The Hotel Guy – What is a Hotel?

by Alan Campbell, Featured Contributor

SINCE I wanted a different view, as well as a new look as to what a non-hotelier would answer if the question was asked

“What is a hotel?” I asked a history professor to answer the question. This is his answer.

Just received a missive from the Hotel Guy asking me to write my thoughts on the anatomy of a hotel—to provide an answer, my answer of course, as to what is a hotel to me, how I would describe a hotel, what I think would make this or that hotel different or better than another.

Hotel HospitalityBeing as I’m a history instructor for a community college—that shall remain nameless—in a state that is as far removed from the Hotel Guy’s Las Vegas landscape and ambiance as the Knights Inn is from The Bellagio, but have stayed in a variety of hotels, motels, boatels, Inns, B&Bs, and establishments attempting to pass for places of lodging (but failed miserably), throughout much of Europe, the Americas, Asia, several Balkan countries, the Middle East, and a few places in Africa, all which seem to qualify me, according to the Hotel Guy, to answer, impartially, the question he asks.

I shall try to do so, though I do not guarantee impartiality.

So let’s get started.

First and foremost: a building full or rooms for rent by the day, week, or month, etc., and has a sign outside saying it’s a hotel, It does not make it a hotel.

For example, I had the misfortune late one night a considerable number of years ago to take a room at a Holiday Inn in North Carolina after a very long day of being on the road.

Holiday Inns, for the most part, have a good reputation and I’ve stayed in a fair share of them from one end of the United States to the other.

However, this one was execrable in both people service and cleanliness: the room they gave me, the bed had not been made up, the bathroom had not been cleaned nor had the toilet been flushed (it was stopped up with . . . well, you know what)—the room, in other words, was a mess.

The front desk person I complained to the front desk clerk who was rude and disbelieving and when the person he sent to verify what I had stated returned, acted as if I had somehow disheveled the room myself!

Yes, I was given a clean room, but reluctantly at best.

However, to give Holiday Inn its due, several years later I lodged at the Paris, France Montmartre Holiday Inn off Rue Damrémont, and could not have asked for better accommodations and service.

A good name and a good reputation, in other words, do not guarantee a pleasant stay.

In the mid-sixties, when I was a light and sound technician on a camera crew that was in Ethiopia making films on tropical diseases that would be edited into training films back in the United States, we lodged and worked out of Jimma.

The main road in and out of Jimma was its only paved/graveled road, all other roads, regardless of where they went, were dirt—red dirt, to be exact.

Huge vultures, hundreds of them, occupied the village’s trees and seemed to follow every movement, waiting, no doubt, for a corpse—human or animal—to feast on.

We stayed at the only hotel in the place, a pink, one-story, motel-like structure sitting atop a rise not far from what looked like a huge trash dump pit.

If memory serves me correctly, the hotel consisted of about 15 to 20 rooms, and we were its only guests during the two or so weeks we were there.

The rooms were small and sparse: an armoire; a simple bed, with sheets and covers that obviously had seen much better days but were still serviceable; a small bedside table; a writing table and chair; and a bathroom.

Oh, and lest I forget, hanging from the center of the overhead, a single, bare, 25 watt light bulb.

The service the hotel staff rendered to us, however, was five stars at all times during our stay.

The hotel’s restaurant was Jimma’s only eating establishment that resembled a restaurant. If there were other eating places in Jimma, none of us ever found one or saw a building that resembled a restaurant; though there were rickety–looking shanty structures selling fruits and vegetables.

The food was simple but tasty—local, Middle Eastern, and European fare, but nothing fancy.

The dining room itself, as well as the silverware and tablecloths were clean, and the cloth napkins were, I think, more handkerchiefs than napkin.

The wait staff was efficient and well mannered and tended graciously to all our demands and needs.

In other words, the services rendered by the hotel staff made our stay considerably more pleasurable than otherwise any one of us had a right to expect, as none of us were used to such primitive conditions or surroundings.

In the mid-1980s I was staying at the Hilton Hotel in downtown Vienna for a few weeks.

Nothing strange in that, of course, except that on both sides of the main entrance were local military soldiers with Uzis at the ready.

It seems many OPEC ministers were staying there while attending conferences.

I still don’t know whether I felt safer with those guards or whether those guards were a dead giveaway and invitation for the bad guys to do something.

As for the hotel itself, it lived up to its four stars, though, if you’ve stayed in one Hilton, you have more or less stayed in every Hilton, for other than the décor, they are not much different from each other.

And, perhaps, that’s why Hiltons are so popular.

In the early 1990s, I stayed at Sofitel Hotel Bucharest in Romania, which is a beautiful looking hotel, inside and out, with just about every amenity known to the free world, except, for me, customer service.

I had reservations, which is the only thing that saved me from getting the bum’s rush, as I was dressed in my not too clean work clothes.

For the few days that I stayed there, no matter how cleaned up I got after that, I was treated more as a pariah than as a guest.

They cheered secretly, I feel sure, when I checked out.

One of my more memorable hotel stays was in Cannes, France during Mardi Gras, in 1993 or so I think, where I stayed, I suspected in the last room available in downtown Cannes.

The hotel itself was located in what in the United States would pass for an alley; in this case, a very poorly lit alley.

Fortunately I checked in during early evening time when there was still light to see where I was going.

I was welcomed with pleasure, as if I were a long-term guest or family member.

The room they gave me was old and poorly lit and the wallpaper was peeling off the walls at the top, but the rest of the room seemed very clean, though sparsely furnished—just the essentials.

In essence, I think, this was a family-owned starless hotel, but I would compare it in customer service with any five star hotel.

Yes, I’ve been in dozens of hotels in many parts of the world, but what really makes a hotel stand out is the quality of the customer service provided.

It is customer service, in my opinion, that really makes or breaks a hotel.

The most beautiful hotel in the world situated in an ideal location and filled with every conceivable amenity is worthless unless you have the customer service at all levels to bring it alive.

Any hotel that does not put the customer first is not worth staying at, it’s as simple as that, and make no mistake about it, there are hotels and then there are hotels, but the ones that matter, whether five star or starless, are those that put the customer first.

Well, Hotel Guy, I hope I have not been too windy, as academics seem to be from time to time, and have answered somewhat the question you asked.


Alan Campbell
Alan Campbell
ALAN is a highly accomplished, results oriented Hotelier with many years of experience in developing and delivering strategies and implementing solid organizational cultures that addresses the needs of the customer, colleagues, owners, community and industry. He has been in Las Vegas for over 30 years and has worked for the major strip hotels. Alan has spent some time in California, Los Angeles where he worked for the Radisson and Sheraton hotels. He considers the hospitality industry the best job in the world – it is the only place that both king’s and Paupers will visit you. Alan is also a featured contributor for, the “Global Hotelier’s Community.”

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