On a sticky August morning in New Orleans, Cameron Quincy Todd walked into the Cornstalk Hotel, the 65th property she has visited in six months. She didn't look ragged after a long journey, and she wasn't carrying any luggage. Instead, she looked refreshed and toted only a small pink satchel containing a notebook - two major clues to her true identity. She approached the front desk and announced herself: The hotel reviewer with Fodor's Travel had arrived. No need to be nervous.
"The tour is really to get a feel of the place and the vibe of the hotel," said the New Orleans resident who grew up outside Chicago. "I am providing what the reader can't find in an online search."
Cameron is one of 25 local writers feeding the new online beast called Fodor's Hotels, the publication's reimagined reviews section. The 29-year-old is responsible for all of New Orleans, which means inspecting nearly 90 hotels, including many sleepovers only a few miles from her home.
"I was the kind of kid who wanted to live in a hotel," she said.
She started working with Fodor's three years ago, focusing on nightlife - a natural fit for the bartender with the master's degree in creative writing. When the 81-year-old travel guidebook company decided to plump up its hotel feature, Cameron expanded her coverage as well. Now, in addition to cocktails, she must focus her lens on the wider, and sometimes wackier, landscape of lodging. She squeezes mattresses, peers into showers and, with a straight face, asks such questions as, "Do you have ghosts?"
"I have become more discerning, because I have seen so many hotels," she said. "I want something to stand out."
"I've seen some really good hotels," she said. "They're bringing it."
Before stepping inside a hotel, Cameron first snoops around the property online. She will peruse its website to gather such background information as history, amenities and number of suites. She also skims recent reviews on Yelp and TripAdvisor, noting issues raised by guests that she might address during the tour, such as parking options. However, she often raises a skeptical eyebrow when reading the criticisms. For example, in response to a guest complaining about the dust in an air-conditioning unit, she asked incredulously, "Did they pull the grates off?" To the visitor disgusted by a stain on the mattress, Cameron wondered why the person yanked all the linens off the bed in the first place. Her puzzled expression read: "Who does that?" In a July review of the Q & C HotelBar, a guest blamed the staff for having missed a 5 p.m. wedding ceremony because her room wasn't ready an hour earlier. "Why didn't she leave her bags at the hotel and take a cab to the event?" she said in a more polite version of "D'uh."
"I read the one- and two-star reviews," she said, "but I don't take them too seriously."
Cameron arranges tours for nearly every hotel and spends the night at about a third of the properties. (Fodor's writers accept comped rooms and meals but don't guarantee a published review.) In a typical week, she might sleep at one to two hotels and drop into four or five places.
When surveying a hotel, Cameron pays close attention to the holy trinity: cleanliness, spaciousness of rooms and value. But she also seeks out captivating lobbies, guest-only public spaces, swimming pools and large windows with streaming natural light. On the flip side, she has little tolerance for middling hotel restaurants.
"I don't want to put in any mediocre restaurants," she said. "Some people come here just to eat, so the hotels really have to bring it."
Source: The Washington Post.