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HARD TIMES AT THE HOTEL SPLENDID
By Michael Matthews
March 25, 2009 --If I were a general manager again, these hard hotel times would have repercussions.

I'd be hounded by 25-year-old MBAs back in the head office insisting that I count the beans again. I'd be harassed by my owner, who is seeing his shirt being removed. And I'd be besieged by worried staffers inquiring about my plans for the hotel's survival.

The answer is obvious: cut, cut, cut. The trick, though, is to cut without the guest really being aware of what they are losing.

I'm not a hotel GM, so I can watch the hard times at the Hotel Splendid with a sense of detached bemusement. The cutting is going on everywhere at the luxury tier and I wonder if you've noticed it during your most recent stay.

Let me give you some clues to the cutting.

When you arrived, did you notice that the landscaping wasn't quite as cheerful as usual? Perhaps there are no more petunias or pansies or colorful impatiens around the borders? Did you notice a larger sign directing you to self-parking? If you didn't, was there only one parking valet on hand? Was the jolly doorman still there to welcome you? How about the flowers in the lobby? If they are still there, did you notice whether they were real or fake?

When you reached the front desk, did you wait longer to check in because there were fewer staffers to handle your arrival? And did the person checking you in take a call at the same time because he or she was handling the switchboard as well? Did you notice how many bellmen had disappeared? Did you notice the one remaining luggage man? Did you see how he loaded your suitcase onto a trolley with the bags of three or four other arriving guests? Did you notice that it took longer than usual for your bag to arrive at your door?

And, by the way, did you notice that the lobby lighting didn't seem as bright as it used to be? Did you notice that the corridor looks a lot gloomier than on your last visit? (You can't remember how bright anything was, can you? Trust me on this: The Hotel Splendid has probably replaced the 75-watt bulbs with 65-watt ones. And the lamp by your bed may be reduced to just 40 watts.)

Through the gloom, your room at the Hotel Splendid doesn't look as if it's changed much. On further examination, however, did you notice that the writing paper in the desk is gone? And is that a pencil by the pad? What happened to those lovely ballpoint pens you used to take with you when you checked out?

Did you notice that there are fewer towels in the bathroom? And didn't the bottles of amenities used to be larger? Did the shampoo and conditioner always come in one bottle? Wasn't the bar of soap a little heftier? Didn't there used to be Emery boards as well as both cotton balls and cotton swabs? Funny, you could swear the water is not as hot as usual. The shower pressure seems a little weak, too. Maybe you're just dreaming.

And, gee, they must have forgotten, but there only seems to be one bathrobe in the room. And did they forget those little slippers with the hotel logo? (It probably doesn't matter since you never used them anyway, just tossed them in your suitcase and pulled them out when you painted the patio back home…)

Hungry? Did you pull out the room-service menu and see that delivery ends at 10 p.m. now and breakfast doesn't start until 7 a.m. now? And didn't there used to be more choices on the menu?

When you wander down to the dining room instead, did you notice that the menu is different? Like the room service menu, it seems shorter than you remember and there are only a few starters and entrees. And, wow, the dishes look pretty simple. Did you wonder if the fancy chef was on a leave of absence? And did you realize there's no busboy filling your water glass? The waiter is doing that now and he's tripling up as busboy and captain, too.

You've always loved the bar at the Hotel Splendid. But didn't there used to be a piano player? And what happened to the table service? Now you have to go to the bar and carry your drinks to your table. And what's with the hookers sitting around and looking bored? Where's the beefy security guy with shiny suit and the big, black shoes? Didn't he always show them the door? And where are the peanuts?

Back in your room, did you notice that the turndown service never happened? Where's that ridiculous piece of chocolate on the pillow that you always ate just after you brushed your teeth? And did you notice that when you got back to your room the next day the maid hadn't come yet? Or maybe she didn't change the sheets?

Did you call down to the front desk and ask why housekeeping seems off? Were you told that the hotel now only changes sheets and towels if you specifically request it during your stay? Did some embarrassed voice at the other end tell you confidentially that there are fewer maids now and those that remain have to clean 18 rooms instead of 12 and everything runs later now?

The check-out is fine, though. You got a good night's sleep and the bill was about half of what you remember. The Hotel Splendid may not be what it was, a few things seemed off, but the price was terrific.

But where's the familiar doorman? Do you miss his cheerful goodbye and his urging you to come back soon?
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.

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