This article explores ‘Orientalist’ accounts of hospitality to identify historical antecedents for contemporary Western demand for hospitality and tourism products in the Middle East. Scenes of hospitality in the diaries of Richard Burton and Gertrude Bell are analysed in the context of the authors’ historically locatable, subject positions. The paper finds that Orientalist expectations of hospitality form an image that is both culturally self-serving and, to an extent, impenetrable by the actual experience of the traveller. The durability of this discourse may still inform Western impressions of the contemporary Middle East. The development of the Middle East as a centre for hospitality and tourism innovation is critical to the continued global success of this industry; thus, by understanding historical antecedents, contemporary operators can begin to conceive the rich complexity of consumer attitudes towards the region. This analysis offers both an exploration of the inscription of a longstanding discourse of ‘difference’ on contemporary consumer culture and presents a context for future research into contemporary modes of hospitality and tourism demand and commercial response in the Middle East.