I saw a very fine museum show about hotels a few years ago, and I thought of it when we stayed at the EpiCentre in Charlotte, NC. The hotel show challenged us to think about past hotel experiences because “EVERYONE HAS A HOTEL STORY”. That’s probably why so many books and movies have taken place in them.
The Epicentre is a downtown Charlotte entertainment complex. In it are shops, a movie theater, lots of bars with nightly entertainment, and an aloft hotel. We had booked 3 nights in this hotel. Reception put Ruth and me on the 14th floor. The room was cleverly decorated but small and dark. After somewhat solving the nightmare of parking for aloft, we went to the room and found earplugs provided. When it got dark and the Epicentre came to life, the noise level throughout the hotel explained why. Under the circumstances, the hotel graciously cancelled our reservations for the 2nd and 3rd nights, saving us close to $500.
Hotels, according the show we saw in Vancouver, BC, are interesting cultural phenomenons. It told us that the earliest known structures used for overnight guests were caravanserais along ancient trade routes like The Silk Road. One of their main purposes was to protect traveling merchants from robbers. Some of these inns looked like castles from the distance, were built by sultans, and were purposely placed about 25 miles apart, the distance one could usually travel by camel each day.
Hotel chains came along in the 20th century. Sabena, the national airline of Belgium, was the first to offer a network of guest houses and hotels in the 1920s. Their first accommodations were in the Belgian Congo. This airline declared bankruptcy in 2001. InterContinental, which has 4,500 hotels in 100 countries, got its start when Pam American World Airways was in business. Between 1948 and 1960, this airline built or bought 17 hotels in Latin America and the Caribbean. Smart Conrad Hilton built Western-style hotels in places like Egypt after World War II, and the first motel/hotel with the name Holiday Inn came along in 1952.
This show, which was called Grand Hotel, no longer exists. I thought it was a cool, thought-provoking idea for a museum exhibit. Its 4 main themes involved travel, design, social aspects, and cultural considerations. It pointed out that hotels have to stay ahead of the competition to survive so they, if they’re worthy, constantly upgrade, remodel and repair. Ruth and I have had the experience of returning to a hotel and finding it either headed toward dilapidation or being redone. It pointed out that hotels are gathering places, business centers not unlike golf courses, and places where social interaction, often pleasant, tends to occur. Recently we had to spend time in a hotel basement with all the other guests because a storm was in progress. “Because hotels are sites of temporality and transition, we rarely contemplate the nuanced effects of their spaces as we would those of a home, office building or church. Yet they leave a strong imprint on us,” this show explained. Some even affect your hearing.
What’s your hotel story?