In the last 10 years the hotel industry has been trying to upgrade and add to guest services.
Some offer complimentary shoeshines, others will pick you up at the airport in a limousine. Many have added secretarial services and business centers for visiting executives, as well as 24-hour room service. And most have added concierge services.
This expansion of hotel services was long overdue, although there's nothing particularly unique or exciting about them.
However, a growing number of hotels are now trying to outdo themselves with a host of truly unusual services. They may not be advertised or promoted extensively, but they do exist.
For example, each morning at the Hilton in Wichita Falls, Tex., an employee runs out in front of the hotel and washes the windows of every car in the parking lot.
Feel a sudden urge to go bowling in Shanghai? No problem. The new Hua Ting Sheraton features ultra-modern lanes.
Telescope on Roof
Are you a stargazer? The Hyatt Regency Maui offers a special rooftop astronomy night from its Lahaina Tower.
For those who desire the utmost in discretion, The Mandarin in Hong Kong offers blind masseurs, on call 24 hours a day. A similar service is provided at the Westin Chosun Beach Hotel in Seoul, South Korea.
But who would want a blind masseur? "They are most often used by public officials and celebrities," Mandarin spokesperson Geraldine Pitt says. "These are people who don't really want to be seen by anyone. Or they are used by guests simply too timid to be seen in the nude. Feeling is, as they say, believing."
(Note: a number of hotels in Japan also provide this same service.)
Some hotels provide other unusual fitness and medical services. Each morning at 7 a.m. the general manager of the Hilton International in Melbourne leads guests on their jog through the Fitzroy Gardens.
The Alexis Hotel at Riverplace in running-conscious Portland, Ore., supplies fleece warm-up clothing in each room. And downstairs at the concierge desk the hotel provides athletic shoes in 24 sizes. (The washable shoes are professionally cleaned before each use.)
Dentists on Call
Have a toothache? At the Ramada Grand Hotel in Budapest, guests receive complimentary dental examinations.
If you're staying at the Old Vicarage Hotel in Stretton, England, you're in for a treat. Copies of the officially banned book "Spycatcher" are provided as bedtime reading.
Then there's "Reginald." At the Ramada Renaissance Hotel in Manchester, guests are presented with the small yellow plastic duck in their bathtubs. "Some people think it's just a toy," a spokesman said. "But we're convinced that the duck performs a service." Similar ducks have found their way into bathtubs at the McLean, Va., Hilton.
If you're ever visiting the Taj Mahal Inter-Continental in Bombay or the Taj Palace Hotel in Delhi, there won't be any need to make those secret late-night, long-distance calls. The hotel offers a 24-hour resident astrologer.
Each morning at 11 a.m. at the new Scottsdale Princess Resort, guests relaxing near any of the hotel's pools are offered complimentary hot consomme. (You can also find this service at the Plantation Inn in Ocho Rios, Jamaica.)
Poolside loungers at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, Beverly Hills, are spritzed with Evian water by the pool boys.
VCRs are available to guests at the Grand Bay Equitable Center in New York City (the hotel also features an extensive videotape library). And the Pierre thoughtfully places heavy-duty Toshiba humidifiers in guest rooms.
In Auckland the Regent offers complimentary tie and scarf cleaning. But remember, many of these services aren't advertised--you just have to know about them.
Another unadvertised service has become nothing less than a small San Francisco legend. At the Westin St. Francis, Arnold Batliner runs the world's only money laundry. Batliner recently celebrated his 84th birthday; he's the same age as the hotel.
Each year Batliner has washes more than $500,000 dollars worth of coins. "Clean money" has been a St. Francis trademark since 1938, when the hotel introduced the service for women guests who didn't want their white gloves soiled by dirty silver dollars.
"It's of diminishing value," says managing director Robert Wilhelm, "and most of our guests don't even know about it. But we will continue it as long as Arnold's here."
Not surprisingly, many unusual hotel services focus on cuisine. The Seattle Sheraton allows guests to take their freshly caught fish/fowl to the executive chef, who will prepare it for dinner.
At the Peppermill Hotel & Casino in Reno the chef at Le Moulin restaurant delights in performing an extremely popular mealtime service: a wide choice of wild and unusual game, cooked to order and available to any guest.