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Analyzing Hotel Hell

The Fox show is back on the air and we’re enjoying it. Even if the show doesn’t really seem to be about hotels. How is that now.

Friday, August 08, 2014
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Fox is back with network go to guy Gordon Ramsay in the second season of Hotel Hell. It’s a lot of fun to watch but if you’re looking for an honest look behind the scenes at helping hotels find success, don’t expect it find it here.

I’m sure that little detail isn’t important to Fox anyway since Ramsay is a ratings juggernaut for the network. He has at least four shows on the network running throughout the year, each showing a different side of his personality.

However, the other shows are all based around food, his expertise and Ramsay is a culinary champion not an incredible innkeeper. Hotel Hell is not as much about hotels as it’s a way to use a formula perfected for the restaurant industry focused Kitchen Nightmares Ramsay stars in for the same network and the BBC to extend the life of that concept, which has started to lose luster after a number of years on the air.

So while the show features hotels that have been neglected into disrepair, the decrepit state of the properties shown serve as a metaphor for the condition of the owner’ mental condition. Dirty rooms, bad meals and lackluster service are all physical manifestations of the owner or owner’s personal issues explored in each episode.

Ramsay serves more as a psychologist or therapist than hotel fix it artist, making it tough for the show to focus on many of the underlying problems affecting the long term profitability of the actual hotel. Hotel Hell can only focus on issues that both fit into Ramsay’s realm of understanding and on moments that make for a successful visual experience. This is TV after all so the program leaves out all the stuff that will have the most impact such as how to charge higher rates, strategies for improving the sales process or any issue hotel wonks would love to see.

Hotel Hell is replete with images of bad housekeeping, hotels in disarray and dysfunctional personalities of the owners and/or staff. It’s also completely devoid of any branded hotels as the properties highlighted in Hotel Hell would have lost their flags long ago. Plus I am sure the major hotel companies would not like to see one of their franchisees showcased in such a manner. The Travel Channel show Hotel Impossible also focuses on independent properties but gets more into the minutiae of running a hotel since its star is an actual hotel expert. One thing both shows have in common; serving to mock me since I do not have my own show. Hear that Fox?

In each show Ramsay does do some sort of a transformation. It’s critical to have a big reveal as part of the show formula, usually a single room and some public pace as well. That’s a critical part of the show as it serves as a visual symbol that the hotel owner’s demons are being vanquished.

But the sheer cost of renovating a hotel is so steep and takes so long, the show could not afford to do that. Plus changes miraculously happen “overnight” making it impossible for real impactful work to be completed in such a short period of time. Hotel owners are typically left with one new room, a new restaurant menu and a renewed spirit.

What Hotel Hell is really about confronting issues that keep you from obtaining success and personal growth. It’s about facing one’s weaknesses and turning them into strengths that will propel them to be better people and therefore better business operators. It’s also a reality show so producers are seeking dramatic conflict first and foremost.

Fortunately there are many eccentric hotel owners foolish enough to get their therapy on air and that is what makes Hotel Hell compelling. It’s about Ramsay cutting apart that eccentricity and breaking down owners into a state where they see their foibles and accept personal accountability. Then experiencing how they seek redemption through the promise of proactive change as each show’s denouement.

One show focuses on an alcoholic whose addiction is destroying the business while another highlights a woman’s vanity at the expense of her guests. As a backdrop the hotel theme works nicely and it is nice to see an injection of love put into these properties.

Overall, the show is an excellent hour as a way to better understand the human condition. Ramsay is a great at directly telling people their weaknesses and watching those individuals fight against the truth before acknowledgement and acceptance settle in. But remember if it’s a true look at how hotel can be turned around, you won’t find it here.
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