Recently I had reason to find myself in a conference center hotel. (That opening makes me sound a bit like lost luggage, doesn’t it?) My friends, knowing that my background was primarily in destination resorts and upper upscale luxury hotels, issued the usual friendly warnings that I should gird my loins for the unpleasant trip downscale. The trip proved to be interesting and productive and the accommodations, while somewhat Spartan, were… just fine, thank you very much.

The experience made me think about my perceived travel requirements in a new way. Sure, I still like luxury. It’s a big draw in the hospitality world and I think I know why: luxury is really, really nice. Why do you think all those one-percenters keep trying to hog it all? I, too, like all the things we think grand hospitality should be about: gracious living in spacious and well-appointed surroundings, white glove service and just the tiniest hint of the conceit borne of a life better lived than most. My motto:  Luxury may not be for everybody but go ahead and sign me up. 

So why was I perfectly content with accommodations that were small, utilitarian and an adventure sort of like indoor camping? The first simple truth I admitted to was that I knew it wasn’t forever. I was on a short, purpose-driven business trip, and the benefits of the location far outweighed any perceived imposition I might have felt. The ancient Romans gave us the model for the perfect way to view our greatest successes – in the midst of a triumphant parade, a soothsayer would walk behind the newly laureled hero and whisper in his ear that “this, too, shall pass.” Oddly, this method works just as well for helping one overcome life’s deepest disappointments, including those desperate times when we are forced into budget hotel accommodations.

The second simple and surprising truth about this trip was that I didn’t perceive any imposition.  I was on business and just looking for a clean, quiet and moderately comfortable place to stay.  With that as my checklist, I discovered I was three for three. The ensuing ah-ha moment was realizing that my purpose of travel changed the way I perceived everything that happened.  When I go out the door to experience the vacation of a lifetime, I set up expectations of a finer life. When I travel for pleasure I want to be like the English aristocracy:  refined, sophisticated, grand and completely useless. When I’m on business, I’m about the work product; the particulars of how I get there and back and where I stay are secondary issues at best.

The epiphany that I had was that I was happy and comfortable with fewer creature comforts than I seem to need when my personal happiness is the purpose of my travel. Maybe it’s just that I’m getting older but it does seem that simpler is a little… well, simpler, and every bit as satisfying. Sometimes I think we hospitality folk get too caught up in the sizzle and forget to think about the steak. We talk about guest experiences that “surprise and delight” but I’ll swap you a surprise and my “Oooh Aaah” for good quality basics every time. My memorable hotel experiences have nothing to do with loyalty points, recognition or bottled water on arrival. Am I typical or just jaded?  

With the upscale debris like champagne and handcrafted turndown truffles out of the way, I was better able to get in touch with my list of non-negotiable hotel requirements. First and foremost, clean is a must; I fully expect to be the only occupant of the room and the bed. Yes, I want the commode sanitized for my protection, and I do prefer the little strip that assures me that it was done. Second, I need two working appliances: a decent TV and a decent Internet connection (with enough power outlets that we can all share and share alike). Third, I need a bed that affords both me and my aching back a good night’s rest. Fourth, to quote Professor Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady, I want “an atmosphere as quiet as an undiscovered tomb.” Finally, in the morning, I need soap and shampoo, and hot water and big soft towels in quantity. Starbuck’s and I can take care of all the rest.

Am I asking too much or not enough?  What do you think?