Wales, Part 1: Cheap Hotels

Zuck gave all of us five extra holidays in 2022, and the first one was 18 March. Even though I had just gotten back from the US, I decided to get out of London. There were were a few factors at play here: Will was no longer in the picture, and I knew that I would probably make bad decisions if I were in London. In addition, I hadn’t really been outside of London in a while. Will and I had planned on going to York, but clearly that wasn’t going to happen.

What I had long wanted to see was the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, and a few days before, the weather forecast was good. I managed to find a reasonably priced train tickets to Birmingham (with the outbound leg in First Class, even), a rental car, and lodging for the first night. (and then later, lodging for the second night as well.)

So, at 17:52, I got on a London Northeastern train in Euston, and began a relatively slow trek to Birmingham International, home of the airport and the famous exhibition center. The train ride up was uneventful; I was still fairly jet-lagged, and managed to fall asleep for a good part of it. I woke up in time to enjoy some of the other people vaping in the carriage, although boringly, they were vaping nicotine, and not THC.

The hotel was the Ibis. There was nothing wrong with the room, but there was also nothing that suggested that the designer had put any thought into what people need in a hotel room today. This seems to be a recurring theme in travel design: there are things that seem nice on paper, but don’t actually work in real life. For instance, glass-top desks. They look decent, but optical mice (almost all of them now) don’t work on them. Another example is the new Delta One (and Virgin Upper Class) seat. The armrest controls are at the perfect hieght to trigger when you are lying down and making yourself comfortable. In all of these cases, I’m wondering “Was there no user testing?”1

At the Ibis, the glaring omissions were all around power outlets. There were none near the bed (so, no ability to charge your phone near where you are sleeping), and the one by the desk had very little “ground clearance,” so one of my larger power supplies wouldn’t fit. In the grand scheme of things, this wasn’t a huge deal. But it left me feeling like the desigers just didn’t care. It feels if the room is going to be very minimal and stripped down, it makes sense to spend even more on the initial design to give guests a great experience.

However, despite any issues with the room, the lobby more than made up for it. It was, perhaps, one of the most English of all places I have been recently. Too often in London, it’s hard to tell if I am in England. It’s a slightly bland, generically cosmopolitan crowd that could be just about anywhere. But the lobby of the Ibis couldn’t be anywhere but England. Unfortunately, I didn’t really have a chance to be there too long, but I want to go back and try to do some ethnographic observation.

  1. And yes, this is somewhat rhetorical. For optical mice, I can honestly believe that no one really knows it is an issue. But for the seats? Really? I would have expected someone to have built a full-size mock up pretty early, and you know, slept in it, overnight. But, maybe not? Recaro? Collins? Jamco?