September 15, 2023

The Paradox of Mid-Range Hotels

The big chain hotels around the world are often upmarket. Typically, they provide a variety of comforts, albeit expected: expensive bars, restaurants, a fitness room with a Peloton. Economies of scale means many rooms, not unlike amenities in the suburbs where cookie-cutter new developments emerge overnight. The clientele are typically older and reasonably well-off. Sparse, local paintings or masks adore the otherwise beige walls to claim authenticity. Like cruise ships, big chain hotels insulate travelers from locals who can’t afford to stay, but work as housemaids, waiters, and waitresses. Despite the efforts to create a 4th wall between guests and staff, money into local economies is good, and if travelers are willing to venture beyond their hotel grounds, they’re exposed to culture different from their own.

Many younger people and retirees are not in a financial position to stay in big chain hotels, so they look for alternatives. Youth hostels are fun, but often noisy, and occasionally prone to petty theft, particularly in shared dormitory areas. Airbnb used to be a preferred option, but now many are as expensive as mid-range hotels.

Mid-range hotels (MRH) have become my “go-to”. Normally, they have a fridge and AC. Hopefully, they have a bar (a great place to meet fellow travelers) but if not, the aforementioned fridge is available to keep water and adult beverages cool. But, MRH have a downside: if they are independently owned (as many are) they lack the expertise that chains offer, the sophistication/ease of booking, and forget the details that are baked into the chain experience. For a minimal cost, MRH hotel owner/managers can take themselves up a notch, and differentiate themselves from other MRH hotels, which may in turn translate into a higher ADR.

Without consideration of the guest experience (something brands do very well, if often one-size-fits-all), some MRH check the boxes with little attention to detail. Take coffee. Typically, there are coffee and tea-making facilities in MRH properties. The coffee is instant and weak, the cups inadequate. After spilling one cup with no handle too many, I now take my own plunger and ground coffee on extended trips.

Toilet paper. Upmarket hotels provide double ply, perforated, soft paper; MRH supply single ply which you must double or triple up, using two to three times more paper, so those bargain rolls end up costing the hotel more money. Even worse, hotels which provide continuous rolls with no perforations. I typically use several yards while getting angry at my inability to tear off what I need. Another false economy. An experienced operator would understand this inefficiency and purchase double ply TP from the start.

It’s the same in the restaurants. MRH often provide tiny napkins. When I eat a curry with my fingers I typically go through the entire dispenser. Upmarket hotels provide a cloth napkin or a paper one that will last the whole meal – once again a false economy. This is just one more example of why MRH owners/managers should employ consultants to build an efficient hotel operation.

In my experience, MRH often don’t service rooms properly. Soap or shampoo is offered but sometimes not actually in the room. The same with towels. At one hotel, towels simply weren’t available until around 7:00pm because they still needed to be washed and dried after collecting them from checked out rooms that morning. Admittedly, when you did get them, they were lovely and warm but that’s no consolation when you checked in at 2:00 pm and wanted a shower to wash away the travel grime. It wouldn’t have cost a vast amount to buy more towels.

At another, which charged MRH prices and offered MRH amenities, I had to pay a US$5 deposit on my towel. As they had my credit card on file, I don’t know why they found it necessary to do this. It left a sour taste and discouraged me from returning.

Another bugbear is the positioning of power outlets. Most of us like to have our phone near us when we sleep and to recharge it overnight. I can’t tell you how many hotels provide perhaps two outlets, usually as far away from the bed as it is possible to get. The bed is the center of your hotel room universe. If there is a TV or A/C, you should be able to operate these from the bed. How often have I had to climb out of bed to turn off the room lights? Once again this is a no-brainer. All bedroom lights should be controllable from your bed.

Mid-range hotels often lack extra pillows or blankets. Even in the tropics, it can get cold at night, and I have had to put on extra clothes to stay warm. Not usually a problem in the big chains.

In my experience, MRH do not address safety concerns as well as they should. At one establishment there was an emergency exit diagram on the door (I always look at these, and you should, too). The instructions were simple. Basically, turn left or right, follow the corridor to a set of outside stairs. I turned right. There was a padlocked bolt on the door. The left-hand route did lead to safety, but what if the fire had been in the left-hand corridor?

At another MRH the light switch at the sink was a pull cord. When I pulled it, the bulb and holder pulled out of the ceiling trailing 18 inches of electrical wire. I suspect someone else had faced the same problem and instead of reporting the issue, just stuffed the wire back into the hole. As a traveler, you should always report dangerous situations to the hotel staff.

Showers are often problematic, too. In one MRH, the water was lukewarm or cold (definitely a First World problem). This didn’t bother me because it was in the tropics, and I enjoyed the cool down. When I checked out, I noticed a sign taped to the front desk:

“Our hot water system is on solar…it will take time to have hot water since it is shared among rooms. No sides is stronger than the other. 3 rooms share 1 system. When it rains, it will take longer!

Hence sirs and madams, should you wish a quick hot shower, please put your kettle on and we will give you a bucket!”

I left with a huge grin. That kind of honest communication? You’ll never get at a big chain.

All in all, I do enjoy staying beyond the bubble many big hotel chains have created. I get to meet residents, eat local food, explore city streets and shops—and occasionally interact with a local hotel owner. The rates are typically less expensive, the cancellation policies are less rigid, and while the amenities are hit or miss, staying in a MRH can be part of the travel adventure. When I’m loyal to a MRH, it’s not because I’ve racked up points worthy of free night stays—it’s because of moments that brought a smile to my face.

For MRH looking to meet or exceed the guests’ experience consistently, we recommend investing in an operations consultant. Get in touch with us, we’d love to connect you to our partners.