Hospitality is much more than word today. It has become an industry that runs the danger of becoming too high tech, with too little high touch.
I define a “box hotel” as a place with a bed, two nightstands, a lamp on each stand, a desk, a chair with wheels, a flat screen TV with multiple channels, a bath with a shower, a couple of pictures on the wall depicting the surroundings of the town, city or state. You might have a window. If you are really lucky or a time honored patron, you will have a scenic view. If this is your first time and you are on a budget, you will probably be staring at a brick wall or into someone else’s room.
The lobby of the hotel includes more pictures, fake vases, red carpet, and dark walls and chandeliers. There is usually a bar that charges seven to ten dollars for a glass of wine. Check-in begins in the lobby. You wait five to fifteen minutes to be checked in. You are handed a key, a plastic card that includes all of the information about you, the wifi code, and a parking permit for the garage. The parking is not free. A hotel in one of the big cities will whisk your car away and you have to call to get it back.
Choosing the right hotel is always one of my dilemmas. I don’t want to spend a lot on hotels. I do want a safe place to stay. I have found various alternatives to hotel stays that provide real hospitality. Full breakfast in the morning, private bedroom, shared bath, community rooms for those who want to play games or talk. Bed and Breakfast, private homes shared on Airbnb, and hostels remodeled for retired travelers.
Hospitality should be a “place”, where people can still be exceptional individuals, where they can extend their own personality and style.
I have the privilege of staying in the Schuster Mansion in Milwaukee Wisconsin. I am attending a conference for Women in Travel, WITS. The mansion is an alternative to the “box hotel” recommended by the conference staff. Cheaper, historical, family owned, and a feeling of being welcomed.
The mansion was built in 1891 by George Shuster a tobacco baron. The mansion became an apartment building in 1924. Many of the victorian style homes in the neighborhood are apartment buildings. Rick and Laura Sue, the current owners, bought the mansion in 2008. They have been remodeling it for almost nine years and are not finished yet.
I arrived at the mansion around 3:30 p.m. I rang the doorbell and Laura Sue opened the door. She was dressed from head to toe in victorian attire. A sweeping yellow dress with a white lace apron. I arrived early and she was still entertaining ladies attending High Tea. She serves High Tea three times a week. The ladies partake of several different kinds of pastries and teas. Laura Sue tells them the history of the mansion and how people lived in the Victorian Era. I don’t have a chance to attend any of the teas. I sat down on the sofa in the parlor and waited for her to finish.
She went over all of my information. Gave me four choices for breakfast and handed my key. It was a real key. I am staying in the Prairie Room.
The Prairie Sky Room
The Prairie Sky Room is the only single room. This room was the living quarters of three servants in 1891. The bathroom is shared with the room next to me. I am the only one here four out of the five days. The ceiling is painted blue with clouds. Lace curtains cover the windows. Yellow drapes with blue flowers grace the sides of the windows. There are pictures of victorian women dressed in their pastel petticoats, blue, pink, and yellow. Most of the pictures in the house are of Rick and Laura Sue’s ancestors and childhood pictures of themselves. Creaky wooden floors, a blue floral ceramic water pitcher sits on the side table. Two old fashioned porcelain lamps with iron pedestals positioned on the other side tables. A TV is provided in the room with access to multiple channels. There is no desk in the room. I have to go to the parlor to use my computer. The bed was very comfortable, not too hard, not too soft.
Various decorations in the Prairie Sky Room
There is a total of six bedrooms, some of them suites with a sunroom, in the mansion. Rick and Laura Sue live in the Ballroom which is not yet completely remodeled. Much of the furniture in the mansion was donated by friends and guests or bought at garage and estate sales. French doors open from the front room into the parlor. In the parlor, a blue floral upholstered sofa and embroidered chair are accompanied by crystal candle holders, two ticking clocks, an old cast iron typewriter, various colored glass vases sitting on a shelf. The sun shines in to bring out the bright colors of blue, green, lavender, red and orange.
The experience of staying in the mansion for four days was like staying at my grandma’s house. Not that my grandma lived in a mansion, the feeling is like someone really cares about hospitality. A glass of Riesling was $2. Not bad. The long breakfast table was set with white old-fashioned laced tablecloths, freshly pressed cloth napkins, flowers, and tall thin white candles. Guests can schedule breakfast anytime between 7:00-10:00. Breakfast is served fresh to each guest. If you want to eat at 9:00, your breakfast will be made right before you sit down. You can even have it served to your room. I ate at 7:30 every morning and always had someone to talk with. It’s a great set up if you are traveling alone and don’t like eating alone. Like me!
I feel it is very important to support the entrepreneurs who put so much time and effort into these private “hotels”.
Planning a trip to a country you have never visited before can be a little scary. Sometimes we have to take calculated risks. Reserving hotel rooms requires research. Thanks to the many travel sites, we can find information from previous travelers. Does the hotel offer wifi? Is there a restaurant on the premises? Is there public transportation nearby? Is it safe? How many stars does it have? We can look at pictures that other travelers have posted. What is the “star” rating? What is the price?
Planning a trip to Jaipur, India? Skip the box hotels. Skip the tourist magnet hotels. You will be impressed by the beauty and the incredible cleanliness inside these hotels built for tourists and very rich locals. You will not experience the “real” culture. I stayed at the hotel Nahargarh Haveli .
Nahargarh Haveli is a privately owned hotel. It is located in a very quiet residential neighborhood closed off by gates. The only people allowed in are the guests and the residents. Our room is a room with two double beds. We reserved the room for two beds. We arrive at the room and find what we think is a queen bed. We ask the front desk for a room with double beds. He goes into the room and separates the queen bed into two double beds. What a concept! The beds in every country around the world are much smaller than the beds in US hotels. There is a private shower, TV, wifi access, and a coffee maker. The ceiling of the bedrooms, lobby and breakfast room were colorfully decorated in green, yellow, blue, and orange.
The breakfast was a buffet. This buffet included eggs, cheese, yogurt, meats, cereal, made to order omelets, an assortment of juices and bread. I often wonder what visitors think when they wake up in the morning at an expensive hotel in the USA and find there is no “free” breakfast. I have traveled to Spain, Portugal, and India and the breakfast is always free. It is a very big spread. You can eat breakfast and lunch. They have signs posted “Do not take food out of the restaurant.” I have witnessed some Americans stuff food into their backpacks and purses before leaving the breakfast room. It must be a great way to save money.
Nahargarh Haveli has a restaurant on the third floor. We arrive at the hotel tired and hungry. We are too early to order dinner. The waiter told us that we could order snacks. He presented the snack menu to us and were pleasantly surprised that it included smaller portions of the dinner menu. We order rice, a potato dish, and a curry dish. I liked the food in India. I can’t tell you the names of the food I ate because I didn’t understand the language. Most Indian food includes potatoes, red chiles, cheese and green chilis. The majority of Indians are Hindus and don’t eat any kind of meat.
We eat dinner on the outdoor patio overlooking the neighborhood. It is very peaceful. A very big change from driving through traffic and avoiding hitting people walking everywhere in the streets. A six-year-old boy is riding his red bicycle down the street while his older sister is chasing after him. I don’t understand what she is saying. Maybe “Get off my bike”. A four-year-old girl is running around the patio. We are told she is the daughter of the man and woman in the kitchen cooking. Very family oriented. We finish our “snack” and return to our rooms.
The total cost of this hotel is $25 per night. No, I am not joking. I recommend this hotel to anyone who is traveling to Jaipur, India.
Ditch the box hotels! Support the entrepreneurs around the world.