What should be in every hotel or AirBNB?

My recent efforts in consulting and speaking have led to a lot more travel — which is great sometimes, but also often a drain. I’ve been staying in so many hotels that I thought it worth enumerating some of the things I think every hotel room should have, and what I often find missing.

Most of these things are fairly inexpensive to do, though a few have higher costs. The cheaper ones I would hope can be just included, I realize some might incur extra charges or a slightly more expensive room, or perhaps they can be offered as a perk to loyalty program members.

Desk space for all occupants

Most rooms usually only have a workspace for one, even if it’s a double room. The modern couple both have computers, and both need a place to work, ideally not crammed together. That’s also true when two co-workers share a room. And in a perfect room, both desk spaces share the other attributes of a good desk, namely:

  • The surface is not glass. I would say more than half the desks in hotel rooms are glass, which don’t work well with optical mice. Sure, you put down some papers, but this seems kinda silly.
  • Of course, 2 or even 3 power outlets, on the desk or wall above it. Ideally the “universal” kind that accept most of the world’s plugs. (Sure, I bring adapters but this is always handy.) Don’t make me crawl under the desk to plug things in, have to unplug something else.

To my horror, Marriott has been building some new hotels with no desk space at all. Some person (I would say some idiot) decided that since millennials use fewer laptops and just want to sit on a couch with their tablet, it was better to sacrifice the desk. Those hotels had better have folding desks you can borrow, in fact all hotels could do that to fix the desk space shortage, particularly if rooms are small. Another option would be a leaf that folds down from the wall.

Surfaces/racks for luggage and other things for everybody.

Many rooms are very lacking in table or surface space beyond the desk. Almost every hotel room comes with only one luggage holder, where a couple might find themselves with 3 or in rare case 4 bags. I doubt these folding luggage holders are that expensive, but if you can’t put more than one in every room, then watch people as they check in, and note how many bags they have, and have somebody automatically send up some extra holders to their room. At the very least make it easy for them to ask. I mean these things are under $30 quantity one. Get more!

Bathrooms need surface space, too. Too often I’ve seen sinks with nowhere to put your toiletries and freedom bag. In fact, I want space everywhere to unpack the things I want to access.

Power by the bed (and other places)

Sure, I get that older hotel rooms did not load up with power outlets, and modern ones do. But aside from the desk, most people want power by the bed now, for their phone charger if nothing else. If you just have one plug by the bed, put a 3-way splitter (global plug, of course) on that plug so that people can plug things in without unplugging the light or clock. And ideally up high, so I don’t have to crawl behind things to get at it.

A little more controversial is the idea of offering USB charging power. Today, we all carry chargers, but the hope is that if charging becomes commonplace, then like the travel hair dryer people used to carry and no longer do, we might be able to depend on finding a charger. Problem is, charging standards are many and change frequently — we now have USB regular (useless) and fast-charge, along with Qualcomm quick-charge and USB C. More will come. On top of this, strictly you should not plug your device into a random USB port which might try to take it over. You can get what’s called a “USB Condom” to block the data lines, but those might interfere with the negotiation phase of smarter power standards. A wireless “Qi” charging plate could be a useful thing.

As a couple, we have had up to 8 things charging at the same time, when you include phones, cameras, external batteries, headphones, tablets and other devices. So I bring a 5-way USB fast charger and rely on laptops or other chargers to go the distance.

Let me access the HDTV as a monitor, or give me a monitor.

Some rooms block you from any access to the TV. Some have a VGA or HDMI port built into a console on the desk. The latter is great, but usually the TV is mounted in a way that makes it not very useful as a computer monitor for working. It’s primarily useful for watching video. I pretty much never watch video in a hotel room, so given the choice, I would put the monitor by the desk, and it should be 1080p or better — in fact 4K should be the norm for any new installations. If you don’t have one, have one I can call down for, even at a modest fee.

Even better would be a monitor on the desk, able to take VGA and HDMI, with cables for both. 24” monitors today cost just over $100, so there is no reason not to have this, and it would be so valuable. (It should also support the various wireless video protocols now found in many tablets and laptops.) Today, a monitor I can connect to is rare, and usually only takes only one of VGA or HDMI. Which means you need to travel with both cables, which is a pain. (Displayport dongles are cheap and small so it’s easier to travel with them.) I’ve been in hotels that will rent you a cable — for at least twice the price of buying one online.

