In the films Mon Oncle and Playtime by the late great French film director and comic Jacques Tati, the character Monsieur Hulot is a helpless innocent in a remarkably cold and impersonal modern world. Both films were shot over 40 years ago and they beautifully capture a time that’s rather like now. We’re all rather caught up in our virtual world of email, texting, tweeting and more, but we seem to have forgotten that something a little more real exists.
A stay at Melbourne’s Crown Metropol is a classic example of our modern world. For all intents and purposes it’s a beautiful hotel with a colour palette of cool greys and an assortment of warmish browns throughout. It boasts large, comfortable, tastefully designed rooms with the stylist’s right mix of hard and soft furnishings.
The public areas featuring slow curving streamlined corridors and virtually soundless elevators that disgorge silent passengers on every floor ooze a cool sophisticated ambience. There’s a stunning pool on Level 27 and a modern, sleek gymnasium full of non-sweating people with well-honed physiques.
Down on Level 1, Mr Hive Kitchen and Bar is a stylish redoubt on the hotel fringes leading into the vast Crown Entertainment Complex. The food inside is gorgeously crafted by a team led by chef John Lawson and the bar service is cool and efficient.
All of it fits a sleek five star hotel offering. The bones are there. The skin covers the bones. It’s a pretty damn good-looking hotel. Yet just like Mr Tati’s fictional cinematic world Crown Metropol lacks a beating heart.
On a recent stay for four nights I walked into the hotel, past two nicely uniformed but relatively disinterested doormen, to a reception where a staff member asked for my name and credit card. He mentioned how the key worked, thanked me for my card and suggested I “enjoy my stay”. And that was it. I didn’t see or hear of another staff member for four days. I wandered empty corridors and left through an entrance devoid of staff until my last morning when I stepped into a lift alone and descended.
“Good morning sir - anything from the mini-bar last night? Did you enjoy your stay?” was the greeting from a different front desk person, the second staff member I’d seen.
It was a completely modern first world experience. No human interaction and the alienation that comes with that. I was trapped in a sci-fi film. A prisoner in a five-star future devoid of humans. At one stage I even wondered if there had been a zombie apocalypse and I was the only one left in the hotel.
Continuing with the theme of human detachment was my room's rooftop car park view. It was always full but no-one ever seemed to get into or out of a car. Occasionally men in dark mobster-chic suits would clump together in small groups of three or four but never enter a vehicle. They’d chat and gesture before disappearing into stairwells. It was all rather surreal.
Yet the hotel was keen to charge for things. In my large, gloriously appointed marble and glass bathroom was a pricelist for personal items such as a toothbrush or a shaver. Cracking into the hotel Wi-Fi involved another transaction - a practice Australian hotels need to stop. You can get free Wi-Fi in McDonalds.
I would suggest it all comes down to that personal touch. Little things like a concierge who greets you in the morning as you walk downstairs. Maybe a general manager who cruises the floor a few times a day and flags down occasional guests for a brief chat or housekeeping staff that say good morning to you in the corridor. Maybe even a turndown service at night so you feel like someone in the hotel cares that you get a good night’s sleep.
It’s all about giving a hotel heart in a world where there are fewer places promoting organic human interaction. You kind of expect humanity in a hotel – they’re in the hospitality industry. A hotel is delivering you a home for the night. Beautiful design and style might look good online but they don’t deliver a wonderful guest experience and that’s what great (even good) hotels should be delivering every night the world over.