Secrets of a hotel inspector
I worked as a hotel inspector and photographer for seven years at Forbes Travel Guide and Oyster.com (a TripAdvisor company). Though it sounds like a made-up job for a protagonist in a rom-com, I can assure you that inspecting and photographing hotels was very much my real life. I really did get paid to order room service, sit by infinity pools, and ensure the cocktails were made with high-quality booze. I also had to count closet hangers, photograph bathtub grime, and memorise hotel staff names and uniforms.
For Forbes Travel Guide, I anonymously booked two to three nights in luxury hotels. I ran each hotel through a series of identical service and facility tests to give it a star rating (yep, that’s how Forbes assigns five-star hotels). The hotels were almost always ultra-expensive and emphasised personalised service and stunning locations. At Oyster, the hotel staff usually knew I was coming and gave me a tour and access to take photographs. I’d often spend the night, but not always. After visiting, I’d write a hotel summary and guide explaining the hotel’s pros, cons, location, rooms and features, accompanied by the photographs.
The two jobs were vastly different, but over the span of my career, I’ve slept in several hundred hotels for review purposes on five continents. The hotels ranged from tiny bed-and-breakfasts in Italy to enormous all-inclusive resorts in Cozumel to trendy boutique hotel openings in Los Angeles. Here are some of the hotel secrets I learned over the years. And no, I never experienced bed bugs!
Do your hotel research on TripAdvisor
If you’re taking a holiday based on a destination, and not to specifically visit one famous hotel, start with a TripAdvisor search of the area. I used to work for TripAdvisor, but it really is the best travel site for reading reviews from past guests, looking at photos, and getting an idea of the different room types and rates without the hotel’s marketing department getting in the way. You can also filter results to look at large hotels or zero in on properties with specific features like all-inclusive rates, swimming pools, adult-only, beachfront, or within a few kilometres of tourist attractions like national parks, beaches and ski lifts.
Book with the hotel directly
Hotel booking websites, like TripAdvisor and Hotels.com, are an easy online way to figure out which hotels in your price range have open rooms. But once you’ve decided where to stay, book directly with the hotel. For one thing, most hotel inspectors book directly. You might be flagged as a hotel critic or writer and be given special treatment. Note that hotel inspectors are actually trained to look for special treatment, and we might abandon an inspection if we think we’ve been flagged by staff. After all, we’re trying to figure out how hotels actually treat real guests. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t cash in on a suite upgrade or complimentary bottle of Champagne.
More importantly, third-party booking sites usually get the worst and tiniest rooms – the rooms that haven’t yet been renovated or are located near the noisy ice machine. Hotels usually keep the best rooms for themselves to sell directly to guests. If you find a great deal on a third-party booking site, the hotel will often price match it to keep your business with them directly.
Accountability is also important. If something goes wrong, like the need to cancel or change the dates of stay, the hotel is way more likely to work with you to find a solution or reschedule for the same price if you’ve booked with them. There are lots of third-party hotel booking reservation horror stories out there.