Checking into a hotel doesn’t always mean just standing at a tall desk and having paperwork slid across the countertop at you before lumbering off alone to the elevator. There are more fitting ways to celebrate the miracle of successfully arriving somewhere. When you show up for the first time at a hotel you get to play a part in the drama of arrival. This is a drama that has been acted out over and over since the beginning of time, and it has the potential to convey not just a sense of welcome but maybe even a sense of wonderment.
The first moments of exposure to a new place are what this drama is about, and these moments are your chance to gauge how seriously that place values hospitality. In other words it’s your chance to gauge just how much that place actually wants to honor you.
You didn’t actually do anything to earn this honor other than to pay for a hotel room, but the whole point of how the hospitality industry earns business is to laud and magnify you with an experience of grace and rest and peace regardless of who you are and where you came from and ignoring the fact that you might have horrible character flaws, that you might smell bad, that you might not look like a supermodel, that you might be generally up to no good. From a hotel’s perspective you are a blank slate.
Hospitality, at its core, is about honoring the intrinsic worth that’s embedded deep within your core regardless of what you’re about on the outside. So this industry, however dollar hungry it might be, is about the holy business of grace and adulation, and it’s about the creation of physical places, ceremonies and atmospheres that support this work.
In ordinary life the act of arriving somewhere still might carry a degree of hospitality and theatricality whether it’s stepping into the foyer of a stranger’s house or stepping into the lobby of the office where you work. The spaces where these arrivals happen ought to reflect this theatricality, but they often don’t. That’s where the allure of a good hotel experience comes in.
In the South American hotels that Bekah and I recently visited this drama of arrival is on full display. Not only is arrival here about the mundane chore of checking in and receiving a room key, it’s drawn out to much more elaborate lengths to include some of the more sensory pleasures of surviving gracefully in the world: being shown a comfortable chair to collapse into, receiving a scented towel to wipe the travel grime off your face, sipping a complimentary cocktail to wash the taste of stress out of your mouth. And in some hotels there is very nearly a separate room for each one of these activities to occur.
These ceremonies are luxuries that would probably be excessive if they happened in your daily life. In a luxury hotel these things are par for the course. The drama of arrival in these hotels is drawn out into a much longer procession of events and spaces than you would ever think possible.
I’m documenting here a procession of rooms strung together from numerous hotels that Bekah and I visited that are thick with atmosphere and charged with the drama of arrival. Every detail in these spaces converges for the purpose of elevating the guest to a higher plane of existence, if only for a day or two, and sets the tone for the rest of the hotel experience.
These spaces are valuable glimpses into a world that is not quite real but full of haunting images and ceremonies to dream about. When you find yourself back home in ordinary life alone in some elevator lobby without a chair to sit in and with a stale coffee smell in the air and Muzak overhead, you might then truly appreciate the value that artful hospitality can bring into the world and the feeling of ennoblement that comes with it.
Bekah and I took these photographs of lobbies and lounges at the following hotels: