The Strange World of Hotels

Several people have asked the question as to how the lunatic who carried out the massacre in Las Vegas was able to stockpile so many guns in his room without staff at the Mandalay Bay hotel noticing. Well, that’s an easy question to answer: hotel staff are conditioned not to see stuff.

Even the finest hotels can be the venues for quite dodgy goings-on. Consumers of amateur porn might have noticed that an awful lot of it takes place in hotel rooms (which must be nice for the next guest), and if Hollywood films are any guide so do most major drug deals. The splendid book Hotel Babylon, an inside view into life in a upscale London hotel, gives several examples of strange things which happen in hotel rooms with alarming regularity. The author explains that people often go to hotels to commit suicide: it saves the family having to find the body and clear up the mess afterwards.

When I worked in a fancy hotel in Manchester (there’s your contradiction in terms for the day) we used to share stories of what we’d seen during our shifts. A receptionist told us she’d checked in the same middle-aged couple regularly for a number of years when one day the man turned up with a new woman in tow. A mistress, perhaps? No, the new woman was his wife. One of the shift managers said he’d brought breakfast to a rather respectable middle-aged woman only to find her in bed with another, equally respectable-looking woman, who’d checked in separately into a different room. Neither batted an eyelid and, more importantly, nor did he. Hotel guests expect discretion from the staff, and they usually get it.

There are some countries that immediately cast suspicion on anyone staying in a hotel. You must show your passport in the UAE for example, and I was rather surprised to find that the Belgian police require hotels to collect a copy of the ID of each guest. Unless things have changed since I stayed in American hotels, there is no such requirement stateside. You can be sure the Mandalay Bay had every inch of the hotel monitored by camera – it is a casino after all – and had anyone banned from the gaming floor been found wandering around they’d have been ejected within minutes. But nobody is going to pay attention to a white bloke in his fifties going in and out with a lot of luggage (I’m going to assume he dismantled his guns and put them in a holdall or suitcase, and didn’t just stroll in through the front door with a heavy machine gun and a thousand rounds of link over his shoulder, even if the cretinous European media would believe you could do this and nobody would notice). That said, if anyone from housekeeping or room service entered his room and found weapons lying everywhere, they’d tell their manager straight away and they’d keep an eye on him. My guess is he hung the “Do Not Disturb” sign on his door and left it there, and the staff paid him no attention.

That’s not to say hotel staff aren’t observant, though. Several years back I was on a business trip to Paris and stayed in the Sofitel in La Defense: this was in the days of $100+ oil, nowadays we’d be given a horse-blanket and told to cuddle up to a tramp beneath a railway bridge. Anyway, by coincidence a friend arrived in town from London on the same morning and we met up in the afternoon. In a moment of quite spectacular dimness she’d come to Paris to stay with a friend without actually telling them in advance; when she arrived and tried to call, their phone was switched off. As the afternoon wore on it became increasingly clear her friend was out of town and she had nowhere to stay. Generous chap that I am I let her stay in the Sofitel with me: the beds are the size of tennis courts and the room is set up for two anyway. The next morning we went down for breakfast and the female maître d’hôtel sat us in a corner. She was a tall, dark woman with a long pointed nose, perhaps half-Arabic and extremely efficient and professional. I’d seen her every time on my previous business trips, so she was long-term employed and I dare say she’s still there. Anyway, we had breakfast and my friend got her act together and went back to London.

The next morning, a Monday, I come down for breakfast and the maître d’ leads me to a particular spot. With a slight grin she says:

“Zere you go, sir. Ze same place as wiz madame yesterday.”

If the Las Vegas police want to know about the movements of this headcase in and out of their premises, they probably just need to find the equivalent of this woman. Every hotel has one.


19 thoughts on “The Strange World of Hotels

  1. Yes some hotel staff can be very good, I always find their security staff the best around especially if you need specialist advice . That maitre d that you mention would also be observant enough to not make that comment if you were say meeting a business colleague or a friend for breakfast at your hotel as how embarrassing would it be if she didn’t!