You may think it would be great to have an external mouse and keyboard, and that would be great, but it is for now a major security risk. Not simply because the hotel might be trying to attack you, but because anybody could swap out the input devices in a room, and then get complete access to your computer. We really plug in random USB devices far too often.

For AirBNBs, I think the desk with monitor should be a must, or at least a checklist box on the amenities list.

Fast internet is no longer optional

A large fraction of the time, my non-sleeping time in the room is going to be on the internet. Good internet is as important as hot water and electricity. It’s time that hotel rating sites scored the internet quality. I can accept a cheap motel not having an internet connection I can work on, but quality business hotels have no excuse, and should lose hotel rating stars if they don’t have it. (Hotel rating stars, it may surprise you to learn, are less about the quality of a hotel than the amenities you can count on.) No hotel should get more than 3 stars without having quality internet. If the hotel wants to charge for internet, I don’t like it of course, but one should be able to search on hotel booking sites and the hotel’s own web site to see the price “with decent internet” so they don’t bait and switch. (Same for “resort fees.”)

Of course, the network needs to work with many devices. Once again a couple with laptops, phones, tablets and more will often require to connect 5 or 6 devices to the network. In general, the use of “browser hijack” for web connection should be eliminated unless physically required by law. Instead, WPA2-Enterprise should be used. WPA2-Enterprise allows you a userid and password, so you can play the “guest name and room number” login credentials trick most hotels use. Unlike open-wifi with a captive portal/hijack, WPA2-Enterprise does not break the internet, and it’s by far the most secure wireless protocol. Open wifi is completely insecure, and even regular WPA2 has flaws. Some older devices may not do WPA2-Enterprise so you can have access points that support both open SSIDs and secure ones.

And please, please, if you’re going to have the browser hijack, don’t have me constantly re-authenticating! I should do it once per stay, not once per day and not once every time I turn on my device, as some broken ones do. (Those ones are so bad I usually just keep my phone on the cellular data network.)

Some view, or tell me about that

Of course rooms will have different views, and I know the “premium” view rooms cost more. But I want a strong warning about rooms which have no view at all. There are degrees of this. I have been in rooms with nothing but a window onto a concrete wall, a view into a large interior courtyard with a little sky, and views into pleasant interior courtyards. I have also been in rooms with no window or nothing but a frosted window and very low natural light. The lesser of these rooms should of course be cheaper, and sometimes we all want cheap, but it should not be possible to book such a room by accident. It should be made very explicit. Sometimes we want to save money, but sometimes we don’t really feel we’re in a place if we can’t look out and experience it until we go out.

If I do have a view, let me open the window if I want to photograph it.

Non-identical amenity bottles

This is a peeve I’ve discovered as I have grown more farsighted. Many rooms come with 3 bottles for the shower — shower gel, shampoo and conditioner — which look close to identical. You can only tell which is which by reading low-contrast words, which people may have trouble doing without their glasses. Make all 3 different colours, and/or put what they are in big, high-contrast letters. Or frankly, though it seems lower-class, I am really fond of just having dispensers on the wall of the shower. It saves waste, too.

Oh yeah, if the “Shower gel” and “Shampoo” are really the same thing, just give me one bigger supply. Though I still want a bar of soap.

Enough with the pillows already!

Higher end hotels will often put as many as 3 or 4 pillows on the bed for each person. I want just one, so I toss the rest in the corner. I get that some people want to choose, or want 2 pillows. But 99% of hotels I have stayed in replace all the pillows every day on the bed. Please, notice I have thrown 3 of them in the corner, and make the bed up the way I have shown I want it.

Have both Euro-style bedding and North American style

In Europe, it’s common to have, instead of sheets and blankets, just 2 single person duvets. I am not fond of these. They are not designed to tuck in (though I still do this) so they are constantly coming off anybody who moves in bed. And I find them poor for a couple who wish to cuddle in the bed. Of course, I know other people like them, so what I really would like is for hotels and AirBNBs to offer both, and let me select the one I prefer.

