Anthony Melchiorri, sporting an immaculate blue suit and moving at Manhattan velocity, took a seat in a dismal bedroom near the back of a dreary little Hollywood hotel. Just behind him, the plastic heater/air-conditioning unit, ancient and partly melted, drooped like a Salvador Dali clock.
“Don’t ask,” said Melchiorri, who has spent about 25 years in the hospitality industry.
He was there as host of the Travel Channel’s “Hotel Impossible,” an unscripted show in which he goes from one troubled lodging to another, finding flaws, prescribing fixes, telling tales from his years at the Algonquin in New York or the Nickelodeon Hotel in Orlando, Fla. He might quote psychologist Abraham Maslow on the hierarchy of human needs or he might just sniff a room and say “What the heck is that smell? It stinks." He’s been doing the show since April 2012.
It was mid-December when Melchiorri landed at the 21-room Hollywood Liberty Hotel, a budget property on a spotty block, but still within a short walk of the Oscars red carpet and the Walk of Fame. The property changed owners in September, and the lobby and most rooms are ready for some serious remodeling (as was prescribed by interior designer Casey Noble). The show about its makeover will run sometime in 2014. During a break in filming, Melchiorri offered five tips for travelers on how to sniff out good and bad hotels.
-- "Don't stay in hotels that charge for WiFi and water," he said. Many of the ones that do charge are four-star national brands that aren't paying enough attention to consumer sentiment, he said. Independent hotels and most three-star hotels "got the memo. They know not to charge for water and HiFi."
-- On the other hand, as much as you may be rankled by the "resort fees" that hotels often tack onto room rates in Arizona, Florida and resorts around Palm Springs, you might as well make peace with them, he said. Because of the way many hotels now compete for travelers’ attention with lower base prices, Melchiorri said, those fees are not going away.
-- When you're checking out hotels online, look carefully at the guest-review sites. Sure, some reviews are fake, but "90% are real." You ignore the ones with lavish superlatives and pay close attention to those that cite specifics -- and if you come across a hotel with 3% bad reviews, "don't go." (By the way: When I checked the Liberty Hotel on Trip Advisor Dec. 18, it had 47 “poor” and “terrible” ratings of 161 reviews -- nearly 30% negative.)
-- If you’ve decided to try an independent hotel rather than a national brand, Melchiorri said, do a little more vetting: Call the front desk, ask a question, then ask for a supervisor and pose another question. It could be about their WiFi reliability, the size of the television -- the specifics don't matter as much as the way the supervisor handles the question. "In three seconds, you'll know if this is a place where you want to stay," Melchiorri said.
-- If you're trying to suss out a hotel in person, Melchiorri said, start with the sidewalk out front. And the landscaping. And the building facade. Are the windows washed? And what about the first employee you encounter? "Is the employee engaged, looking you in the eye? Are their shoes shined?" If a hotel is terrible on the outside, “it's terrible on the inside." By the time you reach the elevator, "you should be 95% sure of what kind of hotel you're in."
Melchiorri told of a recent room-service meal at the Venetian in Las Vegas. A piece of food fell from his fork to the floor. Without a second thought, he picked it up and popped it in his mouth -- because, he said, the hotel had already proved itself to him in so many ways, he was ready to trust that his carpet was reasonably clean.
"If I dropped a fork on this floor?" he added, glancing at the soon-to-be-made-over room around him, "I wouldn't even pick it up. I'd just kick it across the floor."