A terrific 2-star hotel: How to surprise and delight on a small budget


I travelled from Australia to Los Angeles this week for a little work and pleasure mixed together. It is always good to do both when you can.  And as travel researchers, I can honestly say that there is never a time that my partner Carolyn and I are not on the job – even when we are on holiday.

As a travel industry professional, you would know that the job tends to extend to ongoing verbal commentary and analysis to those travelling with you. Service critiques and inspection of all manner of tourism products and service delivery along the way is unavoidable – both in business and leisure. Not surprisingly, my family members have become travel researchers too.

I get to experience travel and tourism product from across the spectrum, from budget to deluxe. I will be honest – there is a lot of great product, some bad product and unfortunately a lot of ordinary, uninspiring product in between the scale.

A Place in the Sun, Palm Springs, California

A Place in the Sun, Palm Springs, California

It is the ‘mid-range’ 2 to 3 star range of hotels and motels I tend to find the most uninspiring and disappointing. It doesn’t have to be like this.  In my own experience, there tends to be common issues in this range around cleanliness, service and ordinary nature of everything from check-in to grounds to rooms. If you have ever watched The Hotel Inspector you will understand – it is a category that is popular amongst travellers, but therefore, there should be many opportunities to exceed expectations.

These places are often managed by tired couples or staff who ‘specialise’ in managing mid-range hotels. Instead of surprise and delight, for me, they tend to frustrate and disappoint.

However, I am ecstatic to say that I stayed at a hotel in Palm Springs last week that proved to me that mid-range doesn’t have to be ordinary and disappointing. In the A Place In The Sun Hotel I found myself a little 2.5 star, standard gem.  Here is what made our stay at A Place In the Sun Hotel exceptional.

1. We were greeted with a smile

Robert at the check-in desk had been doing the job for the last 7 years. He genuinely seemed to like people and be interested in not just me, but other people around as well.

2. They were geniuses when it came to use of space

We booked the smallest cheapest room in the hotel. They turned what used to be a cupboard/wardrobe into a fridge, microwave, basin, and cook top facility complete with toaster, kettle and pots n pans, and utensils to cook with.

3. Late check-out

We have all heard this one. “You can’t have the room because  the cleaners are coming. They come at a certain time, it is out of our control.”  Not for Robert. It wasn’t a problem. We actually didn’t even ask for late check-out. We thought it might be nice to head out and sight see in the morning and have a swim in the pool before we headed back to LA. We asked Robert if we could do that. He volunteered that it wouldn’t be a problem, in fact, if the cleaners have not done the room, we could even have a shower. But then he thought about it further and said “You know what, no one is staying in your room tonight. I will just tell the cleaners to clean it tomorrow, so if you want to have a shower after your swim, that’s fine.”

4. Impeccable presentation

 The hotel was built in the 1950’s. In fact, Elizabeth Taylor stayed there when she filmed A Place in The Sun with Montgomery Cliff. It is old. But the hotel is impeccable. It was clean. I know I sound surprised, but I find that most hotels at this level have serious problems with cleanliness. Both Carolyn and I find it over and over in many countries.

A Place in the Sun room

A Place in the Sun room

5. Modern TV

We had a great TV that was modern and wall mounted to save space. Apart from the bedspreads, nothing makes a room feel tired and cheap faster than an aged TV. TV’s are cheap nowadays – keep yours contemporary.

6. Well maintained grounds and pool

This is where the biggest WOW factor was for us. The grounds were beautiful. The pool area was tidy and clean and the pool furniture was well maintained. It wasn’t a huge space, but it was clean, maintained and inviting. I wanted to spend time there. I find so often we are let down by pool areas – especially the furniture and general pool area maintenance of standard hotels.

7. Free Wi-Fi

All over the USA, hotels in this category give free Wi-Fi. In many destinations, we still struggle with Wi-Fi. Even in many 5-star hotels all over the world, free Wi-Fi is not offered. It should be a given.

8. Continental breakfast was complimentary

It’s amazing what a piece of toast and a whole piece of fruit can do to make us happy in a hotel in this category. Nothing flash, but it was all we needed. It was served by the pool to create an inviting experience.

9. Create a tribe

Repeat, long term visitation is the norm at A Place In the Sun. People make lifetime friends with each other at this hotel. Management do all they can to foster and promote this. Management try to ensure that repeat visitors get the same rooms during the same times of the year so that the guests can reunite. The communal areas are maintained in such a way that guest want to ‘hang out’ there – maybe why the pool area and breakfast was such a good idea. I am told life long friendships are made at A Place In the Sun.

What was really smart about this hotel is that they clearly knew who their market was. They have a huge repeat and referral business and often have repeat customers staying for months at a time.

They run the place efficiently with long term vision.

What a wonderful find in Palm Springs. I only wish we lived closer. We loved everything about Palm Springs and especially this lovely little hotel. So after a hot day of exploring the surrounding region, it was lovely to come back for a swim and relax, even if you couldn’t swing a cat in the room.  There were plenty of places to hangout at A Place in The Sun Hotel.

About the author

Bronwyn White_1Bronwyn White is the co-founder of MyTravelResearch.com, a market research and marketing firm specializing in the travel, tourism and aviation industries. Its specialty is providing insights that are actionable. Founded by principals with lifetime careers in travel, tourism and aviation, MyTravelResearch.com exists to build the visitor economy and successful tourism businesses.


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