Something strange happens to guests as soon as they come through the revolving glass doors of a five-star hotel. With the everyday tasks like bed making and fixing breakfast taken care of, guests can let go, and the results are extraordinary; as I saw when I spent a year investigating the five-star hotel business for my Hotel Babylon books, which inspired the BBC1 television show of the same name. There was drinking to excess, falling through windows and, my own favorite, a man who brought a sheep into reception and tried to squeeze it in the lift, hoping that no one had noticed. It’s a gift for television comedy drama.

Season One of HBO’s comedy drama The White Lotus mined this rich seam brilliantly and with style and comic aplomb. It won five Emmys for its portrayal of life at a resort in Hawaii and returned last Sunday with a new cast, including Michael Imperioli (best known as Christopher Moltisanti in The Sopranos), although Jennifer Coolidge has stayed on as a grieving, needy member of the super-rich.

Theo James as finance bro Cameron Sullivan.

There’s a new location too, in a bijou bit of a 14th-century convent on the Sicilian coast with panoramic views of Mount Etna and the azure waters of the Ionian Sea. It was filmed at San Domenico Palace, a Four Seasons resort in the hilltop town of Taormina. Instead of the “smile like you mean it” culture and racial politics they satirized so astutely last time, here they have turned their eye on that perennial problem: sex. Or, more accurately, infidelity and prostitution.

It rings true. Over the hours of interviews I conducted for Hotel Babylon it soon became apparent that managing the hooker problem was the bane of any concierge’s life and also the hotel manager’s. How to keep them out, sort them out or, indeed, make some money out of them.

With so much cash sloshing around in such a confined space, a luxury five-star hotel has always been a magnet for the working girl. Or “local friends” as they are so aptly named in the new series of The White Lotus. Any good hotel keeps a look out for “local friends”. They are liable to fleece their guests, or take them for a ride, which is, quite frankly, the hotel’s job.

It soon became apparent that managing the hooker problem was the bane of any concierge’s life.

Nothing annoys a hotel more than a deal going down on their premises without them making a cut, I discovered. They were allowed in the bars and the lobby and knew the upstairs corridors like the back of their hands. Guests could book them simply by calling down to ask for “an extra pillow”. I was told that, extraordinarily, nine out of ten men who were traveling alone would inquire after an “extra pillow”, especially the Americans. There was one, the poor Mr M, as he shall be known, whose enthusiasm with his pillow caused his untimely demise. He died on the job.

Jon Gries and Jennifer Coolidge reprise their roles in the show’s new season.

While the manager in the new White Lotus (brilliantly played by Sabrina Impacciatore) attempts to keep them out of reception, a savvy concierge will have his own “local friends”, who pay him a cut to be allowed in. During my interviews I came across one such concierge who had three “local friends” named after cars — Mercedes, Jaguar and Porsche — whom he would call on at a moment’s notice.

Death aside, the problem with “extra pillows” is that they tend to hang around after the guest has gone to work or his business meeting, which was why he was in town in the first place. As soon as the hotel guest leaves, their friends start ordering smoked salmon, eggs Benedict, pedicures, manicures, massages and hairdressing, keeping the poor chambermaids pacing the corridors for hours waiting to make up the room.

In the big resorts this is even more of a problem, the inevitable Pretty Woman-style shopping spree (as depicted in The White Lotus) is a diplomatic nightmare. Either the guest sucks up the cost of the new bikini purchased at the poolside boutique and the diamond bracelet put on the room bill while he was asleep, or there are strong words at reception.

What the hotel staff has to put up with from guests who are shelling out between $634 and $8,600 a night would shock even the most jaded of souls. From the naked guests asleep in the corridor to the thrifty businessmen who urinate into the whisky miniatures so they don’t have to pay for their snifter from the minibar.

The originals: Murray Bartlett, Jolene Purdy, Natasha Rothwell, Christie Volkmer, and Lukas Gage.

The female guests can be just as demanding. I remember one young woman ordering room service only to be found lying naked on the bed. She asked the night waiter to join her, and when he refused she hurled the coffee tray at him, rapidly accompanied by a hailstorm of petits fours. None of this is the sort of thing you’d expect from an establishment where it is $63 for afternoon tea and a glass of champagne is more than $28.

Reverting to an infantile state is common. But this is not a free-for-all — the hotel staff notice everything; what “extra pillows” you use, even the sheep being brought into reception (the guests planned to barbecue it on their roof terrace but it never made it beyond the second floor). You are being monitored and, if possible, up-sold to at the earliest opportunity. Would sir like to try this? Would madam enjoy this? How about another little quelque chose?

This is the delightful world of the hospitality industry, where cash is king and the customer thinks he is. But where, mostly, everyone is out for what they can get and how much they can load on to that credit card. In the new series of The White Lotus a “local friend” exclaims: “A five-star hotel is what prostitutes are for.” A sentiment to which my hotel manager friend would wholeheartedly concur. “We’re all prostitutes in this business,” he said to me. “It’s just a question of price.”

Season Two of The White Lotus is available on HBO in the U.S. and Now TV in the U.K.

Imogen Edwards-Jones is a British writer, author, and journalist. She also blogs for and Get the Gloss