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What makes a hotel stay memorable?

*This piece is part of a longer series on memory. Read more about what and how we remember things, here.  

Check out the photos of a particular hotel below. What is your impression of it? 


This is the Magic Castle Hotel, which has for many years now ranked in the top 5 hotels in Los Angeles on TripAdvisor. It trumped (no pun intended) over your usual suspects - the Intercontinental, the Ritz Carlton, the JW Marriott, and a host of other major top-tier hotel chains. Out of close to 3,500 reviews, more than 93% rated their experience as "Excellent" or "Very Good". 


Now let me see if I can guess your assessment. What? This is top 5?? It doesn't look bad but... it sure doesn't look top 5. And it's not exactly cheap either - even in the off-peak, it's about US$250 per night. So why exactly do people like it? 


That's until you understand some of the unusual perks the hotel provides




Magic Castle has a Popsicle hotline. Anyone can dial the hotline, upon which a staff answers, "Hello, Popsicle Hotline!" After you have placed an order, a staff delivers your popsicle to you by the poolside, on a silver tray, for free.  There's also a free Snack Basket, Board Game, and DVD Menu, where you can pick your favourite nibbles and entertainment. There's more! Guests can leave an unlimited amount of laundry for free washing - your clothes would be washed and returned to you the next day, tied up in a neat nostalgic package with a sprig of lavender. 

What Magic Castle demonstrates is that:

a) you don't need every area to be perfect

b) you don't need to compete in areas where everyone else is competing in. Think about it, how different can a standard hotel room be? No matter how much resources a hotel puts into making their standard room stand out, it still pretty much resembles every other hotel room - there's a bathroom, there's a bed, a table and chair set - it's extremely difficult to stand out in this area. A hotel can of course design an exquisite lobby or a stunning pool area - but these are incredibly costly.

Magic Castle rejected competing in the common areas of room decor and swimming pool. They figured out that it is possible to compete in a far more effective way. By offering something completely different from all other hotels, they create great experiences that come as surprise to the guests, that are deeply memorable. And just like the photos above, imagine how eager guests would be to share their experience on social media (and the subsequent affirmation in likes and comments thereafter). 

You can imagine a guest raving to their friends, "You know I just stayed in this hotel, and it has Popsicle Hotline. Like literally, an old school phone line just for you to order popsicles." That's deeply memorable.
Compare this to: "You know I stayed in this great hotel and the bed was really great. It was really big."


In other words, Magic Castle realised that only the few magical moments stick in our memories. Everything else fades away. And these magical moments can be engineered. They need not be left to chance. 

So what exactly creates these magical moments that stick into our memories? The psychologists Dan and Chip Heath identified 4 specific factors - the presence of one or more creates these special memories that stay with us. 





What do these areas mean?
Which of these 4 areas do Magic Castle fulfil?

Read more, here. 



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