We've all been there. At the end of a long flight, you get to your hotel and check in, only to find that your room is right next to an ice machine that sounds like it has a severe case of whooping cough, or it's the only one on the floor not occupied by members of a high school marching band practicing through the night for a major competition.
Yes, a bad hotel room can ruin anyone's trip, but when you're traveling on business, the stakes are even higher. If it's not up to par or presents too many distractions, you may not be able to finish that big presentation or you might not be rested enough for that important client meeting.
To help you avoid these pitfalls, we consulted with Doug Peckham, who, after an extensive career working in hotels and resorts from Philadelphia to Puerto Rico, now oversees the stately Stoneleigh Hotel & Spa in Dallas. Located just minutes from the offices of major corporations such as Cinemark, Merrill Lynch and Southwest Airlines, the historic Stoneleigh attracts a significant business clientele, and Peckham knows just what those travelers need.
"A failed business trip may result in no less than a threat to job security," said Peckham, "so it's important to do a bit of research prior to committing to your hotel selection."
He shares his thoughts on how you can get the right room in the right hotel and avoid sabotaging your trip before it even starts:
As a general rule, what rooms in a hotel should business travelers avoid?
-- Rooms near an indoor pool, especially at hotels with rooms that surround an internal atrium. Unless you enjoy the permeating aroma of chlorine in your room, avoid this location.
-- Rooms near the elevator lobby on each floor. Not only is there a lot of guest traffic, room service delivery, etc., the noise from the elevator machinery itself can be constant and annoying.
-- Be careful about rooms assigned on the second floor or the floor just below the top floor of the hotel. If there are public or event rooms located immediately below or above you, you may find yourself "attending" a loud, late-night party lasting until the wee hours of the morning. It's not a great way to wake up refreshed and ready to accomplish the next day's business tasks.
-- Smoking rooms. Although smoking rooms are becoming more rare, it can be annoying to find yourself in a smoking room if you check in late and they are the only rooms available. Another potential pitfall to avoid are rooms in a hotel recently converted to nonsmoking. The lingering smoke can permeate every fabric and is very difficult to eradicate. Be ready to point this out to the front desk staff and request an alternate room if available or have the hotel provide an air cleaner unit, which many hotels have on hand unbeknownst to guests.
-- Beware of hotels that allow pets. Although it is trendy for high-end and boutique hotels to accommodate travelers with pets, the wear and tear on furnishings, as well as the pet dander and pet accidents, can quickly destroy a room. And you don't want to attend your next business meeting in a suit covered with pet hair.
What questions should a business traveler ask to getting the best room?
-- Are there any conferences or conventions taking place at the same time as my stay? Groups that take up a large portion of the hotel typically overwhelm the facilities and reduce the quality and levels of service for the individual traveler.
-- Do you have rooms available on higher floors? The upper floors of a hotel are typically reserved for individual travelers or members of the hotel's frequent-stay program and are usually quieter, being farthest from street noise, late-night bar or restaurant activity and large groups with three to four guests occupying each room, especially on weekends.
-- Does the hotel feature rooms with special configurations or amenities designed to enhance the guests' stay?
These room types offered at some hotels include:
Clean air or PURE rooms. These rooms have special filtering devices installed to maintain very low levels of pollutants, pollen, dust and eye irritants to which some travelers are sensitive.
Fitness rooms. Some brand and boutique hotels offer fitness equipment in some of their guestrooms, making it convenient and also offering privacy for the guest's daily workout routine.
"Outfitted for business" rooms. Many hotels are configuring a portion of their guestrooms with specific "high-productivity" arrangements such as multiline speaker/conference phones, fax/copy machines, secure Internet access for high security (government employees frequently require this) and expanded workspaces. Connectivity dataports that allow plug-and-play functionality to flat-screen monitors and TVs using laptops and iPads to review or display presentations and other media in-room are also often available.
What about security?
-- A room on the first floor, if offered, is not always the best choice when considering safety, as unwanted access from the exterior street level outweighs the advantage of a speedy exit.
-- Google's Street View feature allows you to get a 360-degree view of the hotel at street level, which may provide a stark and daunting contrast of the actual surroundings versus a pretty website photo of the hotel entrance alone.
-- Ask the hotel if they have 24/7 security officers touring the building. If the hotel has surveillance cameras but no one is monitoring them, they're only good for reviewing recordings of crimes already committed. Also ask if the security force is made up of hotel employees or an outside service.
In almost every case, you're more secure in a hotel with its own security officers, as the "rented" officers are rarely motivated to truly care for the hotel guest in the same way as a professional employed directly by the hotel. This becomes less significant outside of city-center locations, but even suburban hotels have vandalism and crime issues.
-- Research whether the hotel has in-room safes, which today accommodate laptops and several other items with ease.
-- Female business travelers should consider booking a room at the growing number of hotels with a women's only floor. Rooms on these floors are typically accessed via a special keycard and sometimes even have added security.
Which rooms do you try to book or avoid? Do you have a story of a hotel room gone wrong? Share your tips and stories below.