A little extra room in the mini-fridge

OK, I know that some guests pay the crazy prices in the mini-bar. I don’t, but an in-room fridge is still a very handy thing. Sometimes the mini-bar items take all the space, and that’s sure annoying. Please avoid that.

I am a little less sure what to think of the modern trend of removing all the ice machines and making you call room service for some ice. I get that ice usage is probably low and so this actually is a cheaper way to serve customers, but of course now there is pressure to tip room service and/or the feeling you are putting somebody else out. I suggest a small sign where the ice bucket used to be saying, “Please call room service for ice; no need to tip” — or leave out the “no need to tip” if the room service staff are not being properly paid a proper salary.

Of course, a robot like the one made by my buddies at Savioke doesn’t need a tip.

Overnight pressing (and non-obscene laundry prices)

I won’t get my wish for reasonably priced laundry. The harsh reality is it’s hard to find a hotel that doesn’t charge more to clean things like socks and underwear than the cost of buying them at a big box store. A couple doing a week’s laundry can easily be charged $250, and more if you need dry cleaning. If I find a convenient local “wash and fold” laundry I prefer it, but these are hard to find. Indeed, I don’t know why there aren’t more local wash-n-folds with delivery service in tourist towns. One reason it can make sense to stay at an AirBNB every so often on a trip, even if you prefer hotels, is that many have a washer (though dryers are quite uncommon in Europe.) As a plus, when there is a washer/dryer in your room, you can clean all but your PJs overnight, reducing what you need to carry.

In spite of those obscene prices, I (or my clients) might be willing to pay slightly more if I could arrive at a hotel in the evening, and get some dry cleaning, pressing or even some laundry. When you arrive late, you sometimes don’t have time to iron, but if you have packed your suit in your bag, it is going to need ironing at the very least. (Sadly, most hotels charge almost the same for ironing as dry cleaning, which seems odd.)

A bidet

In some countries every room has a bidet, or a toilet/bidet combo. It’s really useful, especially since it is during travel that many people get — there is no delicate way to put this — traveler’s digestive problems. This one may be more expensive than the others I have named, but it’s time to just do it.

Mechanism to assure early check-in without paying for a full day

If I arrive on an overnight flight, it sure is nice to check in early. And indeed, most hotels, if not full, will let me do just that, but if I want to guarantee it, I need to buy a whole night. I would like to be able to buy a half-day. I think it would be a very rare day that many guests have not cleared out by 8am. If your predictive model fears that won’t happen, e-mail me and let me decide (or set an auto preference) that I want to book a full non-sleep night or accept afternoon check-in. Many hotels handle the reverse (asking for late check-out or a half-day charge for evening check-out) because it’s easy, they know who is coming. With modern computers, you should be able to do both.

Smart safe

Certainly the safes which remember your code for easy re-lock are nicer than those you have to enter every time. The more you have to enter it, the greater chance of making a mistake. A nice feature would be a smart safe which knows when you are checking out, and not only can reset the code, but can tell the front desk that you have locked the safe, so they can remind you at checkout, “Hey, did you clear the safe?” I live in fear of the day I forget to take my passport out of the safe and learn this when I get to the airport.

Of course, hotels can get into the safes, as can spies and many others, so you can’t count on the safe to keep your devices secure. But it would be nice if the safe had a brand and reputation you could trust independently of the hotel, and among the things the brand certified is that if the master code was used to enter the safe, it clearly displays that. Slightly less smart, the safe could let you enter how many nights you plan to stay when you set it up, and flash at you that morning when it hears noise or senses motion.

Special notes for AirBNBs

An AirBNB does not have to be a hotel room. Sometimes that is part of the charm. Still, it would be a useful “amenity” to put on AirBNB listings to say that the rental has the things of a typical hotel room (soap, towels, shampoo.) In addition, a way to search for units with the things I describe above — things that a working traveler needs, would be very handy. The truth is, that even when on vacation, everybody uses the computer these days. The computer/phone/tablet are actually where my travel guidebooks live, how I do travel bookings and the source of most of my other travel information. They are essentials, and where I stay needs to support them as best as it can.

I have enjoyed the AirBNBs that produce a “local’s guide” to their neighbourhood. Where to find all sorts of shops you might need, and a distillation of what somebody who has lived at that location will have learned over time. My phone can help me find restaurants and tourist attractions, but there are some things only a local will know.

