A hotel spy? (Credit: vollefolklore on Flickr)
Boutique hotels: they are typically such safe, clean-cut places. But, hold on, there is a dark side, according to this recent video report by BBC travel programme, Fast track.
Buenos Aires’s boutique scene is now so fiercely competitive that some have resorted to dastardly techniques.
“[There are] indications that some rival owners are using underhand tactics, including espionage, plagiarism and false online reviews,” says the BBC presenter.
I love the fact he uses the word “espionage”. You can picture it now. A James Bond figure talking into his cufflink walky-talky as he peruses the breakfast bar (“They serve yogurt with coulis in shot glasses, over”). Meanwhile, a Russian temptress tries to seduce the manager to find out if he’s signed up for a Groupon deal.
It’s certainly true that there has been a remarkable (unsustainable?) explosion of such hotels in Buenos Aires over the past few years. The Palermo district might as well just knock through a few intervening walls and make one giant super-boutique hotel. (Because, as we know, you no longer have to be a small hotel to adopt the word “boutique”. A back-lit water feature and a few designer chairs will do).
As for the Tripadvisor gameplay, that goes on worldwide, but here it is serious. People are particularly hot on utilising it, as they realise that slow, organic word-of-mouth is not enough in a fully saturated market.
When my parents visited me a while back, we noted that whenever they gave the first hint of a compliment, the owners would be jumping on them to ask them to repeat it on Tripadvisor.
At another newly opened hotel, I got a note left on my pillow after the nightly turn-down service. “Dear Ms Baker, if you liked your stay, please leave a review on Tripadvisor. Here’s a chocolate bribe. Goodnight.” (Ok, I made the bribe part up. Well, the wording, at least.)
You can’t blame them. Ignoring these cheap, effective promotion channels would make no business sense. However, you can also be sure there are also other less scrupulous establishments using more tricky techniques to climb to the top of the online charts.
In Buenos Aires, there was a time that I would note down every new hotel opening and be sure to pay a visit at the earliest opportunity. When I wrote this Top Ten Buenos Aires Hotels in 2007, I had to pound the streets looking for the right sort of places. Now, there’s a possible contender four doors down from my house, and yet I still haven’t found the motivation to check it out.
That’s not to say that there aren’t *any* that still catch my eye. There are some that impress; some that offer twists on the formula; and some that avoid all the twists (and occasional gimmicks) altogether and just happen to get it right.
However, there are many more that have almost exactly the same decor and almost exactly the same wording on their websites. In fact, last week, a hotel owner saw me carrying a brochure I had just picked up from a new place down the road. He rolled his eyes, as he read it: “That’s almost word-for-word what we wrote.”
Meanwhile, there are those that are convinced they are bringing new life to the scene and you don’t have the heart to tell them otherwise. Like the owner that glowed with pride when sharing his idea to name rooms after types of wine. (Believe me when I say, there is no shortage of Malbec Suites in Argentina.)
Back to the BBC report, I do, however, like guy who says he offers a 24-hour breakfast, so guests can decide to “get up when they want and have breakfast when they want, because they paid for it.” It’s a nice touch in a city where people often go to bed a dawn. But are those personal toasters I spot on the table? Uh oh. Could it be he sent a spy to Ottolenghi in London? Quick, someone check to see if anyone left a hidden camera in the funky light fittings…