    Faves of mine for outstanding personalized service would be the Michelangelo Hotel in Joburg, where the shoe shine man actually remembers my first name. Hyatt on the Bund in Shanghai, one of those diagonal suites on the corner, the room person actually hung my shirts up with the right cuff links in the right shirts (this is in the noughties when cufflinks were in!) I was trim enough that I could put my shirt on without taking them out. Many instances of good service come to mind and yes most of the time it is specific individuals that you remember them by and most of the time and just like hotel staff in Las Vegas I choose to take the fifth.

  2. I spent a summer as barman and dogsbody in a country pub/hotel. My most interesting duty was to try to stop the alcoholic owner from molesting the waitresses: he would literally chase them around the kitchen.

    I was acting under the command of the manager, who was the owner’s son. Said manager was a rather ugly, chubby bloke, intelligent and thoroughly decent. One of the best bosses I ever had. I’d have done a hell of a lot more for him than he ever asked. Did the village know what a pearl they had in him? I doubt it.

  3. As this page’s resident occasional contributor who operates a multi-storey multi-winged hotel, I am able to state with authority that guests with absolute shitloads of luggage are nothing unusual.
    A guest bringing in several loads of luggage during their stay is not remarkable, even if each load is enough to make a draught horse stagger.

    The only notice the staff take is to wish the “treasured guest” would not clog the hallway with what seems to be a dismantled Sherman tank wrapped in shopping plastic – not while I’m trying to get the room cleaning trolley along the corridor.

  4. I fully concur with the practice of hotel staff in the noble art of “I know nothing!”

    However, I wonder whether or not the shooter committed suicide before or after the shooting started.

  5. The Belgium thing is a schengen requirement, though it is very unevenly applied.

    I once had a private hire driver (in Germany limos are as cheap as taxis, which says more about taxi prices than limo prices) remark to me in front of my wife that he was sure he remembered me as a fare with another woman. He was right and the previous trip was legitimate, had it not been I guess a few more things than a commercial relationship with a cabbie would have been broken.

  6. It is only the good staff, usually senior or long serving people, who can reliably recall anything. Ordinary staff are something else.

    One of the benefits of installing CCTV was I could see in a few minutes what happened, without any doubt, as asking the floor level staff is usually a waste of time, coz the answer is so unreliable, and so prone to change.

    I always said they could not reliably inform you in which room a fight had started.
    I proved this one night when one of the staff complained they’d been biffed the night before.
    Upon questioning he stated that he’d been slugged in the foyer, by a patron to whom he was refusing admittance, and pointed to where each of them had been standing when the incident happened – this to aid me finding it on CCTV, so he could prosecute the assailant.

    After about 15 minutes searching the CCTV we found it.
    He’d not been slugged near the door at all. In fact it wasn’t even inside the building.
    It had happend in the back garden (the garden has trees, soil, grass, is outdoors & open to the elements, things like that, impossible to confuse it for the foyer)

    The bloke who clobbered him had been seated at a picnic bench, and jobbed him from pretty much a seating position.

    Return to the aggrieved staff member, and he confirmed his original facts.
    This fellow both remembered and believed being assaulted in the foyer, and could point to the spot where it happened.

    He’d have convinced a courtroom & jury, and he’d have convinced me.
    He certainly had himself convinced, and was prepared to swear on a whole stack of bibles.

    Except the CCTV showed nobody copping it in the foyer, but it DID show him being jobbed in a corner of the garden out the back.
    He disputed the CCTV, claimed I “must have the wrong night’s footage”
    “How many nights do managed to get yourself flattened in the back garden, and could you tell us which night you did receive the garden punchout we’ve all just seen right there in technicolour?”
    … silence….. while he pondered that and tried to process it.

