By Amy FarleyMelanie Lieberman and Peter Schlesinger
February 11, 2015
red fuzzy handcuffs
Credit: iStockphoto

It's one of the most reliable rules of travel marketing: where there's a blockbuster movie, there is also, inevitably, a slew of cringe-worthy hotel promotions riding on its coattails. And so came the Da Vinci Code tours of Europe, the relentlessly girly Sex and the City weekends at urban hotels, and all sorts of variations on the Eat, Pray, [fill in the blank] getaway at any resort with a yoga studio. And now, of course, Fifty Shades of Grey is upon us—and with it, some of the most uncomfortable moments in hotel marketing.

To see what sort of Valentine’s Day schemes E.L. James's racy novel has inspired, we surveyed the (ahem) packages on offer from numerous hotels. (The properties shall, for their own good, remain anonymous.) What we found: hotels are asking guests if they're a "sub" or a "dom." They’re doling out aphrodisiacs, and they’re leaving whips and restraints on the beds at turndown. They're letting you decide if you’d prefer the satin bindings in black or red.

What we ascertained—beyond our total inability to request a “50 Shades of Women…Come Again” deal from a telephone reservationist—is that there are a number of things we decidedly do not want to see placed in our hotel room. Among them: spanking powder, handcuffs, and the Tickle Me Tickler. It's not that we're prudes. Or maybe we are. (Either way, it's none of your business.) It's more that we're embarrassed for the staffer who has to learn these personal details. And also that we're acutely aware of how skilled hotels have become at tracking their guests. They note our likes and dislikes, mark their files, make adjustments for our next visit. And though it's all in the service of "surprising and delighting" guests, it's just a little bit too cozy for us. Even as our digital trails become ever more indelible, we still prefer our hotel lives to remain private.

Then again, live and let live, America! If you'vebeen waiting for your hotel room to come equipped with Madame’s Mystique Paddle, this is your year.

Reported by Amy Farley, Melanie Lieberman, and Peter Schlesinger