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Viewing the Hotel Business from the Other Side
By Alan Campbell
Most hospitality articles talk about the hospitality industry itself. For instance, how to improve the industry, increase the number of guests, clients, buyers, and conventions, how to better accommodate guests and make their stay a positive one. Ultimately, because it’s a business and there needs to be an emphasis on the bottom line. While there is nothing wrong with talking about ourselves, we seldom, if ever, talk about how guests see us.
To be blunt, most do not see us at all. We are invisible minions that only appear long enough to perform a service and, once done, immediately become invisible again. We are, for the most part, nonentities in the life of most guests.
I believe upper management wants it that way, because it means the front line personnel are doing their job, and doing it well. One of the few reasons why front line personnel become visible to a guest is because they did something extremely well or did something badly, enough so to bring that person or incident in to the consciousness of the guest. I can almost guarantee you that most of those "somethings" were more negative than positive.
Please remember that most guests are coming into a foreign environment when they enter a hotel. They are entering an environment full of strangers that is totally different than the comfortable and safe home—not the house—they left. Our job is to replicate as much as possible that comfortable home-away-from-home environment, or at minimum provide a semblance of it.
In such an environment, guests, for the most part, are always in a reactive mode. They are not the ones to initiate any conversation, they are not the ones that know where to go or what to do; they are, for the most part, lost, anxious, and uncertain. It's up to us, as hospitality experts, to allay their anxiety, allay their uncertainties, and yes, even their insecurities. That's our job.
It is through this initial meeting between guest and hotel personnel that the guest/servant relationship is established; each, instinctively, unconsciously know and realize that relationship and each act accordingly. It is a relationship that does not lend itself too well to “hail fellow well met” or "getting to know each other." How many of you that are in the hospitality industry know by name any check-in desk person from any hotel, except your own, you've ever stayed at? How many of you have ever bothered to notice or even say hello to the room maids while walking to or from your room? How many of you have ever bothered to learn the name of your waiter that served you every night for a week at your dinner table? To most guests we hotel people are not David or George or Henry or Mr. Jones, we are little more than a job title: concierge, bell hop, waiter, check-in, check-out, doorman, etc.
Every successful hotel, whether starred or starry, has a personality, an ambiance earned over a period of time that successful general managers attempt to enhance and protect. In time, the hotel name itself invokes in a prospective guest that feeling of "home, security, warmth, fun, pleasure, a good time, etc." I need not mention the hotels; you know the names and places. If the hotel happens to be part of a chain, then that ambiance also may be carried over to other hotels of the same chain.
Let me give you a personal example from my youth of what I mean: Every summer, once school was finished, my mother, brothers, and sisters would pack up all our belongings into our Volkswagon Microbus and travel through three or more states visiting this or that national or local park or this or that landmark or this or that friend until we got to wherever it was we were going to stay for the next school year. At the end of every day of travel, no matter what town or city, we always first looked for a Holiday Inn or, at minimum, a AAA rated motel. There were not too many Holiday Inns yet in the late '50s, but in the few we had stayed, they sold us on customer service, quality, cleanliness, security, air-conditioning, price, and, for us kids, a pool. Holiday Inns became familiar places for us; a known quantity and quality—our preferred home-away-from-home.
Since then, I have had the privilege to stay at many of the top, and not so top, hotels throughout many parts of the world, and I am here to tell you that luxury or size has nothing to do with whether a hotel has ambiance.
By way of showing you what I mean, I will recount a story my brother told me about a hotel he had stayed at in Cannes, France during a Mardi Gras celebration many years ago; it was the last room available anywhere in Cannes, he felt sure, as he had already gone to a dozen or so hotels without any success. The hotel he stayed at, he did not remember its name, was a one star hotel and the room he got was too large for the bare bulb light hanging from the ceiling to read comfortably by, but not dark enough to show wallpaper doubling over itself along the upper edges of the walls; there was no night table, though the room did have an old-looking scratched up armoire with three wire hangers; other than the bed, it was the only piece of furniture in that room. The bed itself was of iron, and creaked every time he touched it, and had a mattress that sagged so much, it reminded him of the loose hammocks we kids used to sleep in in our backyard when younger. The management of the hotel was an older gentleman, Fernand by name, that, my brother swore, manned the front desk 24 hours a day and always seemed needing a shave and a change of clothes, but Fernand never failed to wish him a nice day on my brother’s outing of the day or welcome him back, by name, and ask after his comfort.
No better hotel, my brother tells me, and he's stayed in starless and starriest hotels throughout the world, has ever replicated the warmth and friendliness he experienced in that run-down looking hotel.
The point here is that the ambiance, the oomph, the IT may be found anywhere where people actually care, and show that care in their actions towards others.
I readily admit that most luxury hotels are more apt to have a more pleasing ambiance than their lesser counterparts (snobbery on my part?), but nonetheless, don’t ever equate ambiance with luxury. Ambiance takes the concerted effort of human beings, people working as a team, to produce and to maintain it, not luxury, not a fancy building, and definitely not a bottom line.
Guests don’t distinguish between you and your hotel. Nor should they, as the hotel is you, and you are the hotel. It becomes doubly important that employees at all levels understand this concept and why that is so.
Employees are performers that cater to guests’ expectations. To modify Shakespeare, “All hotels are a stage, and all employees, men and women, merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, And the hotel employees play many parts…” It’s like a successful Broadway play (I’d like to think more of a musical/comedy/drama rather than a straight musical, straight drama, or straight comedy—the audiences change, but the players give their 100 percent best every time.
On with the show!
Guests evaluate service quality based on five factors:
These factors, if well learned by your employees, will come close to providing a perfect stay for your guests, but only if you back them up with meaning, desire, and passion.
The Hotel Guy
About the Author
Alan Campbell has been in Las Vegas for over 30 years and has worked for the major strip hotels. He has spent some time in California, Los Angeles where he worked for the Radisson and Sheraton hotels. Alan considers the hospitality industry the best job in the world - it is the only place that both king's and Paupers will visit you.
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