How can hotels maintain a personal touch in an era of commoditization?

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I just read what I think is a great idea in a bit on Hotel-Online. It's about how, in the attempt to keep the personal touch in an era of increasing commoditization, hotels are trying to find innovative ways to make you feel welcomed, even when they can't actually provide the personal touch. The author shows us a lovely poem--almost a blessing, really--that he found on his pillow on a recent trip. A snip:

    To Our Guests

    “The Stranger within our gates”

    Because this hotel is a human institution to serve people, and not solely a for profit organization. We strive to ensure you will experience peace and rest while you are here.

    May this room and this hotel be your “second” home. May those you love be near you in thoughts and dreams. Even though we may not get to know you, we hope that you will be conformable and happy as if you were In your own house.

and it goes on to wish guests well in various aspects of life. He then asks three questions:

    1. What would your guests think of this kind of message expressed at your hotel?

    2. What do you do at your hotel to make each guest feel welcome?

    3. Are there any additional suggestions you could share at your hotel or with readers of this column on how to reduce the potential of our hotels becoming commodities?

I can only answer for myself that

1. I would appreciate that at least they are trying, but it wouldn't really make me feel personally welcomed. For that, it really does need to be personal, or at least have a human being involved.

2. The hotels I have felt most welcomed at are the ones where the front desk person acted as if they cared about my experience, not that I was just yet another hassle to be gotten through before their shift ends. They don't have to call me by my name or remember that I like a certain amenity (though that's spectacular when it happens), but just act like you're glad to see me. Better yet, actually be glad to see me.

3. It's really all about attitude, not "stuff." The hotels that stand out in my mind aren't always those that were the biggest, most beautiful, or most lavish (though I like that too, don't get me wrong!). Even though the beds give me a backache, there's a place in Stowe, Vermont, where we continue to go back to for our family ski weekends because they remember us (not from any database--more like, "Hey, weren't you guys here last January when it was -15 degrees?"), and when we had to cancel at the last minute, they hustled to fill the rooms so we wouldn't get stuck paying, even though we totally should have. They care about their customers. It's not about a little note on the pillow; it's about showing that you care about each customer, as a person. I guess I think it's about looking at your customers as people instead of commodities--just as you want them to look at you as what you are, not just your rates and dates.

Anyway, the author is looking for input (I already gave him mine). E-mail your answers to john.hogan@bestwestern.com--and copy me at spelletier@charter.net. I'd be curious to know what you think.

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