theWorks - the Nexus Blog

a plea for much less transparency

I've always been a strong advocate for more transparency in the hotel industry. Typically in our part of the business that would involve pricing transparency or a higher level of visibility into the performance of sales teams. I never imagined that the concept would extend quite so far as a higher level of visibility into guests' bathroom activities. Trendy open-plan bathrooms seem to be growing in popularity (with designers at least) at an alarming rate.

My first experience of this phenomenon was about 5 years ago on one of my frequent trips to Frankfurt. Checking in to my room at the Premium Innside I discovered that the wash basin had been grafted on to the mini bar and the shower was a see-through Tardis that had mysteriously materialised in the middle of the room. Having a passing familiarity with German late-night TV, I assumed the design to be simply another manifestation of Teutonic voyeurism. But no, it seems the Innside was at the forefront of an international trend.

Now it's one thing to wander about in a transparent box as a solo business traveller, but imagine inviting your adult daughter along for a little bonding time, only to discover upon arrival at your hotel that the trip will be a bit more 'show and tell' than you anticipated. That's exactly what happened to a lady called Anika Chapin, who accompanied her father on a recent trip to Toronto, and was greeted upon checking-in with the unpleasant surprise that their hotel suite was distinctly lacking in the privacy department.

"I guess it could be sort of mysterious and sexy in the right circumstances, but it's definitely only awkward when you're sharing the room with your dad," Ms. Chapin, a 26-year-old assistant Broadway director, said. (New York Times)

Quite. Dispensing with dividing walls that set apart private bathroom space may provide for some provocative images, but apart from the fleeting intimation of the occasional sexy romp, some travellers are having a hard time imagining why this shift has even taken place. While designers throw around the philosophy that bathrooms are "shared living spaces" and call for the public to embrace communal bathroom experiences, most commentators remain dubious. Even boutique hotel specialist Juliet Kinsman, when asked if she thinks open-plan bathrooms will become industry standard, seemed unconvinced:

"Well you're asking an arbiter of sexy hotels, and will it ever be sexy to watch someone go to the loo? I hope that will remain very niche." (The Guardian)

Or as one Guardian newspaper reader commented in a slightly more colourful fashion:

"Yes darling you just recline on the bed over there while I gaze into your eyes lovingly and take a huge, noisy...."

You can fill in the blanks.

It's unlikely that even envelope-pushing boutique hotels will be able to convince the majority of their guests that open-plan bathrooms should become standard. Because although poet Robert Frost eloquently highlighted the desire for unity in saying that there's "something in us that does not love a wall, that wants it down," I seriously doubt that he was sitting on the pan when he said it.

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