The Three Heads takes a look at how social media ranking sites grade hotels. Such systems have benefits – but also risks.
In 2017 I published the seventh Hotel Story.
The Three Heads.
Like all the Hotel Stories, The Three Heads features the world’s most brilliant, unpredictable and occasionally homicidal hotel manager, Ms N, and her beautiful but naive ally, Tatiana. Like its predecessor, The Swedish Woman, The Three Heads presents Ms N with a crime which she must solve, reinforcing her credentials as the Sherlock Holmes to whom Tatiana, the narrator, plays Doctor Watson. I’d be delighted to hear your comments.
By way of a taster for The Three Heads, I hope you enjoy the following excerpt.
The Three Heads (excerpt)
‘Tatiana, my sugar plum. You are looking beautiful today.’
‘Thank you. But – ‘
‘I mean it, buttercup. I never forget how lucky I am to have you.’
‘Pablo. I am grateful.’ When I gaze into Pablo’s warm brown eyes and see his soft lips smiling at me, I find it hard to think straight. ‘But we need to talk about your plans to promote the hotel. Our Caravanserai Ultra Platinum is in trouble.’
‘Our hotel promotes itself, turtle-dove. It is the coolest, most luxurious and most ecological destination on earth, and the only hotel located entirely within a hollow mountain.’ He gestures around the Sunset Bar, with its outrageously exclusive Ron Arad stainless steel sofas and its panoramic views of the sun-drenched, relic-covered plain far below.
‘The Caravanserai UP may be cool, luxurious and ecological. But do you see any guests? We are losing a quarter of a million dollars a month.’ I tap the rock wall, hand-hewn using local labour and authentic bronze-age-style stonemasons’ chisels, as if I am perhaps thinking that the secret to boosting our profitability might lie in some form of redecoration.
Pablo laughs, showing his regular white teeth. He smooths back his crinkly hair and takes a gulp of the bog-water-fed, floor-malted, oak-mashed, peat-kiln powered, quadruple-distilled, treble-oaked, 25-year-old Isle of Staffa “New Moon Harvest” single-malt ultra-Scotch, for which paying guests must cough up one hundred and seventy-five dollars a glass.
‘I know, honeybun, I know,’ he says. ‘Everyone else has to fork out eight hundred bucks a night to stay here. You and I pay nothing to sit in the same chairs, with the same view, and market-test the same drink. And you, my angel, are the motor that drives this whole Rolls Royce arrangement. That is one more reason I adore you.’
When I hear Pablo saying such sweet things about me I want to throw myself into his arms and smother him in kisses. But we are both on duty in the hotel and surrounded by staff and, in theory, customers. So I sit up straight, extinguish all traces of my famous 1,000-watt smile and shake my head.
If I am honest, I am trying to model the kind of power pose I have seen my former boss, the legendary hotel manager Ms N, adopt when she is projecting authority.
In secret, I am worried that Ms N could project more authority than I am doing even if she was standing on her head dressed in a clown outfit, but since she is not in the hotel, or even in the country, I do not think anyone will try to compare us.
‘This hotel will not be a Rolls Royce machine for long without customers,’ I say. ‘It will be more like a bicycle with square wheels. And barbed-wire handlebars. And a saddle filled with starving tiger ants. I think this will not be a comfortable kind of transport.’
‘No.’ Pablo grimaces.
‘Since I appointed you Head of Sales and Marketing, we have spent more than thirty thousand dollars on digital promotions. Yet the Caravanserai Ultra Platinum is emptier than it was before.’
‘Princess.’ Pablo places his hand on my knee and squeezes. I know I should not enjoy this because it means my efforts to project authority have failed. But the touch of his hand is wonderful. ‘I told you before – we need to reach critical mass. To do this, I need help. An assistant. With ingenuity and application.’
‘I know. You want to recruit the voluptuous Scarlett from our competitor hotel the Happy Yak, who you think has plenty of these attributes, as well as other attributes which I do not wish to discuss.’
‘I know she behaved badly last time she worked at this hotel.’
‘Behaved badly? She tried to murder two of our guests to get me fired. The Happy Yak may be delighted to give her a job since I threw her out that night. I never will. If you want to kick-start your campaign, you must think of something else.’
Pablo gazes at me mournfully with his brown eyes. ‘Do you doubt me, love muffin? If you want me to leave, you have only to say.’
‘No!’ I cannot stop myself. ‘I need you! But I also need profits!’
Pablo turns and gazes out at the plain. When he turns back, his beautiful face wears an expression I have not seen before: quizzical, yet challenging.
‘Digital campaigns take time, sweet peach. You must understand this. I have a big idea. A gigantic idea, in fact. But I can only do it if you trust me.’
His words hurt, but I try to keep my voice steady. ‘Of course I trust you.’
‘It will involve a small investment.’
‘I know you have to invest money to make money. What is your idea?’
‘I want to bring a celebrity to the hotel. I have made contact with the social media team of DaGurl.’
‘DaGurl? The music and fashion and glamour icon? What does she know about hotels?’
‘She knows nothing about anything. What matters, honey-bun, is that she is the most famous social media celebrity on earth. She has one hundred million Twitter followers and one hundred million on Instagram. She has more glamour than the Kardashians and higher credibility ratings than The Pope. Hundreds of journalists report every time she farts.’
‘I may not know much about social media, but I cannot see how DaGurl farting will help fill beds in my hotel.’
Pablo laughs as if I have made a joke. ‘Of course I do not mean they are literally writing about her farting. But when she visits our hotel’s Chrysalis Wellness Zone for an unforgettable complimentary massage by our ultra-slim eight-handed Balinese ladies and tweets this out – ‘
‘Complimentary?’ I am pleased that Pablo is talking about “our” hotel, but I do not wish to tell him this. ‘How much will this cost?’
