by Georges Panayotis
As John Donne reminds us in his famous poem: “No man is an island”. Every normal human being needs and is nourished by their relationships with their contemporaries, whether they are intimate, emotional, professional or casual. In this season, as everything revolves around vacations and travel, between one tragic event and the next, it is wise to remember a few essential truths that may go forgotten by hoteliers caught up in the confusion.
The hotelier’s job is first and foremost to offer welcome, with the ultimate goal of providing their guest with prolonged satisfaction after their stay by making it a memorable experience. You might say, “that’s elementary”! That goes without saying, but when the discussion heats up around relations with OTAs, and regarding price parity and intellectual property on search engines, one may wonder if they have their priorities straight.
Of course technology has become a part of every aspect in hotel life. Of course online distribution has significantly changed behaviour and commercial relations. Of course the scoring of properties on community websites has become an obsession for the connected hotelier. But is that a reason to forget about the most essential aspect of the business: offering hospitality in every sense of the word?
Experience shows that those who love their work, and have been able to maintain and build a privileged relationship with their regular clients don’t fare too poorly, despite commercialisation that is growing more complex and competition from “collaborative” accommodations. One could almost forget that all that is digital and all the applications surrounding it are only tools and not an end in itself. As sophisticated as they might be, they can only contribute to improving pre-existing performance. They cannot magically change a reality that is leagues away from the client’s expectations.
It took the tidal wave of private car services to teach taxi drivers manners, clean their cars and turn down the volume on their radio. Although the initial model has been bandied about a lot, AirBnB’s arrival, based on shared conviviality, openness to the neighbourhood, a personalised welcome, reminded hoteliers that nothing is hard and fast where hospitality is concerned. This threat was more effective at changing attitudes than any campaign to encourage manners, led by public tourism authorities.
Hospitality is as much a vocation as a profession. It must be shared and maintained with personnel who are at the front. Bad working conditions -which reap frustration and a lack of stability- need correcting just as much as relations with online travel agencies. In the end, poor service will always be considered too expensive, while memories from a warm and welcoming human experience is priceless.
Today, the hotel industry seems to favour its real estate and financial dimension. Added value is not just about the price per square meter, which can be sold off to an investment fund… in the long term it is also about training personnel, investment in human resources, in delegating responsibilities to hotel managers who just want to remain subordinates. If hospitality must come naturally, it is born out of a will to make it the top priority as the key value of the hotel business.