Marketing is a tricky balancing act isn’t it? I know. I did my time, grubbying my bespectacled visage at the communications coalface for many years, so I say it with all due sympathy…
You have to draw people in, establish a point of difference, challenge misconceptions (or frankly sometimes accurate perceptions!)…. but at the same time you’ve got manage expectations too. So what has all this got to do with trains, hotels and hostels then?
Quite a bit actually. Take the boutique hotel, for example. (No please, take it!) Such a great concept on paper but it’s now been done to death and completely undermined by flagrant ‘me-too’ opportunism. It’s just become a meaningless, catch-all term for any hotel with less than 100 rooms. Few places which tag themselves as such feel genuinely distinctive or curated. (Hey, there’s a new one for you beleaguered tourism marketing hacks – the curated hotel.)
‘I am whatever I say I am’
Who decides which hotels can don this badge and when? The hotels themselves of course. Just as in social media, if you start calling yourself something the majority of your audience won’t question it much. A precarious strategy maybe, but it often works.
Of course the pinning of such rosy rosettes affects what you can charge and who you can compete with, or at least be seen to compete with. And it’s niggles such as these which, much as I love the concepts in theory, trouble me when it comes to flashy new labels like ‘luxury hostel’ or ‘train hotel.’
Allow me to expand a little… (But Jools, if you expand any more you’ll need to start shopping at Jacamo, but I digress… )
Recently I took the Night Train to Lisbon, largely in homage to the enigmatic cult book of the same name, it was simply a ‘must-do’ for me. My expectations were pitched pretty high, partly because it’s marketed as a ‘train hotel.’ If it was branded as ‘just another sleeper train servic’e I would have had less of a quibble with it.
It cost a pretty penny too – some 350 Euros to be precise, but hey, that’s OK, it’s a train hotel after all right, so it’s bound to be worth it? Hmm, not so much as it goes…
Now don’t get me wrong, it was still a fun experience sitting in our cabin waving at the Valladolid locals on the platform as they return home from their night on the tiles, and a lovely scenic journey as Portugal gradually revealed itself through the early morning mist, but ultimately it over promised and under delivered. The private 2 bed cabin was no more special than your average sleeper car and the food (included in the price of Gran Classe, but working out at around 70 euros for 2, including a bottle of wine.) was truly woeful.
Much of this boils down to pricing. Had we shelled out a mere 150 euros we would not have expected so much and thus walked away disappointed. Just think about what you would expect from a hotel charging 350 Euros…
So maybe these travel companies should quit bluffing lest we call their hand?
My hostelling experince is admittedly pretty limited, but in general it’s hard to shake the feeling that the branding of luxury hostels is mostly a marketing ploy to craftily swipe a piece of the budget hotel pie. In the wrong hands it can easily backfire.
Private double rooms in hostels can often rival 2 or 3 star hotels, but they frequently cost more too – and once you get past the swanky lobby bar and Imacs in the reception to a room where your put your own paper-thin sheets on a spartan iron bunk bed the cracks begin to show soon enough.
Who’s been Sleeping in my Bed?!
Customer service and operational stuff needs to improve as well. I’ll never forget staying with a certain big hostel chain in London last year. I returned from a night on the sauce only to burst in on the terrified goldilocks (actually I think she was a brunette, but being a gentleman, naturally I didn’t hang around to check!) who appeared to be sleeping in my bed! My room had been double booked.
In other hostels I’ve found that while the management staff are great, the guys manning reception tend to have a distinctly more shruggy attitude.
For my money, the true test of an accommodation’s luxury credentials lies in the comfort of the room itself, but maybe that’s just the difference between a dedicated hosteller and a hotel-dweller such as me? Hostellers probably put more store in the communal facilities than I do.
Where’s this trend going?
It was interesting to hear Plus Hostel’s Jordi Sinclair’s reaction to my question at the Travel Blogger Elavator conference after he and Kash presented their impressive Luxury Hostels blog project.
I asked him if it was just marketing or a bigger trend. His answer was that all the better hostels will gradually migrate to this luxe model eventually, as customers come to expect more bang for their buck.
My feeling is that while it’s still early days for luxury hostels they should tread carefully with the label before they render it redundant.
And train companies, stop making mugs of us please! Just because we love the experience of night trains it doesn’t mean we’re also blind to their shortcomings.
What do you think? Just a marketing fad or a genuine shift towards superior standards?