By Larry and Adam Mogelonsky

With the pandemic over, everyone has been clamoring to get out and explore the world once more. In fact, we’d argue, in a take-a-candy-from-a-baby-then-it-cries sort of way, people are even more enthused about travel than they were in 2019, and we foresee this mindset persisting well into the decade ahead.

While Adam (one of the writers here) anticipated the nightmare that this pent-up demand would cause at airports and opted to stay home during the current travel recovery summer, Larry (other coauthor) chose to brave the skies with his wife – cancellations, flight delays, lost bags and all. Good thing he (Larry) decided to splurge for his selection of accommodations, visiting three five-star hotspots: Baur au Lac in Zurich, The Savoy in London and (surprise) the Regent Seven Seas Voyager. You may be asking yourself why we included a cruise ship; per the title there are lessons to be had, so keep reading!

In essence, a five-star accommodation should deliver exemplary service in all aspects of the guest experience, from front desk and concierge services, to housekeeping, restaurants and bars. These properties should provide you with not just caring attentiveness, but also anticipate your needs and ensure that your wellbeing comes first. Service should not be overbearing and not obtrusive but instinctual. The epitome of service is personalization, where the property learns from your past and current stays then adjusts its delivery accordingly.

All three of these accommodations met those five-star criteria, each different in their own unique way. While room rates were such that they are able to budget for the necessary staffing to deliver on those SOPs and service expectations, there are lessons that apply to every hotel regardless of price point.

A Warm Welcome Upon Arrival: Each hotel (and cruise ship) was exceptional, memorable and warm in this regard. For all three, there was also minimal waiting. In Baur au Lac, the receptionist came out from behind the front desk to greet us, breaking down that physical barrier – such a simple act with profound psychological implications of camaraderie underpinning it. At The Savoy, we were seated at a comfortable desk and served a tea (it was teatime, after all) while going through the check-in details. Then for the Regent Seven Seas Voyager, we were pre-checked-in for the cruise on day land, so when coming aboard we each received a chilled glass of champagne to accompany a ‘Welcome Aboard’ toast. While complimentary champagne is a luxury arrival amenity, this can be more readily substituted for a refreshment station of lemon water or a more bespoke juice blend to help soothe the weary mind after so many air travel headaches.

A Warm Welcome in the Guestroom: Setting aside the butler service and the usual discussion of room and property amenities, all three accommodations had a welcome presentation on the coffee table. This included some beverages, snacks and a handwritten note. While no one expects champagne at a limited-service property, a couple bottles of water and a note from a manager shows that you sincerely appreciate the guest.

Addressing Guests by Name: Great hotels get this, as did the cruise staff. Being addressed by service staff in this way represents both the first step and the last step in personalization. Any property can do this, though it is not simple for those that have limited staff or disconnected shift-based teams. As a further step, senior staff and managers at these three greeted guests in the lobby. Again, this service can be applied universally for any hospitality brand. Just spend an hour or so in the lobby saying hello to your visitors. Mingling with guests in this manner also provides your managers with an opportunity to learn more about the hotel from firsthand feedback that may or may not crop up on TripAdvisor or in guest satisfaction surveys. You will be amazed at what insights you will gain.

Showing You Care via Great Housekeeping: The basics of housekeeping dictate that any guest suite is kept clean and tidy. This alone has a profound calming effect on the customer, all the way down to the hormonal level via less cortisol (stress hormone) and more oxytocin (loving hormone) released. These five-star accommodations built upon this to include high quality amenities, lush towels, fresh flowers and turndown amenities with goodnight treats. The takeaway is that every property should ensure that their housekeepers deliver the basics, even if housekeeping opt-out is determined to be part of the brand’s direction going forward. Moreover, there is always something that you can add to this amenity and it does not have to be expensive. For example, two Lindt chocolate balls and a card that says ‘Sweet Dreams’ wouldn’t cost much and yet would add so much more from emotional perspective. Perhaps it’s time that we start calling this the ‘Housekeeping Experience’ to give it it’s just dues.

While no one expects Dom Pérignon and truffles in an economy or midscale hotel, the ability to add cost-effective extras will go a long way towards making your property a success. From the above observations, you can see that much of what distinguishes a five-star property are the little touches, executed to perfection. And that’s something any hotel brand can implement in one way or another. Remember that your guests are making service comparisons in their minds to all accommodations, including cruise lines and now home sharing units. The overall lesson is that you need to pick up your service levels to stay in the game, finding creative ways to add just a morsel of added value with only a marginal increase to labor requirements.