I have, over these months, noticed a lot of building activity adjacent to the park. When I went there the other Saturday, to my surprise, I found a completed hotel open for business. It is quite a large structure, with a pub and a Whacky House for children. And all this went up almost without my noticing, in 18 weeks.
Those responsible for the hotel would never claim that it is great architecture. What they would claim, and with justification, is that it is suitable for its purpose. That purpose obviously includes accommodating businessmen and others who need comfortable and efficient accommodation on their way from A to B. It will also accommodate visitors to the Commonwealth Games three years from now.
Hotels come in all shapes and sizes, and the new hotel in my constituency is just one of those shapes. I hope to be staying in another kind from tomorrow. This is Reid’s Hotel in Madeira – a traditional hotel with a high reputation. I am hoping that it will provide me with a happily memorable experience.
There are lots of utilitarian hotels, and there is a need for them. But designers of new hotels and refurbishers of old ones, should bear in mind that many of their clients crave an experience that is far beyond utilitarian. They want an experience that is memorable (in the right way), in a place far superior to their home environment.
I like where I live, and do my best to make it comfortable, at the very least. But designers of hotels should, wherever possible, provide an experience that will make guests look back with pleasure for years on exceptional comfort, thoughtfulness or even excitement that far transcends cosy home life.
Country house hotels, when well run, can provide exceptional comfort. I still remember, years later, the pleasure of staying at the Inverlochy in the Scottish Highlands and in the Welcombe, outside Stratford-upon-Avon. Some of these hotels even dispense with a reception desk in an effort to remove any impression of formality; although this idea can be taken a little too far.
Such hotels, traditional and with character, can be amplified into grand luxe traditional hotels. The Claridge in Buenos Aires, with fantastic dining-room service, is one of these, although I wish the bedrooms were bigger. The Danieli in Venice and the Eden in Rome have the advantage of fantastic views from the breakfast terrace.
Once inside some hotels, the customer need not be aware of the country, or even the continent, he is in
Some hotels can astonish. The Hyatt in San Francisco was the first hotel I visited that had glass lifts in the atrium. Almost jungle-like foliage, also in the atrium, was included in the vista. That was more than 20 years ago, and, although such hotels are now almost commonplace all over the globe, I still remember it.
The Mamounia in Marrakesh provides an oriental experience and tremendous efficiency. The Shah Abbasl in Isfahan is the most remarkable hotel I have ever stayed in, with exotic bungalows reaching over a network of tiny lakes – but without tremendous efficiency.
Such hotels represent the acme of good taste. The utterly delightful acme of bad taste was to me the Caesar on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe. It was the epitome of sheer, self-confident vulgarity. The primacy of gambling over everything meant that one could get to the lifts for the bedrooms only through a vast hall filled with fruit machines. One could even gamble while breakfasting.
The kind of hotel I do not like is the sort provided by too many franchise chains. Once inside them, the customer need not be aware of the country, or even the continent, in which he or she is located. Many airport hotels provide this kind of characterlessness.
I did not find such characterlessness at the Al-Rashid in Baghdad, where I stayed not simply at the invitation but at the insistence of the government of Iraq. A short time after my visit there, I happened to encounter, in an entirely different part of the world, someone who knew the workings of the Al-Rashid well.
He asked whether my room had been on the 13th or 14th floor; I remembered that it had been on the 14th.
“Ah!” he said. “All the rooms in the Al-Rashid are bugged, but those on the 13th and 14th floors have cameras in them as well.”
The Right Honourable Gerald Kaufman is MP for Manchester Gorton and chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee.