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Hotelier's Ten Commandments Perennial success factors that don't change with the times
By feature writer L. Aruna Dhir
We live in the marketer's world. Ideas, products, dreams sold well are craved after and form a part of our wish list. Marketers also shape our demands by enticing us with their company's R&D and innovation. But they know that regardless of the novelty, the snazziness, the glitz and the glamour; all their products will have to go through the tried and tested touchstone of purpose, use, relevance and effectiveness. Perhaps that may be the number one reason, why companies bring back on demand the bygones as the newest fad in an almost cyclic fashion.
Hotels, as products, are no different. We attempt to present the old pie in a new packaging. We enclose ourselves in focus groups and mega think tank meetings to develop exciting, new ideas, services and systems that we feel our guests will cherish and look out for. We rise up to the challenges of changing times to reinvent ourselves. We ensure that, as hospitality companies, we keep abreast of latest in product development, concepts, technology and guest expectation.
However, in the race to run up the hill and get on top of competition, we sometimes fail to realize that more things change, the more they stay the same.
Regardless of the period in time that we inhabit, the following ten factors will always stay in top reckoning as far as the business of hotels is concerned:
1. Guest orientation
From the first time a rugged faced alpha male rode on his high horse up to a two-room ramshackled inn and bellowed in his rich baritone "Anybody in?"; hoteliering has been and will always be about guests. Whether they were highway robbers, gun-toting cowboys in the Midwest, sheikhs on camel backs, travelling salesmen or in today's world are the slippery smooth politicians, the current day white collared Mafiosi or the designer-wear flashing arms dealer right down to simple folk like you and me, hotels will always be about guests.
So, even before you get the concept, the creatives, the infrastructure, the hardware right, you must streamline your software to be guest focused; your people to be guest-loving and your company mantra to put the guest right on top of your mission statement.
2. Quality control
This is what separates the grain from the chaff. Your quality consciousness is one singularly important facet that puts you on top of the heap, regardless of your size, location, features or specialty.
I am completely swept off by hotels that do not drop the ball in the faultless crustiness and chewiness of breads in the morning baskets, in the perfect grainy texture of their mustard, the freshness of ALL fruits and cheese and cold cuts on the vast buffets, the crispness of their fresh smelling, spotless linen, the perfect point on which their temperature control rests, the poise and the pleasant disposition of the immaculately trained staff, the little thoughtful gestures exhibited at welcome and turndown. I appreciate these much more than the design, the period or modern furniture, the art deco objets d'art, the number of awards showed off in their press gallery.
I am of the strong contention that if hotels and the big guns that run them can ensure quality control in the tiniest of facets then they have definitely got the big picture right. Those who aim for the surface sheen, the outwardly, the meatier in-your-eye things and skim over the finer aspects are quite missing the point.
3. Competition check
Those of us in Public Relations and Sales & Marketing have the privilege of enjoying a great perk at least on the up side; until it comes down to hard work and serious study that is tagged to it. Great because it entails wining and dining at competition hotels! The somewhat down side because it involves checking out the menu, the ambience, the rest of the accoutrements that form part of fine dining (this does take away the gay abandon with which we'd rather like to wine and dine), a kind of studious approach that the exercise lends to an evening we would wish to be carefree and the serious report that we must fill in and submit the next morning. Like us, our brethren from the Food & Beverage and Kitchens brigade are also extended ample opportunity within the month to dine several times at the fabulous places housed in other hotels in the city.
Then there is the new hotel FAM that we go for to familiarize ourselves with the latest in town that will fight tooth and nail with us for the share of business our geographical location attracts.
I remember on a sabbatical to the United States while working with a hotel chain, that was a member of The Leading Hotels of the World, I was encouraged by my boss to approach the other member hotels in the cities I was visiting across the east and west coast and seek a stay in order to check out their brand and product.
Like with most other products - durable, FMCG, experiential, ethereal - it will always be imperative to know what and how well the Competition is doing.
4. Brand benchmarking
In these tough times of economic recession, lack of guest loyalty, availability of too many options, advent of newer chains that come attached with the strings of their unique features and discerning facets, it makes a whole lot of sense to continually benchmark internally and raise the bar amidst the other players in the industry.
Guests will stay with you for the overall goodness of your product and will return only when they see a different value for themselves from the rest of the pack that hounds and courts them and solicits their business.
5. Eye for innovation
There is always an opportunity to better your best; to present an idea in a more superior way than the next good guy in town. And that is where your inclination for innovation comes in. Faster Wi-Fi, more well-stocked mini bar, a much more improved in-house laundry, greater hassle-free check-in and check-out, far more efficient in-room and butler services, more refined ease of conducting business affairs while still in the Limo, a stellar guest history software that remembers every tiny detail about the guest - the penchant to reinvent yourselves and keep your R&D skills razor sharp will always stand you in good stead.
6. Keeping up with the Joneses in technology
While with a lot other things we can set our own rank (think permutations in infrastructure, preferences in design, choice of services' routine and template), with technology we can only follow what has been devised by the denizens of the Silicon Valley and madly copied and distributed in tech labs and IT firms.
From Apple founded by Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Ronald Wayne down to Zuckerberg's Facebook, the A to Z of tech wizards are stumbling over each other to present the next big and better craze.
While many other things are in our hands, technology is in the hands of those who dive deep into the sea of innovation and swim back with one magnificent creation after another. With technology making the world smaller and hospitality always endeavouring to bring the world closer, it makes sense to keep up with the latest offering in personal and business technology, especially when the competition has just reworked and jazzed up their tech menu and offerings for the guests.
7. For the love of food
From the time our great grandmothers, their mothers and then ours slaved over slow stoves to cook, grill, bake their labour of love to be rejoiced in by friends, family and sometimes the neighbourhood, food has been held synonymously with hospitality. In a lot of Asian homes, not letting guests leave without a lavish spread of food has been considered de rigueur. Perhaps it has been this ancient cultural etiquette enmeshed with the need and demand of the guest, that hotels have always placed a premium on food & beverage; besides it making a whole lot of business sense notwithstanding.
From the tautness of the hard rolls at breakfast, the tastefulness of the home-made pasta, the vitality of fresh produce checked zealously first by the Materials Manager and then passed through the hawk-eyes of the Executive Chef, the entrapments of molecular gastronomy, the novelty and excitement of new menus, new concepts and new presentations, hotels are always buzzing around and chirping about their food and beverage activity.
No wonder then, that a lot of hotels, besides being great places to stay in, have become landmarks resting on the laurels of their culinary wizardry. It is also no surprise that a lot of hotels house talented men in vibrant restaurants making them culinary destinations of repute.
8. Value for money
If you think that the rich & famous and the guests with deep pockets do not mind squandering their stashes of greenbacks just like that, then you are sadly mistaken. Your guests, no matter how wealthy they are, want their money to bring back value - the more the better.
Don't quite agree with me! Then sample this - Ingvar Kamprad, the founder of IKEA, does not mind driving a second-hand Volvo and always flies coach. Warren Buffett, ranked the world's wealthiest person in 2008 and as the third wealthiest person in 2011, still lives in the house he bought in 1958 for $31,500, doesn't eat fancy food and drives himself to work every day. So think about how they would want their money to stretch when they pay pretty pennies at hotels.
Even those celeb big spenders who are known to run mile long bills wish to get a bang with their buck. It must be seen as money well spent, whatever their definition of wellness may be at that point of time. Speak to your colleagues in Front Office and Reservations and find out how even the big, mega-spending Corporate accounts want to get the most out of their expenditure at your hotel and like to not only see sound features added to the room business contract but also study how they can get more value out of the dollars they commit to your bottom line via the confirmed stays of their personnel at your establishment.
9. The internal customer
Companies that ignore their internal customer or ride roughshod over their employees prepare to bleed internally and scar for life.
The secret for being a happy work place, for nurturing a healthy organizational climate and for ensuring loyal guests who love to not just come back to you but also recommend you in all the right places and among all the right people is essentially keeping your employees happy and engaged.
If there are 4 Ps of marketing, viz. price, product, promotion, and place; the same four hold a lot of weight in people management too. The 4 Ps in ‘your' people relations could translate into deserving salaries, a great brand to be associated with, opportunities for growth and promotion and respect for their place in the organizational matrix and value for their unique skill set.
Tomes have been written on how happy, satisfied, valued employees are behind soaring, successful companies that deliver on target and in turn keep their customers happy and committed.
With hotels being so people centric, this fact holds a far greater significance. Walk through the doors of a hotel and nine times out of ten the faces, demeanour, gestures, body language of and your first interactions with the Doorman, Valet, Bellboy will define how the rest of your stay is going to be.
10. That inimitable experience
When I was doing research at the University, there was this tiny, hole-in-the-wall tea shop we would love to visit, every single day. Sort of on the way from the hostel to the Library and School, only a bit of a detour - the longish one, yet we had to visit this place once a day. We soon realized it was not just for the perfectly blend and brewed cup of hot tea that the wise, old man stirred up. The entire experience was a package deal - the setting in a quiet corner of a dirt road, the seating on rocks of the Aravalli Range - the oldest fold mountains in India, clear views of the auburn sky and the setting sun, vegetation typical of the region that bore a sense of intrigue, the conviviality of the tea vendor, the aroma of fresh ginger and basil wafting over the steaming pot, the thick, luscious taste of the beverage and the happy price in pittance that the glass of tea came for.
This, then, was the magical experience dished out by a small tea vendor on the sidelines of life in the University. Imagine what the hotels, of any genre in any location, are capable of doling out with all those schemes and strategies, know-how and knowledge, branding and big budgets, attention to detail and acumen, creative energy and charm-infused chutzpah behind them.
After all, in hospitality more than much else, it is a business of experience to be partaken of in its entirety and savoured by all the senses!
So, don't stop paying heed to what the wise old men of hospitality have been upholding and telling you. They are making a lot of sense!
About L. Aruna Dhir
L. Aruna Dhir is a seasoned Corporate Communications Specialist, PR Strategist and Writer who has taken a time-bound sabbatical, after holding the position of the Director - Public Relations at The Imperial New Delhi, in order to work on three books - on Public Relations & Communications, Food and India respectively. At The Imperial Aruna was part of the core group and was responsible for re-launching The Imperial as one of the finest hotels in India and Asia. Prior to her tenure at The Imperial, Aruna was working with The Oberoi, New Delhi heading their Public Relations & Communications Department for a period of three and a half years.
Aruna's hotel experience includes handling the Marketing Communications and Public Relations portfolio for Hyatt Regency Delhi before her association with the Oberoi Group. L. Aruna Dhir's work experience also includes a four year long stint with the Australian High Commission in the capacity of Media Relations Officer, where among other exciting projects she successfully worked on Australia-India New Horizons - Australia's largest ever Country Promotion. Aruna has been engaged in freelance work for Doordarshan - the Indian National Television, All India Radio and Times FM.
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