What Price Tranquility?

By | April 20, 2008


It struck me, as I lay on a chaise longue at the Conrad Bali trying to filter out the drone of the jetskis, that hotels are selling a complicated product. My wife, for example, loves the clean, crisp white sheets and thick feather pillows of a king-size bed. Others go for the food, some for the ambience, some for the adventure, others for the sun, some for the service.

But in this stressful age, money increasingly buys and hotels sell tranquility: a chance to relax, zone out, be pampered, wander around in a bubble of soft footfalls, bubbling little fountains, soft tinkling music and the absence of intrusion. Of course, there are different grades of tranquility: If you want total silence, you go to an Aman resort; if you want tranquility plus active night life you go to Seminyak or Kuta. Tranquility is actually quite a sophisticated product. You don’t actually sell it directly, but it’s implicit in every photo and description of your hotel: But it’s also, it struck me, more or less the one thing that hotels can’t guarantee.

Tranquility is the result of effort and a complex management of logistics behind the scenes: You can train staff to keep voices low, to not intrude upon guests, to keep the sound of crockery being piled high to a minimum. But there are events you can’t really control. Like, in the case of the Conrad Bali, jetskis swarming the beach in front of the hotel like Sioux around a wagon train.

“It’s beyond our control,” I Wayan Sumadi, the assistant manager, told me. Although the Conrad has a cooperation agreement with some of the jetskis operators–you can rent one from one of the poolside booths or from a guy on the beach sporting a Conrad-logoed ID card–the hotel, Wayan says, can’t prevent them from dominating the seafront. The result is that no guests venture into the water and a drone that can be heard from the hotel lobby.

I’ve seen this problem before in Bali, but usually the hotel is smart enough to find out a peaceful coexistence that doesn’t annoy the guests (Wayan says I’m by no means the first to complain.) Of course, public spaces are public spaces, but clearly the jetski owners rely on guests from the hotel, otherwise they wouldn’t parade in front of them all day.

I feel for the guests who have come thousands of miles to buy some peace and quiet, and have to retreat to their hotel rooms to find it. I feel, in a way, for the hotel management who don’t seem to have figured out that–despite an otherwise beautiful hotel and good service–the jetskis undermine the very product they’ve tried so hard to create: tranquility.

If I was the Conrad I would put this to the top of my agenda on Monday morning, and not rest until the situation is resolved. For more than a few guests, I suspect, tranquility is non-negotiable.

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