‘My treasure. We will not pay DaGurl one cent to visit our hotel. Usually, she charges one hundred thousand dollars a day for her services. But she is coming for free because I have persuaded her marketing manager that we can offer her an unforgettable experience and a unique opportunity.’
‘You are suggesting she should enjoy two nights in our Ultra Platinum Jade Emperor Suite including Via Ferrata access? For free?’
‘The point, my cherub – ‘ Pablo’s voice has risen a fraction ‘ – is not the Jade Emperor Suite. The point is that when she floats in the gold-ionized water of the Cavern Eco-Pool, two hundred million people will share her bliss. When she visits the Alexandria Library and our wild-haired Professor Ahmet shows her our collection of Aramaic parchments, two hundred million people will long to view them too. When the moon is full and DaGurl braves the Moonlight Serenade on our supremely vertiginous Via Ferrata, and when our elegantly-muscled, tastefully tattooed and ultra-reliable Austrian mountain guide Reinhold checks the safety bindings around her famous chest and thighs, the bookings will come flooding in! I have checked, by the way, that the moon will be full and Reinhold is available.’
Pablo orders another whisky. ‘In any case, since the Jade Emperor Suite is not occupied, the additional expenditure will be minimal. The only costs will be complimentary food and beverages.’ He pauses. ‘And the air fares.’
‘How much is her air fare?’
‘Her PR team were insisting on first class, but I beat them down to business. I think they did not realise that on the three separate and perhaps not entirely modern or safe airlines they will fly to reach this remotest, wildest and ruggedest corner of your beautiful homeland, there is no first class or, in any meaningful sense, business.’
‘We are paying her fare. How much?’
‘Six thousand dollars.’
‘That is not so bad.’
‘Six thousand per person. She will be accompanied by her publicist, her manager, her social media technician and her curator.’
‘Another thirty thousand dollars. Did you say her curator? I know my English is not too good, but – ‘
‘My pumpkin’s English is perfect. The only thing the most beautiful and brilliant hotel manager in the world, who happens to be my beloved, is lacking is maybe very occasionally – trust. Even in those you love.’ Pablo bites his lower lip. ‘Perhaps you are right. I should cancel this project. But at least let me explain the curator. Because, you see, I have not been fair to you.’
Pablo leans forward, his brown eyes sparkling. ‘Do you remember I said I planned to lure DaGurl and her team down here without charging us a fee, by offering them a unique opportunity? I am sorry: I have not explained this properly. Tatiana, will you let me explain? Even though I have let you down?’
If I am honest, Pablo’s speech has confused me. Have I let him down by not trusting him? I do not want this, because he is a dear, kind and also handsome man who I love. Or is he saying he has let me down? If so, how?
‘Of course I trust you, Pablo. What is this opportunity DaGurl’s publicity team are excited about?’
‘It is an opportunity to display her heads. She has three.’
‘She has three heads? No wonder she has two hundred million followers.’
‘They are the most famous heads in the world. An Austrian artist called Messerschmidt created fifty-six of them in the 1770s. Forty-nine still exist. DaGurl owns three of these heads, which are called The Hanged Man, The Yawner, and the Vexed Man. The Hanged Man is maybe the best known of all the Messerschmidt heads. And she wants to bring them with her to the Caravanserai UP!‘
Pablo is looking so happy, so triumphant, that I want to share his joy. Instead, I am frowning. ‘That is wonderful, Pablo. But how will these Messerschmidt heads fill our rooms?’
‘It is a full house strategy,’ Pablo says. ‘DaGurl, and her social media, will attract the young and adventurous. The heads will attract the sophisticated, intellectually bold and, perhaps, less young. The unveiling by DaGurl of the Three Heads in the coolest, the most luxurious and the most ecological hotel on earth will be the social media event of the year. Together, this will fill our hotel to bursting point. Do you not see?’ Suddenly Pablo’s face crumples. ‘My lamb-chop does not see anything, does she? You no longer love me, or trust me. Forget the campaign. I am leaving the hotel. Perhaps they can give me a job at the Happy Yak.’
‘Pablo! No!’ Suddenly, although we are sitting in the Sunset Bar and this is inappropriate, I am in his arms. His embrace is strong; his smell is rich and warm. ‘I am sorry,’ I say. ‘Of course I trust you. Please go ahead with the promotion. If even one half of one percent of DaGurl’s followers visit the hotel, we will be full for months. We are already losing a quarter of a million dollars a month. Why not invest an extra thirty thousand?’
Pablo’s eyes have filled with tears. But when I say I love him, his mouth twitches into an almost-smile. ‘My poppet! Are you sure? We go ahead?’
‘Yes. I am sure.’ I am smiling inside because again he has said “we”. When I look see him so happy I want to kiss him, although I decide to wait until later for this.
But when I say I am sure, I am lying. I am not sure that DaGurl and her three heads will help the hotel as much as Pablo says. But how can I say this to him, who loves me so much, and who I love so much in return? How can I risk him leaving me?
For a long moment, I lie close, feeling his strong arms around me and smelling his beautiful smell. Whatever else I am unsure of, I know this must be right.
Your next steps
I hope you enjoyed this excerpt from “The Three Heads”.
What should you do next?
- You can scoop up all the stories in Hotel Stories: The Complete Collection – a novel-length set of seven different Hotel Stories featuring Ms N and her beautiful, naive – and increasingly successful – acolyte, Tatiana;
- Or… if you don’t like paying for stories, contact me and I’ll be delighted send you a Word copy of the first story in the series, “The Two Rooms”. It would be great to hear from you.