Travel jargon: What hotels say vs. what they mean

Travel jargon: What hotels say vs. what they mean

Decoding gushy phrases like “city views,” "green season" and "beach front"
This, ladies and gentlemen, is what a beach front hotel is supposed to look like.

As any advertising guru worth his online college travel marketing diploma will tell you, the secret to attracting travelers to a destination and filling hotel rooms is to embellish the goods without lying. 

But don't listen to us. The great "godfather" of advertising David Ogilvy put it far more eloquently: "Never write an advertisement which you wouldn't want your family to read. You wouldn't tell lies to your own wife. Don't tell them to mine." 

That doesn't mean marketers aren't averse to stretching the truth, all the while adhering to the most important rule of all: never, ever mention a destination's shortcomings. 

The marketing game has spawned plenty of tricky phrases and deceptive wording that travelers can easily misinterpret.

To help sort through the fluff, we've translated some of the most common travel advertising parlance, using personal experience. 

hong kong hotelsIf this is the Hong Kong you want to wake up to, avoid the "city view" rooms.

What they advertise: 'City views' 

What they mean: "If you want to wake up to a panoramic vista, upgrade." 

When a Hong Kong hotel website gives you a choice of a “city view” room versus "harbor view," know this: the latter is more expensive for a reason, and it's not because you're getting a bigger suite.

Book a room with a city view and chances are you’re going to be staring into an apartment building 20 meters away, watching some dude clean his socks in the kitchen sink. Or, worse yet, doing things we can't write about here. 


What they advertise: 'Free Continental breakfast'

What they mean: "We're going to feed you week-old croissants wrapped in cellophane and canned orange juice that'll have you reaching for antacids by noon."  

While the Continental breakfast might still be viewed as a nice little travel perk for road trippers staying in budget motels on an American cross-country jaunt, in today's competitive travel industry it falls into the "why-even-bother" column.     


What they advertise: 'Green season'

What they mean: "Bring an umbrella."

In countries like Thailand where there are only two seasons –- wet and not wet –- travel marketers have taken to referring to the off season as the "green" season, which usually lasts from July to September. 

Green, of course, refers to the color of the foliage. All that lush leafy loveliness, growing beautifully because of the daily downpours you’re going to have to deal with if you decide to trek through the jungles of northern Thailand during this period. 


What they advertise: 'Two-minute drive. 10-minute walk'

What they mean: "Multiply whatever number we say by five."


What they advertise: 'All-inclusive'

What they mean: "Watered down drinks, fatty foods served in a trough and bad service." 

North Americans love to escape the winter chill by spending a week in Mexico doing nothing but getting drunk and lying by the pool drinking "free" cocktails and draught beer as part of their all-inclusive hotel packages. 

In all but a few of these resorts, the food is wretched and the staff complacent. We once had a maid in Cancun who refused to refill the toilet paper until we started leaving her a few dollars on the night stand every morning. 

But don't worry. You won't notice any of this because you'll be too busy trying to get your money's worth by consuming as many weak margaritas as you possibly can. 


travel marketing jargonWhen a hotel advertises "Five-star luxury for one-star" prices, here's what you should expect.

What they advertise: 'Centrally located' 

What they mean: "You won't get to sleep till 6 a.m. once the drunkards have passed out and you'll be woken again at 7 a.m. by buses and taxis honking."


What they advertise: 'Steps away from the beach'

What they mean: "You’re going have to hoof it 10 blocks before you even catch a glimpse of sand."

If it was on the beach, the hotel website would say, in 70-point letters, “Right smack on the sand. So close to the sea you can smell the fish.”


hotels with wifiGood hotels offer free Wi-Fi in the lobby. Great ones offer free Wi-Fi in your room as well.

What they advertise: 'Wi-Fi available'

What they mean: "We're going to charge you a ridiculous rate to use the Internet in your room. And yes, we know it should be free. We don't care." 

Again, the reality is in what’s not being said. If Wi-Fi is free, they’ll always say it’s free on their website. Always.


What they advertise: 'Perfect for business travelers'

What they mean: "Our rooms have a bed, a sink and a toilet, perfect for those so exhausted from attending conferences all day that they just come in and pass out. But you're going to love our selection of plug sockets." 


What they advertise: 'Boutique'

What they mean: "Small and overpriced. A glorified guest house with no swimming pool. But our decor is nice!"


travel off the beaten trackThis could be you if you book a hotel advertised as "off the beaten track."

What they advertise: 'Off the beaten track'

What they mean: "We're far from everything. If you want to find this hotel you need to pay us more money for an airport transfer." 

If enjoying the local dining and drinking scene is important to you, avoid resorts that brag about their distance from civilization.  

If seclusion is indeed what you're after, make sure the hotel's facilities are in line with your expectations because you're going to be spending most of your time there. 


What they advertise: 'Deluxe room'

What they mean: "This is the baseline room. Similar to the Tall at Starbucks. Rather than call it what it is -- the smallest, cheapest room -- we're giving it a fancy name so you don't feel sad that you can't afford one of our nicer suites." 

Got any more? Share them with us in the comments section below.

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