Branded pens won’t make it out of the pandemic and I’m not happy about that.
By now I’m sure you’ve read this article or a similar take describing what the post-pandemic hotel experience may look like, focusing on changes to the guest experience that emphasize cleanliness and a touch-free experience. To facilitate that, a lot of familiar items may go by the wayside, including the ubiquitous branded pen.
Friends, stop reading now if you’re not in the mood for something a little silly, because this week I offer up my ode to the hotel pen.
Quick exercise: Go to your junk drawer, grab a handful of pens and just look at how many of those are hotel pens.
Here’s my results: I pulled up a pen from the Menger Hotel in San Antonio, which has just the best little bar ever. I have one from The Statler, which is a mystery because I have never stayed at the Statler in Dallas or Ithaca, New York, and The Statler in Cleveland closed well before my time. In this same bunch I pulled out one from the Doubletree that came from a stay at the Times Square location. I remember asking the front desk for a pen so I could write down an address. The poor guy noticed I had been crying and he offered me an extra cookie (That was not a good trip). Next up is a pencil from The Standard that says “Poke Me” on it. That’s definitely from the analog-is-retro-cool era when boutiques did pencils instead of pens. And last, but not least, there’s a fantastically reliable click ballpoint pen from Choice, which is simple, straightforward and performs as expected—just like most Choice hotels.
Maybe you throw these pens away, or don’t even take them in the first place. It could be an occupational hazard, but I always take the pen because what if my laptop conks out and I need to get the quote? I never set out to build this collection, but a collection it has become.
And I like it.
Hotel pens are useful, they’re simple and they evoke memories. They’re textbook marketing devices, wouldn’t you say?
Of course, pens in hotel rooms are byproducts of a forgotten era. They recall those days when you picked up the actual phone to call a friend in the city, then jotted down the address to the place you’d meet for a drink (If you’re in San Antonio, may I suggest the Menger Hotel?)
Now nobody jots down anything. We store an address in our phones or ask that friend to text directions.
This pandemic is accelerating our already-breakneck move toward a completely digital existence.
Pens may be the first to go, but pads are right there with them, along with that delightful padded folder you still see in plenty of full-service hotels. Please tell me I’m not the only one who looks through all of it, just in case I need an exhaustive list of phone numbers for every rental car company in America. And tell me I’m not the only one who still feels a little frisson of delight when I see some hotel stationery tucked in the front that likely hasn’t been touched since 1982?
I like the fine Corinthian leather padfolio, and I take the pens because I’m pretty analog at the end of the day and I take some comfort in physical nostalgia. There’s not much room for that in the future we’re facing. It’s for the best, and the cleanest, but I’ll still miss those things.
I know every asset manager is doing the calculation to show that eliminating pens will save the average hotel owner tens of thousands of dollars, just like when United Airlines took olives off salads. Good thing I have my extensive personal collection of pens to fall back on!
One last word about my collection: A few months ago, I tried to thin the herd and toss any pen that didn’t write anymore. As a result of that exhaustive research project, I concluded that the fancier the hotel, the cheaper the pen. That stands to reason, since typical luxury hotel guests likely just whip out their monogrammed Montblanc when they must write something down, but there you have it.
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