Skip to main content

Joy of the towel elephant: Hospitality industry loves and hates

By Barry Neild, CNN
updated 8:04 PM EDT, Sun June 29, 2014
"Have you got a limo? Yes? In that case, I am Mr. Cyp." Keep those airport driver signs coming. "Have you got a limo? Yes? In that case, I am Mr. Cyp." Keep those airport driver signs coming.
Love: Airport driver signs
Hate: Welcome drinks
Love: Pillow chocolates
Hate: Unnecessary assisstance
Love: Towel elephants
Hate: Lobby music
Hate: Feeble Wi-Fi signals
Love: Free breadsticks
Love: The concierge desk
Hate: Unreliable swipe cards
  • Airport taxi chauffeurs -- a quick, easy, way through the chaos of a new city
  • But bellboys? We've humped our bags all this way, we can manage the last 20 meters too
  • Bad hotel Wi-Fi is the quickest way to have your flustered guest demanding a refund

(CNN) -- In many ways our relationship with the hospitality industry is like a fledgling romance.

Sometimes, it pulls some smooth moves, everything clicks and we walk hand in hand into the sunset.

But just as often, its fumbling advances leave us feeling cheap, embarrassed and more than a little concerned about an itchy rash.

So, in the interest of seeing this relationship through its growing pains, here are a few hints about what we'd like to see more of -- and less of.

Share your loves and hates in the comments box below.

We love airport taxi driver signs

Foreign airports can be intimidating places.

Humidity hangs in the air, smells hang in the toilets and the mustaches hang off the faces of customs officials.

These can all leave the frazzled traveler feeling disorientated.

So, when we emerge onto a concourse filled with hundreds of baying touts, there's nothing more comforting than seeing a small cardboard sign bearing our misspelled name.

This is our ticket through the chaos.

Instantly, we have a friend and guide to get us through the perilous first few hours, to usher us to an air-conditioned vehicle and navigate the potholed roads that lie between us and our hotel.

And if we're not too choosy about where we're staying, there's no need to book ahead to take advantage of this service.

Few drivers speak our language and will be so bored of waiting, they'll happily accept our claim to be "Goerge Cloney."

Clooney can find his own way to the city.

MORE: Which city has the world's best taxis?

We hate welcome drinks

Because -- after we've traveled halfway across the world in a cramped and airless passenger jet -- the last thing we want on arrival at our resort is a glass of sugary punch to swill into the fur-coated hole we used to call our mouth.

Maybe hotel staff think that hot, sticky and uncomfortable guests need hot, sticky and uncomfortable beverages.

But what's wrong with a freshly brewed cup of tea or coffee or a restorative pitcher of beer?

Failing those, a bucket of cold water would do the trick.

Cuter and more practical than a pillow pizza.
Cuter and more practical than a pillow pizza.

We love pillow chocolates

There's a glorious lack of logic to the hotel habit of placing chocolates on pillows.

When we've brushed our teeth in readiness for a snooze, why do we then need a mouthful of sugar?

But for anyone who relishes the joy of a new hotel room -- trampolining on beds, raiding minibars, wallowing in bathrobes -- pillow chocolates serve to heighten those childish pleasures.

They do, however, present a hazard to those too exhausted to spot them.

Although there are probably hotels somewhere that deliberately cater to this, most guests won't enjoy waking up to find a blotch of warm, brown goo sliding down their cheeks.

MORE: Heartwarming, hilarious: Most bizarre hotel guest requests

We hate bellboys hauling our luggage

We've bounced our suitcase down 6 million steps from our apartment.

We've pulled every muscle in our upper bodies hoisting it into the overhead lockers.

We've survived angry mobs bent on avenging the elderly woman we hospitalized with a careless swing of our backpack.

So why do we now need to tip someone to carry our bags the last 20 meters?

Sure, we appreciate that some frail or lazy folk need a helping hand with their luggage.

But look at us: we're normal human beings, we've made it this far and we can manage on our own.

It's a long shot, but we can probably also figure out how to switch on the lights in our room, flush the toilet and put the large denomination banknote, which is inevitably the only cash we have on us right now, to much better use.

We love towel elephants

"Towel elephant" sounds like a euphemism for an unexpected encounter in the men's steam room, but actually describes a form of origami deployed by some hotels.

This involves folding together a hand and bath towel to produce a cute, fluffy pachyderm, replete with trunk, ears and legs.

Towels have long been at the front line of hotel cost-cutting -- usually in the shape of those environmental notices that urge you to reuse them as much as possible -- so it's nice to see a bit of attention lavished on them for once.

Just remember to unfold them before use.

There can be few things more distressing to hotel maids than seeing a damp elephant in the corner of the bathroom, its trunk drooping in shame.

MORE: 15 quirky hotels around the world

Canned saxophones: best way to ruin a peaceful space.
Canned saxophones: best way to ruin a peaceful space.

