Industry Update
Opinion Article21 August 2006

Redecorate Your Elevator Cabs, Every Fall

By Larry Mundy

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Let me say this right up front: the number of people, on a daily basis, who plummet to their deaths in modern elevators, is statistically insignificant. You have a far better chance of being bit by a mosquito, or of being splashed with dirty water by a passing automobile, than of plunging at high speed toward certain death in a modern elevator. There. Now I hope all the “elevator people” out there will keep their nasty emails to themselves.


If your hotel is taller than the average NBA small forward, you probably have an elevator or two. Even able-bodied Americans do not like to climb stairs, and climbing stairs while schlepping an overstuffed suitcase is a lost art on the order of, oh, making paper from papyrus reeds. Your elevator and its shaft occupy the core of the building, and you wouldn’t have any guests on the upper floors of your hotel if the elevator didn’t tirelessly take them there, and bring them back down, over and over.

That means your elevator has to do three things: (1) go up and down when requested; (2) be in good cosmetic condition; and (3) not send guests plummeting to their deaths. This means that elevators require some pretty regular maintenance, done by specialized elevator maintenance companies, because fixing and adjusting an elevator is definitely in the “don’t try this at home” category.

Once your hotel is built, you are pretty much stuck with the number (and speed) of elevators as originally designed. It is easier and cheaper to replicate Britney Spears’ DNA using common household chemicals, than to add an elevator and all its associated equipment to a modern hotel building. So if guests are complaining that your elevators are slow, the best thing you can do is modernize the control systems so that your elevators spend less time confused about where to go. Today’s elevator-control systems are smarter than humans, or at least are smarter than the humans in your hotel who press the “down” button repeatedly, even though it’s already lit up, because they think showing such impatience will bring the cab more quickly.

There’s not much you can do about the capacity of your elevator cabs, either. Like many other things in life, this is predetermined by shaft size. The best you can do is make the cabs pleasant places to stand and pretend to ignore people three inches away who seem to have bathed in cheap cologne. Elevator cabs are the one place in your hotel, in my opinion, where there should be no “soft surfaces” or expensive finishes, because it is a cardinal rule of travel that any piece of luggage brought into a hotel must be scraped, drug and bounced against every planar surface of the interior of the cab. Elevators take more abuse than prizefighters, and don’t get to rest every three minutes. But it’s the one place, in most hotels, where your guests are standing captive with nothing better to look at than walls and floors. Either refurbish your cabs on a regular basis, with bulletproof materials, or hire attractive local people to ride up and down all day long, engaging your guests in distracting conversation.

Always try to schedule elevator maintenance before a claustrophobic guest gets trapped between the 4th and 5th floors for three hours, and your life will be much simpler. Elevator maintenance people are like lion tamers or witch doctors. No one knows exactly what they do, but we’re vaguely relieved when they enter the “elevator penthouse” on the roof, bang around awhile, and come out sweating but alive. We just know there are monstrous, mutant hamsters up there, held captive in giant caged wheels, sneering through their giant, gleaming fangs and making the elevators go up and down.

There are also giant pulleys and counterweights and cables as thick as your arm. At least that’s the impression I get from watching all the Bruce Willis “Die Hard” movies, where he’s climbing on top of the cab to sneak up on the bad guys. And hopefully, there is some sort of fail-safe mechanism that doesn’t allow the doors to open unless the cab is present, so that any unscheduled guest plunge will at least occur in a nicely refurbished cab with chatty, attractive local people.

If your elevators are a bit slow at peak times, consider making your elevator lobbies more interesting. Flat-screen TV’s can fit almost anywhere, and almost any TV program is more entertaining than staring at an elevator button, except maybe that show with Paris Hilton. Even posting your dinner menu or the local high-school sports section of the newspaper beats staring at the button. Very few elevators these days have the little floor indicators above the doors that tell you cab 2 is stalled on the 12th floor, but cab 3 is coming from 7 down to 6, now 5, now 4 . . . now that kept things interesting, and it could even lead to some friendly wagering, after a few drinks. Go into any modern subway system and a giant electronic display will tell you it’s 2 minutes until the next northbound train. We’ve largely erased such useful information from our elevator lobbies, leaving our guests staring at pebble-grained vinyl and paintings of pastel dahlias.

I say, let’s bring back the floor indicators, but use part of that big ol’ elevator-control brain to make them even more entertaining. Give us readouts of average speed, estimated time of arrival, and altitude above sea level. If three cabs arrive at precisely the same time, have the system play some little “jackpot” tune and burp out a few quarters. Put a closed-circuit camera in the elevator penthouse so we can watch the giant hamsters grunt and toil. Sure, there would be some capital expense involved, but your guests will appreciate it if you take the plunge. So to speak.

Larry Mundy works for a hotel company in Dallas. His views are his own, and may differ considerably from those of a sane person."

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