By Michael Matthews
April 17, 2008 -- When I started in the hotel business in 1959, I was paid the munificent sum of three pounds a week, then about $10. The rates at the five-star hotel where I was working were less than $150 a night.

Skip ahead to this fall, when the newly renovated The Mark hotel in New York will reopen with nightly rates starting at $1,000.

I would have had to have worked almost two years to have covered the bill for one night. In London, where I started, it's not uncommon for a standard room to cost 500 pounds a night--and that is before the 17.5 percent value added tax and service. It would have taken me 166 weeks of labor for a one-night stay at today's rates

Somewhere in the back of my mind I remember lectures about inflation, compound interest and the like. But if you'd asked me if there would ever be a $1,000-a-night or a 500-pound-a-night hotel room in my lifetime, I'd have laughed myself stupid.

Of course, neither is as bad as the $4,500-a-night hooker that Elliot Spitzer, the now former governor of New York, recently imported to a hotel room in Washington. When I was young and making the equivalent of $10 a week, a high-class call girl was $100. (Not that I actually tested the market, you understand.) Which means the nightly rate for top-notch hookers has increased much faster than the nightly rate for top-drawer hotels. Doesn't seem fair, does it? I mean, really good hotel rooms have those magnificent new flat-screen TVs. As far as I can tell, there's nothing new in sex to justify its inflationary spiral.

Odd as it may seem, musing about overpriced sex and over-the-top hotel rooms somehow leads me to a reader's question. Simply put, the reader wanted to know if I considered hotels safe. (I know it doesn't make a lot of sense, but what can I say? When you're so old that you once worked for three pounds a week, your mind works in mysterious ways and makes odd connections.)

In a word: Yes. Generally speaking, you are safe in your hotels. And I'm talking as a person who has been robbed in my hotel room, but has never been robbed at home. If you think of the number of homes and the number of hotel rooms, my little episode was an exception. You are safer in a hotel, far safer than at home.

You probably read about the hotel security guard who recently threw a young woman over the railing of a Washington hotel. This is, needless to say, very unusual. Hotel security guards are usually retired or moonlighting cops--or just big, dumb guys in extra large shoes and shiny black suits. They wander around the lobby trying to spot hookers and thieves. While they aren't a crack squad of crime fighters, they do act as something of a deterrent.

Of course, if they were great at their jobs, the security staff at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington would have spotted that $4,500 hooker and Mr. Spitzer might still be the governor of New York...

If none of this makes you feel truly safe and secure in your hotel room, I can offer some basic tips:
    Insist on a room that is not more than eight floors up. Why? You've got a better chance of survival in case of a fire. Most ladders on standard fire trucks don't reach any higher.
    Read the emergency evacuation instructions behind the door. They actually do provide useful, life-saving information.
    Double lock your door whenever you are in your room and put the little bar across. The latter is a must. Why? A pass key can open your door, but it can't get past the bar--and you won't be caught by the maid watching naughty stuff on the in-room movie system.
    Use in-room safes for valuables. If you travel with extraordinarily pricey goods, use the hotel safe, which is usually located in the accounting office, or the safe-deposit boxes, which are usually located at the front desk. They're not immune from theft, of course, but both are more secure than in-room safes.
    Don't pick up anyone in the hotel bar. Chances are you'll wake in the morning with a horrible headache, no watch and no wallet--and you'll probably miss the important meeting that brought you to town in the first place.
    If you really must have company, look in the Yellow Pages in your room under Escorts. Guests before you will have written reviews in the margins. In some hotels, similar reviews may be found in the formerly blank pages at the front of the Gideon bible. I make no comment on the tastefulness of using a bible as a pick-up guide, nor can I advise which review service is more reliable.

We started this column musing about the advent of the $1,000-a-night hotel room. But I'm headed off to a $2,500-a-night room at The Mandarin in Hong Kong. Thank goodness that's 2,500 Hong Kong dollars--or "just" US$321.

That leaves me with plenty of room in my budget. Maybe I'll check the Yellow Pages in my room…
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.

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