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Hotels occupy a central but historic place in the travel world. Paying for a room is one of the oldest business models in the history of civilization. And even in today's world, you can still actually run a successful hotel business with a ballpoint pen and a ledger. (My employer, however, does enable hoteliers to be more technologically advanced and their content distributed worldwide through a computer reservation system). Some hotels (typically smaller but darn good ones) have decided not to go down the tech route because they have loyal, happy customers who fill their rooms and dislike the idea of exposing their business to direct price comparison shopping.

Today most of the hotel properties in the States, and worldwide for that matter, are directly findable and bookable on the Web or by an agent, because the "global distribution" channel is now the norm. Chains are also the norm, even for independent hotels that find value in joining hotel groups like Kimpton, for one. This way, they can balance their independence and unique "property brand" while benefitting from worldwide distribution and buying leverage.

Lately, I've found myself booking more hotels that aren't searchable or bookable the normal way, and it has caused me to think more about this tendency.

On the one hand, I'm a representative of a tech company that helps hotels sell that last available room; manage discounts, promotions, and corporate room rates; sell online, et cetera; and thus I feel that I should always seek and book globally distributed rooms. On the other hand, a lot of these places are great and actually cost less than some of the alternatives. On still a third hand, which I've grown over the years to metaphorically hold my many and multifaceted opinions on things, it feels sorta cool. These "hidden" hotels, which you can book only by phone (or maybe email), are like nightclubs with no sign outside, where only the hip and beautiful people know to go. Matching my preferences, they tend to be singular and quirky.

I know of one in France that is family-run—in fact, the last time I showed up there, they did something I'll never forget. Picture this: 11 PM on a Tuesday following a long day at work followed by a flight to a new city for meetings the next morning. Flight was fine; rental car was a total hassle, capped off by a 30-minute drive through winding, narrow streets in southern France with very limited signage. I'm tired. I pull up to this, one of my favorite little hotels (which I booked via email), and walk through the door.

"Monsieur Valkevich, bienvenue!"

The owner behind the counter remembered what I looked like, and had been expecting me. I will go back to this hotel forever, because they made me feel welcome. There are no more than 30 rooms in this place, and I'm no stranger at all to them; but this small gesture of friendliness and hospitality exceeded the highest-level of service I've ever felt at the best five-star hotels. This is not to say that those places don't try heroically; they do. But you just can't industrialize the delivery of truly personal service.

Now, where this ties back to business travel is interesting. This property, since it is close to one of my company's major global centers, offers a competitive corporate rate for us. Therefore, it is difficult for Procurement—a department whom, dear readers, I will always unapologetically villainize—to argue during expense reimbursement that the hotel was "outside of policy," since the price was competitive and it even says our company's name right next to the nightly room rate on the invoice.

But shouldn't we steer some business to the little guys sometimes? (Granted, the hidden hotel is not for every road warrior or every business trip, especially if you are looking for amenities, such as a convenient taxi, 24-hour business center, or loyalty rewards.) Promoting local businesses makes me feel like I'm doing my part to spend more mindfully, which a lot of us have been doing since our global economy bit the dust, collapsed, got abducted by aliens, or whatever it was that actually happened. And if I have to go a little out of my way (but not out of my budget) to be treated like a proper "guest," I don't mind. Not at all.

Nor would you, I daresay.

Road Warrior • Miami • Madrid •