Ethnography and American hotels

That culture plays a relatively minor role hotel in American hostelry abroad is rarely commented upon. Most US branded hotels whether in Beijing, Buenos Aires or Boston bear the same imprimatur stemming from mandates in their US head offices. With nary a nod to local culture most of them look like monoliths that offer little inspiration to either the customer or employee.

So it is with the Sheraton in Buenos Aires, a charmless glass and concrete block that juts out of the eastern end of the business district. The interior of the hotel does not fare much better either in public spaces or the restaurants offerings. The contrast at the Sofitel nearby could not be more dramatic. Set in what was originally built as the tallest residential building in the 1920s, the hotel was “restored” by the Accor group employing local architects. The result is a classic that blends with its neighbors in the block and yet manages to stand out. The interior of the hotel is equally dramatic but with natural light streaming into a faux-atrium that “feeds” the two outlets.

Yet it was the contents of the bathroom that starkly brought out American obstinacy to change and inability to adapt. All bathrooms come with a bidet, a plumbing feature found worldwide in hotels. Like the refusal to adopt to the metric system, American hotels are adamantine in refusing to incorporate the feature not just within the US but even outside. Most customers in surveys would gladly take it in but mysteriously few developers seem willing to incorporate it. Are there ethnographic reasons for it? Possibly, but it is time developers in major cities considered it de rigeur.

Published by

Vijay Dandapani

Co-founder and president of a New York based hotel company for 24 years. Grew the firm to five hotels in Manhattan and also developed a greenfield project at MacArthur airport, New York. Speaker at numerous prestigious forums including Economy Hotels World Asia, Lodging Conference, NYU, Columbia University Real Estate Roundtable, Baruch College's Zicklin School and ALIS. President and ceo of New York City Hotel Association since January 2017.