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Rooms At The Top (2)

Some chains have been experimenting with small, luxury hotels where there is less chance of encountering conventioneers. But elegant properties with intimate service are not easy to find. William Davis finds the 57-room Lancaster in Paris (part of the Prestige consortium) a good example, as well as the Ritz-Carltons in New York and Washington and the Hay-Adams and Madison in Washington, all of which have between 165 and 370 rooms and are furnished with antiques.

Some of the large chains have created special luxury wings on certain floors for business travelers. A good example is the Sheraton in Stockholm, which has 51 rooms on its top floor with special lift and registration, two telephones in the rooms and other extras.

The quality of a hotel also depends to a large extent on the 'quality' of people who stay there. Says Anthony Podesta. 'Temple Fielding, who loved the great hotels, once said to me that not only will our children not know the great hotels, what that lifestyle was like, but they won't miss them; in part because they have no reason to know what they are missing, and in part because the world is changing - the idea of getting dressed-up is anathema to them'. Hotel staff are inevitably going to be affected by the attitudes of guests,' continues Podesta, 'If you get rowdy types in a first class hotel, and they're the exception, the staff will not be affected. But if over a period of time the reverse in true, the staff's attitude will also change. Good service is not something that exists on its own; you need discerning customers.'

It's not as a simple as that for the traveling woman who is rarely made to feel welcome or secure - a matter of staff attitude rather than amenities. Many hotels now cater for the needs of women such as providing full-length mirrors and ironing boards, hair dryers, curling irons, bathrooms with lights bright enough to apply make-up and a fast, reliable laundry that does not press blouses as they would a man's shirt.

Security means good lighting in hallways and car parks, deadbolt locks and chains and peepholes in doors. Hotels are becoming aware of the danger of giving out room numbers. And computer-generated keys are replacing the old variety that you have to ask for at the desk.'

But many woman still have bad experiences. A classic is when a woman checks into a hotel with a male colleague. The receptionist smiles and says, 'Yes, Sir?' to the man, assuming they are traveling together and want a double room. Another is when a women is asked to prove she is a registered guest when ordering a drink at the bar.

'Service and attitudes towards women are awful. More and more women pay the bills, so we ought to get more respect,' says Sally Jackson, a London businesswoman. 'Women don't want special treatment; they just want equal service as businesspersons. And this can only come about through more sensitive staff training.' Some hotels seem to be setting it right. 'The Hyatt Regency Club is excellent - the maitre d' of the Chelsea Room at the Hyatt Carlton Tower in London is very good,' says Jackson. 'And the Ramada Renaissance Hotels are also good; the staff is very well trained.'

A survey was conducted on 600 hotels around the world asking them what facilities they provide for women traveling alone on business. The idea is to compile a data-base, and eventually a guide, to hotels where women will be safe and welcome.

Some hotels woo business travelers with frequent stayer programs, lavish bonus awards and club schemes with ego-boosting names and plastic bags for VIP-guests. But for my money, exclusiveness is a contradiction if one has to share VIP service with serried rows of executives. I have stayed for years at a small hotel in Paris, the Lord Byron, tucked away behind the Champs-Elysees which has only just gotten around to accepting credit cards let alone having an executive floor. I get a morning paper as a matter of course with fresh orange juice and a smile. I am always recognized when I arrive and if the hotel is fully booked, as it usually is, they'll always squeeze me in somehow. That's what I call being an honored guest.

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