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What Is The Difference Between Hospitality Excellence and Mediocrity?

By Doug Kennedy
January 3, 2012

Like most trainers, I frequently engage participants in interactive activities that hopefully shift their paradigms.  With one such activity, I give participants a list of like-hotels in a location they’ve never been to, and then have them each place a group sales or reservations inquiry call.  Afterwards, each participant reports back to the overall group on their experiences and observations. 

Recently, while training the reservations team of a four-star hotel, the results were especially interesting when two participants in particular described their call experiences.  The first participant had a glowing report for the agent she’d spoken with, and raved about how he was so enthusiastic and hospitable that the participant actually felt bad about not booking with him!  Interestingly, the second participant reported the polar opposite experience in calling another four-star hotel in the same area, as her agent did little more than check dates, quote rates and described rooms as being “your basic hotel room with one or two beds.”

It is interesting to see how two different hotels within the same location, serving the same hotel market segment, recruiting from the same labor pool, and probably paying about the same base wages can have such extraordinarily different levels of hospitality and guest service.

How was it that these two employees of similar hotels performed so differently that day?  Was it luck? Did we just happen to catch their best employee at their best time of day?  Or was it a factor of the choices the employees made that day?
Two alarm clocks went off at approximately the same time of morning.  Two employees woke up and readied themselves for their workday. Both traveled about the same distance, to work about the same shift, for about the same pay.  Yet one employee made the choice of delivering hospitality excellence to the best of their ability in every guest interaction that day.  The other made the choice to do their job exactly as it is outlined in their job description; doing nothing more and nothing less. 

So why is it that associates at some properties make the choice of hospitality excellence while employees elsewhere choose to be average, or to put it another way at the risk of being blunt - mediocre?

Is it that one hotel has a better luck of the draw when hiring new staff?  Do they have a better applicant screening process complete with pre-employment testing and peer interviewing?  Or is it more a factor of the overall culture that starts with ownership and executive level management and is reinforced daily at the supervisory level? 
Based on my observations as a hospitality industry trainer, it is more than a mere coincidence that some hotels can succeed in even the toughest labor markets, while others squander in mediocrity even where the unemployment languishes in double digits.  Instead, hotel guest service teams that make  “extraordinary” guest services experiences an “ordinary” and daily event tend to have:
  • Owners who are willing to invest in the physical product and the technology systems necessary to facilitate service efficiency.  It is hard to deliver hospitality knowing you are about to sell a guest a sub-standard accommodation, and just about impossible to satisfy guest needs without the proper systems support.
  • Engaged, involved leaders who lead by example under the tightest of scrutiny.  Real-world operational standards don’t exist in training manuals; they are set by managers who can be observed in action themselves creating hospitality excellence daily!  Interestingly, these same managers treat both employees as well as their guests with authentic warmth and generosity, the hallmarks of hospitality.  They know that hospitality starts in the heart of the house when they greet their first staffer in the back hallway upon entering the building.  
  • Managers and supervisors who coach versus command.  Great hotels have supervisors that closely observe each employee transaction, and who know the job well enough to help each staff member tweak, revise, and maximize their performance.  Even the greatest so-called “superstars” all need continuous coaching to maintain hospitality excellence.
  • Visionary leaders who see the actual level of hospitality and guest service as it really is being delivered daily in the lobby.  They don’t relay on the opinions of one quarterly mystery shopper inspection report, nor post-departure guest surveys, nor TripAdvisor reviews alone, nor any one metric to tell them where service is at.   They observe firsthand how guests are treated and how efficiently things are working (or not). 
  • Managers and supervisors who pitch-in during inevitable bottle-necks.  The best managers always seem to appear at just the right moment when the staff is nearly overwhelmed; they not only provide that extra set of hands to get you caught up but help you gain confidence that things will work out.  I can still recall how over two decades ago as a bellman of a golf resort I greeted the PGA Senior’s Tour Bus only to watch all the famous golfers parade off the bus and directly into their rooms, leaving the absolute biggest pile of luggage and golf bags imaginable for our team of just two bellmen.  Minutes later there was our Resident Manager taking off his suit jacket and humbly asking our bell captain “How can I help you guys get through this?”  
  • Leaders who honor and understand the frontline perspective.  You can always distinguish visionary leaders in the field of hospitality by the way they talk about their frontline employees.  Those who appreciate them the most speak with respect, admiration, and appreciation.  Those who don’t just complain about how hard it is to find good people these days, and that “Millennials just aren’t motivated.”
Indeed, it is a thin line – a razor thin line - between hospitality excellence and mediocrity that employees in our industry traverse every day.  In the end the same number of hours are worked, the same number of calories are burned, and the same wages are received.  Yet those who choose to walk the path of hospitality excellence are rewarded daily as well.  While their counterparts elsewhere go home each night complaining about how many rude and nasty guests there are out there these days, those who make the choice of hospitality excellence enjoy their work everyday, and mostly go home raving about how many nice, interesting, and appreciative guests they met that very same day in the very same area as the competitor down the road.

Doug Kennedy is President of the Kennedy Training Network, Inc. a leading provider of customized training programs and telephone mystery shopping services for the lodging and hospitality industry.  Doug continues to be a fixture on the industry’s conference circuit for hotel companies, brands and associations, as he been for over two decades.  Visit KTN at:   Read his travel blog at ontheroad.kennedytrainingnetwork
or email him directly: 

Doug Kennedy
Kennedy Training Network, Inc.
1926 Hollywood Boulevard, Suite 203
Hollywood, FL  33020
Office: 954.981.7689
Mobile: 954.558.4777


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Also See: Front Desk Upsell Training Can Increase RevPAR / Doug Kennedy / October 2011

Hotel Training Budget Reflects Belief Systems / Doug Kennedy / September 2011

Hotel Voice Reservations: The Forgotten Channel / Doug Kennedy / August 2011

It's Time For Today's Technology-Focused Hotel Salespeople To "Go Old School" / Doug Kennedy / July 2011

Don’t Let A Culture Of Profitable Mediocrity Infiltrate Your Hotel / Doug Kennedy / June 2011

Hospitality Examples Observed From TSA Airline Security Staff / Doug Kennedy / May 2011

The Hotel Front Desk Is a Distribution Channel / Doug Kennedy / April 2011

Train Your Sales Agents To Execute Your Hotel’s Rate Strategies / Doug Kennedy / March 2011

Savvy Hoteliers Still Make Voice Channels A Priority / Doug Kennedy / February 2011

True Hotel Sales Superstars Love “Clueless” Callers! / Doug Kennedy / January 2011

What If A Hotel Brand Could Ask The Same Question Southwest Airlines Asks In Their New Ad? / Doug Kennedy / December 2010

Hoteliers Should Utilize New Tools For Measuring Hospitality and Guest Service Efficiency / Doug Kennedy / November 2010

Training Your Team To Master “Channel Conversion” Techniques / Doug Kennedy / November 2010

Upselling Strategies For Your Front Desk and Reservation Teams / Doug Kennedy / September 2010

Training Is Key To Turning “Desk Clerks” Into Front Desk Salespersons / March 2007

It’s Time To Give Hotel Guests What They REALLY Need and Want Daily! Key Basics Some Hotels Still Fall Short On / Doug Kennedy / September 2006

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