Drury would want to keep the 130-outlet chain their little secret. Drury stands up to scrutiny and is clearly deserving of the lofty praise that it has received in the J.D. Power rating. I hope I haven't ruined the secret, but other business travelers should know.

Of course, I'd still prefer to stay in five-star hostelries. But that's because I'm a hotel snob.

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ABOUT MICHAEL MATTHEWS Michael Matthews has managed and marketed fine hotels around the world for more than 45 years. He spent 14 years in Hong Kong building the legendary Regent International group. He has also worked with St. Regis, Ritz-Carlton and Rosewood hotels. Matthews is currently based in Arizona. He began writing Do Not Disturb in early 2004.

THE FINE PRINT Joe Brancatelli makes this space available to Michael Matthews in the spirit of free speech and to encourage editorial diversity and the wider discussion of important travel issues. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property of Matthews. This column may not be reproduced in any form without the express permission of Michael Matthews.

This column is Copyright 2013 by Michael Matthews. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2013 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.