Lovie, can you draw my bath and get my plush robe?
My new hobby is reading “Priceline” reviews on hotels. I just can’t stop myself, they are a window into how people think, and some of the funniest thinigs you’ve read in a long time. Of course, that’s not the intention, which ONLY MAKES THEM FUNNIER. This isn’t Yelp, where hip, cool, funny reviews are encouraged. No, this is Priceline, figureheaded by Captain Kirk himself and appealing to the cheap instinct in all of us.
Now, here’s the thing. I VERY SELDOM BOOK HOTELS THROUGH A THIRD PARTY SITE. Almost always, I book directly with the venue. Why? You have more standing, instantly, than the cheapo who got a rate $10 a night cheaper than you, but is now on the first floor, next to the pool and across from the elevator.
The reviews of the good hotels aren’t the funny ones. It’s the reviews of the cheap hotels. If you want to put yourself to sleep — and it pains me to admit this — read reviews of Ritz Carltons. At $500 a night on average, the reviews are always raves. Those are boring. How many times can you read “best towels ever in the bathroom”? No. Pick the cheap hotels.
The reviews are SCATHING. People bitch about the free breakfast, the trash strewn parking lot, the loud air conditioner, the hookers in the room next to them banging the bed against the wall all night, the needles in the bathroom trash left from the last guest, the underwear found wadded in a ball between the mattresses (why are you looking between the mattresses?), broken furniture, roaches, roaches (the kind you smoke pot with — I’m told) snagged on carpet that hadn’t been vacuumed since, well ever, but my favorite — my all time favorite review: the $39 motel near Long Beach where a guest complained of gang grafitti on the refrigerator. I tried to find that review — but couldn’t. $39. Refrigerator? Who knew.
Here’s an example of a typical Priceline review of a cheap motel:
Now, let’s look at this. For $65, the guest complains:
1) no free wi-fi
2) the front desk clerk is rude (and behind bullet proof glass)
3) nothing is close to the hotel
4) price was too high
5) it smelled like smoke.
6) they will never, ever, ever return.
All of this begs the question:
How should a $65 a night hotel room look? How should the staff be? Where should it be located?
Here’s another motel, $15 cheaper, around the corner:
Here, the guest was in the room when someone tried to break in. That, by the way, was written as a positive — he prevented the robbery! — and the same guest complains that his wife (poor woman) spent three hours cleaning the room with bleach since the walls were black.See what a bargain that extra $15 bought at the first hotel?So what about higher price points and name brand stays? It turns out the more you pay, the higher the overall score, and the more satisfied people were with the experience. In all my reading of the Priceline reviews — which I am addicted to — I have never seen this:“Wow, what a bargain! The room was worth so much more than I paid! It was right down town, close to everything, immaculately clean, a wonderful free breakfast, strong wi-fi, and sheets wrapping you in a cocoon of 700 thread count luxury…”So, this is an “Ah! Ha!” moment, to quote those 15,000 key note speakers I’ve photographed. Q) If clients (guests of the hotel) aren’t happy with a cheap price and limited services — like indoor plumbing — what makes them most likely to return, and return enthusiastically? A) Luxury and service — at any price.The Trump Towers Chicago is one of the most expensive hotels in a city full of expensive hotels:Their Priceline score? A 10. I couldn’t find a review where anyone complained the room cost too much, in fact, the very first guest raved the room was a suite! At double the price of the Westin Lakeshore, where I just stayed, it should be a suite. But that doesn’t seem to enter into the equation. True, not all expensive hotels get a 10. The Waldorf Astoria is about the same price, and criticized for being “way over priced”, and one guest even said it was “dirty.”Here’s the thing. I own a small business. I’m always evaluating how we stack up on price, and trying to compare that price to the services that we offer vs. our competitors. The same, I imagine, as any business owner or CEO, large or small.So, I view price in this way: What experience am I selling? The Bristol Motel? Or Trump International Hotel Chicago? And, if I’m thinking Trump, do I really stack up against my competitors and offer an amazing experience, or am I a worn out brand, like Waldorf Astoria, currently being revised and updated by Hiilton? And, last, if I’m selling the Bristol Motel, are my clients actually going to be happy, or are they going to bitch that the green screen is duct taped to the wall and I roll my eyes when a guest wants (demands) another copy of a print? ‘Cause, newsflash, that’s how it is. If I’m making $20 on a shoot (how much profit could the Bristol Motel make on a night’s stay at $50? Any?), how willing am I (how can I afford to) do ANYTHING extra — like hire a photographer that knows what an “F” stop is? (Or a front desk agent that bathes.)On the flip side, if I’m charging the highest bracket on the price scale, can I actually deliver the goods? Are the photos going to be amazing — and not just by my standards (we may not be the best judge of our work) but by other’s opinions? Am I anticipating needs before the guest even knows they need it — Here, I made you an extra print for a friend — here, I put a Godiva Chocolate on your pillow and bath salts next to the soaking tub.Other photographers call me all the time asking WTF to charge. But it’s not a simple answer. I can only tell them the average of what others charge — I can only tell them what a Holiday Inn charges. I can’t tell them if they are the Holiday Inn, the Bristol Motel, or the Trump International.Now, Lovie, I must wrap this up. My private doorman is done drawing my bath, the salts have been sprinkled, my massage is lined up for an hour from now, the coffee is pressed and hot next to the soaking tub, Chicago lies at my feet, and I must get my day together before departing to my waiting Honda Jet.No, not really — I write this from the Hampton Inn, Skokie, IL, after shooting a job for Kraft. I avoided the Extended Stay next door, used Hilton points to upgrade to a suite, and am quite content. I’ll fly home, happily (though not as happy as if I was on a Honda Jet) on Southwest.And, yes, I’ll be the ass hole that gets on before you (’cause I fly every freaking day) and grabs up the exit row seat with the extra leg room. Bite me.