So…Which Way Is 836? Hotels and How It Feels to be Away From Home

So...which way is 836?
So…which way is 836?

Hotels fascinate me. The whole idea of a home-away-from-home offers the prospect of fresh perspectives in an environment designed around MY needs, both the basic and (from time to time) the more aspirational. As the legendary hotelier Conrad Hilton put it, “My hotel philosophy agrees with that of Boswell as expressed in his Life of Dr. Johnson: ‘There is nothing which has yet been contrived by man by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern or inn.'” Hilton was a man who recognised that this vision of the perfect Guest Experience is fulfilled via hard work, attention to detail, and – my favourite word – Enthusiasm: “There is no such thing as being ‘a little bit enthusiastic.’ You either are or aren’t. If you
aren’t you face failure and boredom. You can’t take it by the spoonful.”

Hilton died in 1979 and there are few of his stature and personal dominance running hotels today. More than half of the world’s hotels are now branded properties, with franchising being the operating model of choice for most of the large hotel operators, according to a new report. This perhaps explains why so many hotel experiences today are bland, homogeneous and sadly lacking in that vital component of Enthusiasm.

The challenge – and also the opportunity – for hoteliers is, in part, that the Guest Experience is uniquely in-depth; delivered over a minimum of say 12 hours, during which every detail impacts that Customer in a uniquely personal way:

  • Will I be made to feel welcome and relaxed when I check in?

    Light Switch or Nuclear Deterrent Button?
    Light Switch or Nuclear Deterrent Button?
  • Will the bed be comfortable?
  • Will I be able to open a window, or operate the heating/aircon?
  • Will the TV be easy to use?
  • Will the kettle fit under the tap so I can fill it?
  • Will every Team member engage with me so that I feel like a valued Guest?

Perhaps because of the prevalence of the franchise model syndrome, the majority of hotels seem content to subject their Guests to experiences that are strangely counter-intuitive: in other words, from the check-in experience to the room experience to the service experience it feels as though everything has been designed, not for real, individual people, but for the mass market. Assuming the hotel company considers its segment of this market – and we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt! – it too often feels as though its primary objective in designing the business model and the Guest Experience is to maximise the efficient generation of a consistent profit number.

As a result, one has to search out independent hotels run by passionate people,

Light Switch or Call Emergency Assistance Button?
Light Switch or Call Emergency Assistance Button?

or invest in five star luxury to have a chance of a memorable, differentiated experience.

And yet, how hard is it to design a helpful sign, or a light switch that looks like a light switch? How hard is it to design a check-in experience that is guaranteed to be welcoming, efficient and distinctive? And how hard is it to source a TV remote control that is as simple to use as the one ‘I’ have at home?

Going back to first principles, having identified its Purpose and its market segmentation, every hotel should employ a Service Excellence Model to ensure that every element is designed primarily not around profit, but around the Guest, and the Team that delivers the experience to the Guest, in a Setting that is designed not primarily for its looks but for its serviceability. It’s about making people feel at home, not alienated by confusing gadgets or bureaucratic rules.

Here’s a little list I found when I Googled “How to make people feel at home”: it’s not aimed at hotels, but I think it could be adopted by every hotel in the world – probably tomorrow.  It would be a good start!

Designing a great Guest Experience starts here!

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