We hate hotel music

There are two types of jazz -- and they're both execrable.

Neither more so than when they're oozing through a hotel loudspeaker system.

As if it wasn't bad enough to smother us with soft saxophone every time we step into an elevator, many hotels also pursue us down their corridors via loudspeakers embedded in the ceiling.

In psychological warfare, music is often blasted round-the-clock at targets to force them into surrender.

This won't work if the enemy has spent any amount of time in a hotel.

We love the concierge desk

Always smiling, always genial, always ready to serve.

Many of the responsibilities of the concierge are being replaced by the Internet -- after all, it's tough to compete with local websites when searching for the best jalapeno-infused margarita in town.

But it's nice to know these service stalwarts are still around to scatter our dog's ashes in the sea and find us life-sized replicas of ourselves made of chocolate at a moment's notice.

We're not making those up.

Click here for a list of bizarre hotel guest requests.

We hate feeble Wi-Fi signals

For most people, an Internet connection is now as essential as having water on tap in the bathroom.

So if you're going to include it in the price of our hotel room, make sure you give us a strong, uninterrupted signal.

If the water slows to a trickle or cuts out every couple of minutes, angry guests will willingly stomp down to Reception, naked apart from a bath towel, to point wet accusing fingers at the manager.

Given that many bored business travelers also use the Internet while wrapped in a bath towel, it's in everyone's interests to ensure they are kept online and their wet accusing fingers are kept out of Reception.

MORE: Do hotel star ratings mean anything anymore?

We hate unreliable magnetic swipe cards

Magnetic key cards are easier to carry than clumsy old skeleton keys and when we forget to return them at checkout they're easy to throw away.


But few indignities foisted on us by the hotel industry are as aggravating as returning to the hotel at 11:30 at night after drinks and dinner, crossing the lobby, taking the elevator to the 23rd floor, walking down the hallway thinking of nothing more than that toilet in the room we so desperately need right now ... then not seeing that reassuring little green light appear when we swipe our key card.

Wait, did we do that right?

Try it again.

Try the other one.

Do it again.

The other way.

Try the ...

Eventually, the only thing left to do is slog back down to the front desk for a "quick fix" to a problem that pops up far more often than it should.

MORE: Great hotel pools in the United States

We love free bread sticks

Perhaps love is too strong a word.

But we like them a lot, so do keep them coming while we're deciding what to order.

Yes, obviously some are finding their way into our pockets for later consumption, but after the "towel elephant" incident in Reception and that George Clooney mix-up with the taxi, it could be a while before we're able to sneak past the bellboys and get to eat our pillow chocolates.

What are your hospitality industry loves and hates? Share them in the comments box below.

Originally published August 2012, updated June 2014.

Part of complete coverage on
updated 5:56 AM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
Nonprofit Ethical Traveler has released its annual list of the developing countries doing the most to promote human rights and preserve their environments.
updated 5:36 AM EST, Thu December 11, 2014
These waterfront watering holes have killer ocean views, creative drinks and the mahalo vibe we demand.
updated 3:38 PM EST, Wed December 10, 2014
Can't wait to book your ticket to Indianapolis and Oakland? The venerable guidebook is right there with you
updated 1:25 AM EST, Wed December 10, 2014
By helicopter, snowmobile and big-wheel truck across some of the world's most volatile landscapes.
updated 4:42 PM EST, Tue December 9, 2014
Construction begins on a new Singapore airport complex that could make delays and layovers a pleasure.
updated 9:41 AM EST, Tue December 9, 2014
Inflight chatterboxes are annoying but they're not the worst violators of onboard etiquette, according to an Expedia study.
updated 5:32 PM EST, Mon December 8, 2014
These statues are awe-inspiring even for the strongest of non-believers.
updated 11:59 AM EST, Fri December 5, 2014
The Palace of the Parliament, built by former Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.
25 years after the death of Romania's communist dictator, tourism is helping heal old wounds.
updated 6:52 AM EST, Fri December 5, 2014
Photo sharing website names the top 10 destinations for geo-tagged snapshots.
updated 5:05 AM EST, Wed December 3, 2014
New York may be a paradise of Zagat-rated, Michelin-starred restaurants, but some of its best food can be found on the streets.
updated 1:01 AM EST, Tue December 2, 2014
Guide Lebo behind the wheel of Chobe Game Lodge's first electric game viewing vehicle, at Chobe National Park in Botswana.
Chobe Game Lodge in Botswana ups the eco stakes with what it claims is world's first battery-powered safari fleet.
updated 8:18 PM EST, Sun November 23, 2014
The interior of the Formosa Boulevard Mass Rapid Transit Station in Kaohsiung, in southern Taiwan.
These quirky and beautiful subway stops make standing cheek-to-cheek with 45 strangers almost seem fun.
updated 8:14 AM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
A scene from a desert safari in Dubai
Luxury vintage Land Rover tours explore Bedouin backwaters without bashing up precious dunes.