I’m becoming cranky in my middle age. That much I know.
Perhaps I am far enough away from my halcyon days of travel when weekend mileage runs were quick cultural skinny dips. And week-long vacations were reserved for deeper dives exploring the underbelly of geographic stretches far away. Frequent travel programs were important – earning or using miles helped. But it didn’t dictate the experience like it does now.
Or maybe I’m just not remembering things correctly. Those days are admittedly more than a little hazy.
But no matter what, the “new” World of Hyatt program (now 60 days old) continues to irritate me. Never mind that I have Globalist status through the run of this year. The new program already feels soulless to me. Perhaps it is because I already spend my weeks in cookie cutter corporate hotels. When my leisure time comes I crave something with heart.
Nothing highlights that soulless feeling – or how much that underscores the current state of frequent travel – quite like the commercial that World of Hyatt aired during the Oscars this year.
We were staying at the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego for a few days this weekend (an updated review will be coming soon). Every time we turned on the in-room television, this commercial was playing on a loop. I have a bad habit of not changing the channel off the static one so I end up seeing the commercial loop frequently. As a result, I saw this about 50 times and its burned into my brain.
“For a world of understanding, World of Hyatt.”
I am frustrated by this commercial. The actors in it strike me as the type of culturally unaware travelers. The type for whom only a generic safe Western hotel experience can be okay. The overall tone is one of cultural hesitancy. One of Westerners feeling uncomfortable in a foreign land until they find some familiar common ground.
We open on a smug blonde millennial woman in a business suit riding a bus. A Muslim woman sits across from her. Only when, mid-ride, she drops something and the Muslim woman bends down to pick it up, can she be forced to smile.
We get a stereotypical white guy getting drunk in an Asian bar. He’s uncomfortable until the alcohol flows. Then there is another stereotypical white guy. He is reluctantly trying exotic street food in a night market. Suddenly he finds his inner Anthony Bourdain.
But my favorite is the Hyatt money shot. This is the guy I frequently picture when I read some of the comments on travel hacking sites. (And no doubt the kind of guy who probably bought a ticket to the Fyre Festival!) An annoyed millennial stuck in traffic and clearly upset that his driver cannot move more quickly. We follow him through the city until his car finally pulls into the Hyatt. A staff member greets him with a subservient bow. We close with him on a balcony, surveying the land below from his safe space.
The message is clear – wander all you want among the masses during the day… your safe and sterile World of Hyatt will be waiting.
I’m not knocking Western brands
And yet for all of this, there is nothing wrong with being comfortable. If you want the familiar, that’s fine. And there is nothing wrong with the elite experience. For that point, I feel like we were doing perfectly well with the old titles – Gold, Platinum, Diamond – the elitism wasn’t hidden. The new titles just give the sense of the worldly – Globalist, Explorist, Discoverist – before we hide in the hotel.
But this seems to be the new trend in marketing, particularly with upscale brands. The more luxurious the brand, the more rustic experience they seem to what to promote. Go mingle with impoverished schoolchildren during the day. Maybe have a sanitized cultural experience or Westernized meal. Then return to your luxury accommodations in the evening – hotel or cruise ship. Enjoy the fine wines and sleep on high thread count linens. But there is something that rings false about the entire thing.
Maybe it is just me
Maybe I just don’t like change. Maybe I did just see the commercial too many times. Or maybe I just can’t get used to the new titles.
Admittedly, sometimes I don’t mind a more familiar Western experience. We are doing our first trip to Cuba by visiting for only two days and staying overnight on a cruise ship. But we are hitting the cultural emersion as hard as we can. We will only be on the ship a few hours to sleep while we are in port. Our primary goal was not a Western experience. It was having our travel insured with the new administration initially threatening changes to travel policies.
But I’ve also tried to reconcile the juxtaposition in the past. When did my longer Seabourn cruise through Indonesia in 2014, I carefully mixed luxury and local. One day we may have been enjoying a sunrise caviar and champagne sail-in to Jakarta. But we also took more rustic local tours away from the ship. I visited Prambanan and stayed in a basic Buddhist lodge for Thanksgiving. Then I hiked to the top of Borobudur for sunrise and climbed an active volcano. (It requires a bit of elbow grease to research our shore excursions and get away from the Western norms.)
I’m not perfect when it comes to travel. Sometimes I just go for easy – and luxurious. But hopefully I successfully dodge sterile and sanitized. I’d hate to miss a world of culture and experience all while chasing a world of status.