Nowadays, luxury hotels consider private swimming pools as the new thing. Once upon a time, hotels installed smaller pools in their superior suites and treated those suites as more luxurious. When the Oberoi Raj Vilas in Jaipur first opened (1997 I think) three suites had their own pool and it was so big the industry couldn’t help but talk about it.
Now swimming pools are much more common. Every resort in the Maldives has private pools with every room. And the great success of Jaipur is the Leela Palace which functions as a destination in its own right mainly because it has about fifty villas with swimming pools. Guests come down from Delhi for a break with their families to enjoy the pool villas. Other hotels are planning to add private pools to enhance their properties, and luxury properties no longer treat pools as being reserved for the best suites. The Oberoi Sukh Vilas, the newest of the Vilas hotels, has a much higher proportion of swimming pools than Raj Vilas or the earlier Vilases.
I am for swimming pools for those who can afford them. But frankly, I wish hotels also focused on something more basic: the bathtub.
There was a time when almost every hotel had a bathtub in their bathroom. Even the shower was an addition, placed above the tub. Then hoteliers noticed a new generation of guests complaining about the awkwardness of showering while standing in a bathtub. They wanted real showers, the angry guests said.
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So a whole orthodoxy developed around what hoteliers liked to call four-point and five-point bathrooms (no, I don’t know what that means either) that had shower stalls and separate bathtubs. Guests liked it so much that many migrated to the shower stalls, leaving the tubs unused. My wife, for example, will not stay in a hotel room unless she has a stand-alone shower stall. Once we had to refuse the offer of a magnificent suite in a historic and heritage hotel in Spain because the only shower was placed above the bathtub.
I get it. Most people don’t have time to soak in a tub. They prefer the efficiency of the shower. And maybe showers are much more hygienic because the water drains away from you while in a bathtub you lie in water contaminated with dirt that has come off your body. (Awful picture!)
It is now at the stage where surveys show that in India at least something like 95% of customers prefer to use the shower over the bath. (I’m sure there are similar numbers for the US, although tubs may be more popular on the continent).
As a result, new hotels are now being built with fun tubs. Hoteliers always feel compelled to install bathtubs (although not necessarily in three-star and budget establishments) but they know, even if they approve of the design of their bathrooms, that so few people will use these bathtubs that it’s not worth worrying about. their.
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Many tubs are so small that even a five-year-old would struggle to stretch in it. Some are so narrow they look like fiberglass straitjackets. And some are so shallow you couldn’t drown a rat in them.
They are also not supported. I’ve stayed in five star hotels where there are dirty yellow streaks around the tub walls (due to minerals in the bath water) only because housekeeping couldn’t be bothered to clean them all days. About 40% of hotel bathtubs have plugs that don’t work, so you can’t really fill them. Nobody bothers to check the tubs when they return the parts.
I always judge the caliber of housekeeping in a hotel by how the showerhead in the tub is handled. In almost all hotels, the hand shower will be used by housekeeping staff to clean the tub. The good thing is. But once the housekeeping guy is done cleaning, he has to readjust the controls to get the water flowing from the faucet again. In about 70% of five-star hotels, housekeepers don’t bother to do this. They also do not properly replace the hand shower. So when you turn on the tap, water runs into a misplaced spray wand and then shoots out to hit you in the face. I used to complain about this negligence. Now I don’t bother because it happens all the time and anyway the hoteliers think I’m a bit nuts for wanting to use the tub and not the shower.
Despite all the lack of attention paid to bathtubs, luxury hotels still spend a lot of money on them, probably because they think a luxury bathtub makes the bathroom feel more luxurious. But even then, the total lack of attention remains. I’ve seen luxury bathrooms with tall, massive tubs that no guest can climb into unless they’ve won Olympic medals in high jump or at least hurdles.
I’ve seen tubs with fancy jacuzzi nozzles that don’t work – again management don’t notice as the tub is just for show.
And in line with the global trend of turning faucets in every hotel bathroom into spaceship controls, it’s getting harder and harder to figure out how to use bathtubs. (What about hotel designers? Do they think guests will be thrilled if there are really complicated controls for showers and tubs? Are they all frustrated rocket scientists?)
If you’re a tub fan like me, then staying in a hotel can be a frustrating experience. I’ve stayed in hotels where it takes over 20 minutes for the tub to fill. I’ve stayed in others where the water isn’t particularly hot to start with, so by the time you fill the tub your only option is a cold bath, as the water has gone cold.
The Oberoi is the only chain that pays attention to bathtubs. From the sunken tubs in Raj Vilas bathrooms in the 1990s to the free-standing tubs at other properties, they have thought about their bathroom. But it couldn’t have been easy. I remember asking the expatriate general manager of the company why they put their shampoos only in the shower stalls and not near the bathtubs. “Ah, but nobody washes their hair in a tub,” he said. I asked him if he had ever had bathtubs. Turns out he was a shower guy and had no idea about tubs.
All of the above may lead you to ask yourself the obvious question: why am I so obsessed with bathtubs? Is a fetish somehow?
So I’ll tell you. I grew up in an India where we had little geysers in our bathrooms. You have, at most, a bucket of hot water from these geysers. This meant baths were possible but never fun.
I went to a boarding school in India where hot water was a luxury. Most baths were cold water affairs. Even during the Ajmer winter (which could be cold) all you got was half a bucket of hot water. Then I went to a boarding school in England where, in the 70s at least, nobody took a bath in the morning. The only time you could take a bath was in the afternoon and even then it was twice a week. I was considered an eccentric because I wanted to bathe every day.
So whenever I went to a hotel, I treated a bath as part of the luxury experience. It’s always true. I create bubbles in my bath. I use scented bath salts or bath oils and spray the bathroom with something good. (A fragrance meant for human beings, not some rotten air freshener.) For me, a bath becomes a way to de-stress, relax, and let my mind wander. (I apologize to all of you macho men if you think this sounds too childish or even feminine.)
As I got older, I realized that I thought better when I was submerged in a tub. Unfortunately, this coincided with when builders started building smaller and smaller bathrooms in apartments. But in the last three apartments where we lived, we managed to install bathtubs as well as sufficiently large geysers to ensure that we had enough hot water.
It’s not that I step into the tub every day. If I have a busy morning or have meetings when I travel, of course I will take a shower. But if I don’t, there’s no substitute for soaking in a hot bath and using alone time to think. Almost everything I write (including this column, of course), first comes to me in the bath. And once I think it through, writing is quick and easy.
So, hoteliers, I love that you are building so many private pools. But hey guys, would it be so bad to pay a little attention to your bathtubs?