As I have gotten older, I also have wanted AirBNB to let me search for apartments with “not a lot of climbing every time.” It has a checkbox for “elevator in building” but in reality, a ground floor unit or a unit one-flight up is perfectly fine, while 4 flights up is not desired. (For those with disabilities, they need a different “accessible” checkbox. In fact, I’ve been in European units that had “elevator in building” but the elevator was up a flight of stairs.)

However, I don’t want to get too much into things for AirBNB the company to do, as that’s the subject of another post. This post is mostly about what hosts can do.

More?

What would you like to see in every hotel room? A focus should be on things a decent fraction of people want, especially if they are easy to provide. Comment below.

I will also note your hotel should not rat you out to the feds.

Sufficient illumination

I'd add: provide bedside lamps that are bright enough to actually read by. We routinely carry a couple of 100W light bulbs in our travel kit, which we swap for the dim bulbs (60W or 40W or even dimmer) that hotels invariably put in their lamps. But aside from the inconvenience this is problematic in a couple of ways: it's easy to forget to swap them back when you checkout to move on to the next destination, and a lot of lamps aren't rated for the higher wattage bulbs (though a bright LED or CF bulb might address this).

I have a friend who always packs a pair of rubber jawed pliers, which he uses to open up the shower head and remove the flow restrictor, so he can get a decent hot shower after traveling. That's maybe more aggressive than I'm inclined to, but I can appreciate the sentiment.

Yeah, I have felt that too

Every so often I think of complaining to the hotel, “there is something wrong with the flow in my shower.” Perhaps it even works, I should try it.

You have reminded me of another item. Sometimes small hotel rooms have ridiculous small showers, sometimes because you get what you pay for, but when they do that, they should not use a shower handle that sticks out, so that if you bump it, it turns off the water or changes the temperature! Indeed, as much as I hate individual water controls I would rather have that than a handle that sticks out.

I am amazed you would swap anything but LED lamps.

wifi at cheap vs expensive

In general, the cheaper the hotel, the better the wifi. I know, that seems backwards, but the more expensive hotels know that business travellers NEED the wifi, and are willing to pay for it. Of course, if you have to pay for it, you're going to need a password, which automatically makes the wifi less useful.

Not quite

One reason cheaper hotels can do better is they have less demand. The hotel can buy an OK connection and share it with 50 rooms and it’s probably OK. A big hotel indeed will have 300 rooms, all wanting many megabits so needs to get a real gigabit which is a bigger production.

Actually a password is fine (better than open) if it’s a standard WPA password or ideally WPA2-Enterprise which is the only one that is secure. Sadly, almost every business in the world has the false idea in their head that they need to get you to agree to some terms of service nobody ever reads to “protect themselves” though I have never found a case of anybody successfully protecting themselves. But the use of WPA2-Enterprise means your traffic is much harder to sniff. Otherwise you need a VPN which can slow you down.

Most big hotel chains have gone over to giving free Wifi at least to members of their loyalty club (even members who have no status and joined for free.) But every so often I get to a fairly high end hotel with unusable internet (premium or regular) and usually I end up just working somewhere else, and if the stay is long, I will switch hotels, but switching hotels or even rooms is a pain once unpacked. That’s why I want hotel rating sites to deliberately rate the internet, so I can just not book those hotels.

More suggestions

One of the worst inventions in history has to be the "half door" for showers, where it's a glass wall permanently fixed along the top of the tub, but only goes halfway. They make it a pain to use the fixture as either a shower OR a tub, and they need to be banished from existence.

There should always be some kind of shelf in the shower on the wall big enough to hold both a bar or soap and two bottles (shampoo & conditioner), and it should have enough clearance above to fit full-sized bottles like you might buy in a supermarket.

It should be possible to get up and slip into the bathroom in the middle of the night without either the bathroom doors(s) or an automatic fan that goes on with the light being so crazy loud that it might wake up anyone else in the room. Bathroom doors that slide on rails are often just stupid loud.

There should always be an outlet near the mirror in the bathroom that's about five feet off the floor. It would be the outlet designated for the hairdryer, as well as for powering/charging electric shavers. (The most common time you notice your shaver's battery running down has got to be when you're right in the middle of a shave in the morning.)

