The best and worst new features you'll find in modern hotels



A new breed of hotels is challenging the notion that luxury and convenience require a premium price tag. Brands such as Moxy, Freehand and Z Hotels have done away with unnecessary extras to create stylish, well-located hotels that won't break the bank. The trade-off? Compact rooms and no fancy pants extras such as pillow menus and bath butlers. Instead, expect a relaxed vibe and spacious, well-appointed communal spaces.


close-up of no smoking warning over bedroom or hotel background,abstract background for no smoking concept.
 sunoct14cover - Under Rated & Over Rated
Non smoking
Credit: Shutterstock

Hotels crack down on guests who break the non-smoking room rules. Photo: Shutterstock

A measly $50 fine does nothing to deter a hardened smoker from stinking up a room for the next occupant. If a hotel is really serious about offering non-smoking rooms, they need to blow up the fines – and then make sure they impose them. Once someone has smoked in a room, you can never spray away the smell from curtains, carpets and bedding.


Hôtel Paris Bastille Boutet - MGallery Collection
Hotel Bastille Boutet, Paris sunoct14cover - Under Rated & Over Rated
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MGallery Collection Hotel Bastille Boutet, Paris.

Sofitel, Novotel, Fairmont and Ibis are among the better-known brands of giant French hotel company Accor, but MGallery flies rather under the radar, perhaps because it encompasses both historic properties and modern design hotels, and hovers somewhere between midrange and high end. What MGalleries have in common are local character, contemporary luxury, boutique size and a bit of undefinable quirkiness.


Increasingly the gadgets we travel with are powered by USB so how refreshing is it to discover your hotel room has dedicated USB charging points? No more having to carry a bulky adaptor or leaving your laptop on overnight to charge your phone. The Holy Grail is when you find charging points in the desk, the bathroom and next to the bed so you can charge multiple devices at once.


Sure, you might have paid $1000 for your room, but that free glass of wine, or cocktail you got for free at cocktail hour at your hotel bar feels like you've got yourself the best travel deal since Airbnb came about. It's also a great way to meet other guests.


Clean hostel room with wooden bunk beds.
 sunoct14cover - Under Rated & Over Rated - Sue WilliamsCredit: Shutterstock

Forget dark and dingy, modern hostel rooms are light and clean. Photo: Shutterstock

In the old days, they were often grim, spartan places where you had to do "chores" like cleaning the toilets or chopping firewood to justify the cheapness of sharing a bunk bed. But check again. Now many offer upbeat accommodation in lots of different classes, nice-looking communal areas, and sometimes full kitchens to use.



Hotel designers are slowly realising that we don't appreciate spending 20 minutes trying to locate the elusive switch that turns off that one remaining light in the hallway. However, too often we still have to navigate eight menus on a smart TV or decode 10 mood settings on a tablet. Our request is simple: one easy-to-find master switch next to the bed that turns off every light in the room. Thank you.



It may be incredibly trendy but no one likes to do their ablutions when they can be seen, and if they do, you shouldn't be on holiday with them in the first place. Some these days have blinds that can be pulled or glass that modesty-mists at the press of a button but what's so wrong with a proper door, and one of a decent thickness to shield you from hearing whatever's happening on the other side?


So glad that evening housekeepers attend to my hotel room, otherwise I might be overwhelmed by the challenge of drawing my own curtains and clambering between the bedsheets. And how thoughtful to provide too-small slippers and a pillow chocolate – useful, no doubt, should I suffer a midnight bout of DVT or sugar withdrawal.


What is so wrong with an Englishman's trousers that he needs to press them at every opportunity? It's one of the great mysteries of the UK that almost every hotel room offers a trouser-press but rarely the bare necessities like a kettle, cups and shower gel (a bar of soap only). They take up room and they're nigh impossible to work out how to operate.


Your suitcase has wheels, just as most people's bags now have wheels. Moving it from one spot to another is really no major imposition, which is why you don't need one of the hotel staff to drag it up to my room and then hang around waiting for a financial reward.


These are always a rip-off, so much so that barely anyone ever uses them. Ten dollars for a pack of chips? No thanks. So what's the point of a mini-bar? Unless, of course, it's a free mini-bar, as you'll find in some high-end hotels these days – in which case it's pretty much the best thing ever.


Is it too much to ask – easy to find power points, shower taps that don't require a degree in engineering to operate and light switches where you can see them? Playing hide-and-seek with the hairdryer and putting a welcome message on the television (when your jetlagged brain struggles to find the remote) are also big no-nos.


Whichever hotelier first thought to increase revenue by charging guests hundreds of dollars to be slapped by seaweed, warbled to by whales and spritzed with lavender is an utter genius. No wonder every other hotelier gleefully followed. Now we're all conned into thinking an hour spent on an uncomfortable massage table being prodded by an expensive stranger will leave us refreshed and rejuvenated. Want to feel better? Just go for a walk.


They sound great in theory; someone on hand day and night to cater to every whim. But the reality is an awkward subservient relationship with someone who's constantly in your personal space. Unless you grew up in colonial-era times on a plantation somewhere deep in her Maj's dominions, having a slave on holiday just feels… wrong.


If your idea of hotel charm is to lug suitcases up rickety stairs, contort yourself in attic bathrooms and listen to cafe chatter and tyres on cobblestones all night, then please check into hotels in European old towns. If you'd rather sacrifice low beams and back-bending antique chairs for more space, a good shower and a better sleep, head instead to the graceless but comfortable modern hotels that lie just beyond old-town walls.


Brian Johnston, Rob McFarland, Catherine Marshall, Craig Tansley, Kerry van der Jagt, Sue Williams, Ben Groundwater