Room With a View
by Larry Mundy
May 2006

 Guest Privacy – It’s Not Just a Door Tag Anymore
It’s time to talk about guest privacy.  Actually, at the moment it’s time for lunch, but I have a deadline to submit a column, so I’ll talk about guest privacy and you’ll agree to forgive the ramen-noodle stains on the draft, OK?

When you think about it, privacy is pretty much what your guests are paying your room rate for.  If they didn’t care about privacy, you wouldn’t need to have “rooms” at all.  You could just erect a huge, open structure and fill it with beds, like they do in school gymnasiums after a natural disaster flattens a neighborhood.  Two big restrooms, a soup line, and you’re in business.  People could sleep, eat, shower and mingle with other travelers.  There are some lodging facilities like this in urban areas, but we denigrate them with the sobriquet “homeless shelters.”  Your hotel is really just a shelter for people whose homes are likely intact but too far away to reach easily, yet those people demand private rooms.

That’s because the modern guest has come to expect privacy from hotels, even if they don’t intend to do anything that might later be sold on videotape in truck stops.  They want their own room, their own bath, their own TV, just like spoiled teenagers who never watched episodes of “The Waltons” and thus never came to appreciate the insipid togetherness that comes from sharing a bedroom with four other siblings and a big, friendly dog.  We have become a nation of loners.

The guest’s first assurance of privacy comes from the door lock.  Gone are the days of easily-reproduced metal keys; today the room lock is an electronic card-reading marvel and the “card-key” is magnetically encoded with one of 126,347,356 discrete combinations of beeps and blips, so that the third card produced almost always unlocks the room door on the fourth try.

If a lock so secure that almost no one can open it is insufficient, there may also be a deadbolt or chain-bolt operable only from inside the room.  In some high-crime areas of New Jersey, guestroom doors may have as many as seven interior locks, just in case the guest forgot his weapon.  Yes, locks are principally for security, but security guarantees privacy as well.  

And hanging inside the lock is the Ultimate Weapon: the little plastic hang-tag that on one side says “Privacy, Please, We Are Newlyweds” and on the other side says “Please Make Up This Room, We Had Our First Fight And Threw Things.”  The “Privacy, Please” tag will repel even the most determined housekeeper for days, until the adjoining guest who swears she heard gunshots begins to complain about odd smells.  Newlyweds can be so volatile.

After security, the next aspect of guest privacy is freedom from noise, odor and unwanted light, because some ultra-sensitive insomniacs think they just can’t sleep with an opera singer practicing next door, and a flashing neon “vacancy” sign just outside the window.  We can shut out the light with “blackout drapes” which are lined with lead foil and also cut down stray radiation from the nearby nuclear power plant.  Noise is harder to control.

Noise control starts with intelligent construction, and ordinary residential wall construction just won’t do.  If your pimply teenager is playing deafening rock music in the next room at home, you can yell, withhold allowance, take the car keys.  None of these tactics is effective against drunken pro wrestlers in an adjoining hotel room.  Walls between rooms need to be at least three feet thick and made of sound-deadening cement (or four feet, if adjacent to an elevator shaft or noisy icemaker).  Wood-frame construction is made quieter by using extra layers of sheetrock and staggering studs (these have no relation to the “staggering studs” in your bar, and are far quieter).  Windows facing a busy roadway should have multiple panes of glass, pressure-rated for use in a large public aquarium.  Floors and ceilings should be able to withstand the “bunker-buster” bombs recently fashionable in the middle east.  Door thresholds should seal tightly enough to block noise, light, and military nerve gas.  If your guestrooms are built properly, an overflowing toilet should be able to fill the entire guestroom with water to a level of no less than seven feet before so much as a drip is noted in the room below.  A watertight room is a soundproof room, that’s my motto.

If your rooms don’t meet these standards, and you don’t anticipate having funds for capital renovations until the next return of Haley’s Comet, there are some things you can do to increase apparent quiet.  One is to have a noisy HVAC unit that makes the sounds of screaming toddlers or police sirens pale in comparison.  From my travels, I believe many of you have figured this out already.  Another is to adjust the voume limiters on in-room TV’s and radios so they cannot reach the sound-pressure levels of a Boeing product on takeoff.  Finally, soft room surfaces such as bedding, carpet, and actively growing mold cultures all absorb sound.

Finally, to further enhance guest privacy, teach your housekeepers the virtue of patience.  We’ve all seen the multitasking housekeeper who can announce “housekeeping!,” knock on the door with one hand, and simultaneously open the door with the other.  Only Superman can get dressed, in a small space, in four-tenths of a second.  I would recommend to housekeepers Oprah’s Rule of Handwashing: you should be able to sing an entire verse of the “happy birthday” song between the knock and the opening of the door.  Just make sure they sing it silently, to themselves, unless they’re really, really sure it’s that particular guest’s birthday.  If the guest wanted to share someone else’s birthday, he would have gone to the homeless shelter.

Larry Mundy works for a hotel company in Dallas.  His views are his own, and may differ considerably from those of a sane person."

Larry Mundy
[email protected]

Also See: The Future of Hotel Reservations / Room With a View - a Column by Larry Mundy / May 2006
Soon Every Town in America Will Have an Unused Convention Center / Room With a View - a Column by Larry Mundy / May 2006
Hotel Pool Safety 101 / Room With a View - a Column by Larry Mundy / May 2006
Where Not To Build a Hotel / Room With a View - a Column by Larry Mundy / May 2006
“Exterior Corridors” – Disappearing, Because They Never Existed / Room With a View - a Column by Larry Mundy
My Top Ten Worst Hotel Inventions / Room With a View - a Column by Larry Mundy / April 2006
Bed Tech / Room With a View - a Column by Larry Mundy / April 2006
A Sense of Arrival / Room With a View - a Column by Larry Mundy / April 2006

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