Hotel Babylon by Imogen Edwards-Jones and Anonymous
The Economist wrote
"ALL saints can do miracles, but few of them can keep hotel," noted Saint Francis of Assisi. "Hotel Babylon" shows that top hotels are indeed not run by saints, and that a great deal of sinning goes on in them, by guests and staff alike.
This exposé of behind-the-scenes life is co-written by Anonymous, "someone who has spent his whole career working in hotels at the heart of London's luxury-hotel industry". The day-in-the-life narrative makes a neat if occasionally forced vehicle for some choice gossip. The reader learns how much a doorman makes in tips and how outrageous the requests made by celebrity guests and royalty can be.
But the bad behaviour of celebrities is well documented elsewhere; it is the conduct of some of the regular guests that provides the book's most shocking revelations. "Something strange occurs to guests as soon as they check in", says Anonymous, "even if in real life they are perfectly well-mannered, decent people...as soon as they spin through the revolving hotel doors the normal rules of behaviour no longer seem to apply."
It seems to be much like the personality change that takes place behind the wheel of a car. Matching road rage, moreover, is a syndrome that might be called "hotel hunger", a time when appetites go into overdrive. This book's stories of propositions, sexual exploits and personal hygiene are far more appalling than amusing.
The staff's lives, however, are fascinating. The pecking order, the rivalry and the system of kick-backs is immensely complex and subtle. The chatty descriptions of different nationalities are offset by the narrator's discovery that an Iraqi cleaner of staff toilets is in fact a qualified doctor. In the kitchens, working conditions sound not dissimilar to those described by George Orwell in "Down and Out in Paris and London" in 1933. For Orwell, "a smart hotel is a place where 100 people toil like devils in order that 200 may pay through the nose for things they do not really want."
The book has plenty of tips for the frequent traveller (not least of them being to give plenty of tips). Particularly revealing are the insights into reservations policies: to be told on arrival that a room has been suddenly flooded, or that the previous guest has been taken ill, means that the hotel has overbooked. For those not lucky enough to stay in the world's grandest hotels, this book will be an eye-opener that may make them wonder who, in fact, are the lucky ones.