    He’ll go to his grave wondering how I “fixed” the CCTV so his attacker got off. He was unable to offer any explanation for the punching we did see him get.

    This was one helluva lesson for the people to whom I was showing off.

  7. hotel staff are conditioned not to see stuff

    The murderer could have brought his bags in at different times of the day when different staff were on shift, so it’s possible that nobody at the hotel actually saw him with more than one set of luggage. It appears that the attack was very carefully planned so he probably made an effort to avoid being seen to do anything even slightly out of the ordinary beforehand.


    It sounds like the “thoroughly decent” manager should have been doing a lot more to protect his female staff from harassment. Indeed, it sounds like a situation that could very easily have ended with the “alcoholic owner” facing charges of sexual assault. If he was that out of control he should have been kept out of the kitchen and away from the waitresses.

  8. “Unless things have changed since I stayed in American hotels, there is no such [ID] requirement stateside.”
    All the hotels I’ve stayed at wanted a credit card, and ID that proved it was your card.

  9. My partner left her passport in a hotel safe recently, and didn’t discover this until she was due to fly out again a few weeks later. Her passport was in a different city, unhelpfully.

    When she asked why the hotel didn’t contact her, the answer was given “for privacy reasons”. When picking it up, they explained that their group policy was not to contact people who left belongings, and wait for the guest to get in contact.
    This was so that they did not inadvertantly let partners know that their other half had been in a hotel room, that was otherwise undisclosed. Clearly once bitten, twice shy.

    “trained to see nothing”

  10. I stayed at a Marriott in Swindon, England several times. I had to stay over the weekend one time and slept in late on Saturday. At some time around noonish (can’t remember), the phone rang and woke me up from a dead sleep. It was the front desk calling, wanting to know, basically, if I was alive. I got pissed and told them I had the Do Not Disturb sign on the door for a reason. The caller told me that there was some sort of law that said that they had to verify that people were accounted for or verified for their safety. Have you heard of this or am I just dreaming it up like Steve at the Pub’s employee? This is a far cry from the “I know nothing.” perspective that I’m used to and prefer.

  11. One of the sweetest encounters at a hotel was in the early 90s. I was working near Leipzig, that part of the world was still very much DDR-like ( well actually it was more like Lancashire ). Not being very good in the mornings, I would always be in a rush: jump in the shower, dress, dash down to the buffet breakfast, wolf it down, drink a pint of orange juice and then leg it to the customer, putting on my tie as I left the hotel. I didn’t notice any staff in the mornings, but then I wasn’t looking.

    On my last day there, they were lying in wait for me: obviously curious who this strange young Englishman was, who ghosted through their hotel. They showed me to a table, made sure I had some coffee, chewed my food and chatted me to me about why I was there…

    I still got to the customer on time.

  12. @Otto

    Just as long as you don’t drink booze in a shower, as that is a sure sign that things have got out of control.


    Had a similar type of incident when doing a just in time check out and heading for an international flight. The room safe stopped functioning and I couldn’t get my passport out of it. Then about six leaderless Africans in my room trying to yank it off the wall and break into it. They got it open in the end, I didn’t check out and I caught my flight but it happens. Just as well there was nothing dodgy in the safe as well.

  13. Tim, you were surprised Belgian hotels require ID? Have you never seen Day of the Jackal?

  14. Tim, you were surprised Belgian hotels require ID? Have you never seen Day of the Jackal?

    I wondered why they confiscated my crutch!

  15. The caller told me that there was some sort of law that said that they had to verify that people were accounted for or verified for their safety.

    The staff probably couldn’t read “Do Not Disturb”!

  16. The Belgium thing is a schengen requirement

    Really? Borders wide open, yet citizens must supply ID when checking into a hotel. EU bureaucracy at its finest!

  17. All the hotels I’ve stayed at wanted a credit card, and ID that proved it was your card.

    Drop down a class to the motels, cash only. 😉

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