For the room itself, I actually wouldn't mind sometimes getting a half-size room, with no desk, TV, chairs, etc., for a significant discount. Sometimes I just have no need for anything other than a bed and a shower, as I'm either spending all of my time outside of the room, or it's just a one-night stopover and I'm not even going to unpack my bags.

(Kind of like a capsule hotel, but not necessarily going *that* far.)

I personally never use the TV in hotel rooms. There's usually nothing on it that I want to watch, and besides I've always got several screens with me for my entertainment. So I wouldn't mind a room with no TV at all, and more counter/desk space, instead.

The opposite of this, which is just the worst, is a room with a huge cabinet in it holding the TV. That's a total waste of space.

Agree on bathrooms

And also, recently I’ve stayed in several hotel rooms which don’t have proper privacy between the bathroom and the rest of the room. In some cases a glass section of the wall — not looking at the toilet per se but reducing the sense of privacy in the room. And sometimes open space on the ceiling, allowing all sounds and smells to move between them. Sometimes even intimate couples will find that too much intimacy, and it’s a no-go for visitors to the room or co-workers or friends sharing rooms.

The TV is a flatscreen these days, so it takes no space. Yes, my video is on my devices, not on the TV, though very rarely I will turn it on to see a live news show or to experience funny foreign TV (a hoot in Japan.) But a bigscreen monitor is nice on any laptop or phone/tablet.

TV or two desks

If given the option, though, what would you pick between the choice of a TV in the room or two desks?

I don't need a second desk when I'm staying in a room alone, but since I never use the TV I wouldn't mind having the extra flat space to lay things out. I miss when it was a fairly standard thing to have a dedicated shelf for a suitcase built in to a room's fixtures, rather than a fold-up luggage rack in the closet.

As for a lack of bathroom privacy, the first time I experienced something like that was actually was back in the early '80's, in a hotel in a village in Switzerland. I was with my mom and older sister, in a room that had two normal beds and a nook with a smaller bed in it. The bathroom was a corner of the room that was separated by a curved glass wall with a door in it. At least there were either blinds or drapes to make it private, but it was so strange. Without the glass blocked the toilet (and the bidet next to it) would've been clearly visible through the glass to everyone in the room.

In the wall

Both the TV, and the extra desk space, should live in the wall. The TV already does in newer hotels (older hotels still have the cabinet the fat TV sat on and put the TV on it) The 2nd desk can be a fold-down leaf on the wall, or a fold out leaf on the main desk. The 2nd desk needs a 2nd chair — but they can put that in when they know the reservation is for two.

In the old days, a hotel may have viewed that a reservation for two meant a man who needed a desk and a wife who didn’t, but that’s pretty parochial. If there are two people, they both need a place to work.

Thanks for this!

I just set up our back apartment on airbnb and this list is very useful to keep in mind. FYI, Airbnb now has an option for "business travelers" and keeps on suggesting I complete the amenity list to join (which includes shampoo) but it requires me to get rid of our pets so no can do.

lighting

Great list, Brad. I have a "long tail" peeve. I always bring an embroidery project on vacation and I'd appreciate one bright light fixture for stitching. That would work well for reading, too. I have a compact, portable light that I use at stitching classes but it's not small enuf to lug it around on vacation. I'm excited by Chip's idea of packing an LED light bulb. That would be fairly small. I've gotta try that!

Hotels

Chromecast

wireless protocols

There are several different wireless monitor protocols out there, not just chromecast. In fact, there are quite a few of them, and some TVs support them natively without a dongle. It would be nice to see as many supported as possible. The dongle ones can be supported if you carry the dongle with you of course, as they are not large or expensive. They do want power though.

Desk vs. chair

I frequently find that the desks at major chain hotels are at mismatched height to the generic office chairs, hurting my arms where they rest over the edge - and I'm really tall. Stacking pillows on the chair helps, though then my legs run into the drawer in the center. Too used to a split-level computer workstation, I guess.

The reflective glass vs. optical mice issue is a frequent aggravant. They must be aware of this and just conclude it's OK to aggravate people in return for reduced damage to the desk surface, or some such tradeoff.

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