I Stayed in a 5 Star Hotel for Free but Wasn’t Impressed, Here’s Why


"Beauty is not caused. It is" - Emily Dickinson

Very recently, I got an opportunity to travel to a tourism promotion event organized by the government. My stay was booked at a top hotel in the capital city. I was excited about the brand name and had a cozy stay at the hotel with good food, but something didn't click right. What was it?

I work in the travel and tourism industry as a content marketer and am a passionate traveler myself. Having traveled widely in India, I have always preferred staying in hostels and homestays. A good reason for it has been cost-saving, but I hadn't consciously realized the greater reason why I had always preferred to ditch hotels.

It was here when I traveled to a five star that the voice in my head was given voice by some of the stalwarts in the hospitality industry, making me realize this was it:

So, why did the service and comfort of a five star not impress me, and many travel experts who were received at the hotel:

Where's the story?

Photo of I Stayed in a 5 Star Hotel for Free but Wasn’t Impressed, Here’s Why 1/3 by Kanj Saurav
You could be in Delhi or Dushanbe, you would never know

If you have ever stayed with a local in their humble abode with minimum facilities, you would have certainly experienced a sense of belonging and attachment. In case, the owners are not even present at a homestay, many stories lie around in the way the room is arranged, the artifacts that are kept, the pictures and paintings lying there or simply the designs and patterns painted on the roof or the wall. Everything has a story and has a deeper connection with the culture. These are the mysteries to be solved over conversations with the owners or the workers there, over a cup of tea. A religious figure or a ritualistic talisman lying in a corner has so much to tell. But where are these things in a five-star hotel?

Talking about my room in Chhattisgarh, a state with a rich tribal history, there was nothing that would make you realize which part of the world are you in. The rooms and the corridor of the hotel were sanitized of any cultural or religious symbolism. There were no stories, all that stood there was a false ceiling. Glass chambers opened to a view of the rooms that had no history or heart. The corridors looked like a matrix of neatly cut right angles with dozens of replicas without a glitch.

Photo of I Stayed in a 5 Star Hotel for Free but Wasn’t Impressed, Here’s Why 2/3 by Kanj Saurav
Corridors sanitized of any cultural/ religious symbols

"The absence of flaw in beauty is itself a flaw" - Havelock Ellis

What about the food?

While my glutton self dug into the continental food available at the restaurant, there were no dishes from Chhattisgarh in the three days I had meals there. I could easily have Himachali khatta for lunch in a hostel in Palampur, Himachal but here in a five-star boasting of fine chefs, I could not find a dhuska or a pharra .

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Continental cuisine at the hotel

The lack of local cuisine was utterly disappointing for me as someone who likes to taste local flavors. The other delegates at the hotel too expressed their dissatisfaction over the lack of inclusion of local cuisines on the menu.

Why though?

The prime reason that the hotel would have decided to not integrate the local elements in its experience, is most probably, the consistent brand appeal. While it makes sense for a brand to maintain consistency in its services, look and appeal, it does not have to be blind towards the foremost reason people are traveling for. It is for the different experiences that people travel. Quality of service and brand appeal can still be maintained while differentiating for the aesthetics of the hotel depending on the place it is built at. This is the most common trait that we see across hostels. While they do maintain a brand appeal, they do not miss out on displaying a local craft or furniture at their property. This is where five stars must take a lesson. People pay for the richness of experience and comfort at five-stars, but it would be a more pleasurable stay if they are not alienated from the space that surrounds them.

To say in a sentence - A hotel shouldn't fortify itself from the local culture.

Being Optimistic

This was one of a few cases of alienation that I have felt at a high-priced hotel. However, this doesn't hold true for all other properties across India. There are many other places that love to present the local culture to their patrons, making them their favorite stay. To quote one, Green Hills Estate, Coorg houses several of the guns and armaments at the property owned by the original owner, a Coorg resident. Coorgies have the legal sanction by the government of India to maintain arms without a license, as they belong to a responsible warrior community. Hoping to experience more such stories when I stay at a hotel in the future!

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