By Pier-Luca Rapin
It is another level of personalization, it is not only to be sure to have the right water and the right pillow in the room, this is understanding why people are actually going in that journey, helping them realize that dream and being able to live that little moment the best as they can – Martijn Brouwer, General Manager Astronaut Relations, Virgin Galactic
During the 2019 Young Hoteliers Summit, EHL Lausanne took a one-way ticket for space with the visit of Martijn Brouwer, General Manager Astronaut Relations and hospitality at Virgin Galactic. Virgin, as a group, has always been defined by a strong service philosophy. Nevertheless, Virgin Galactic is taking this philosophy a step further.
The offer of space travels has to come with a perfect customer journey and must be an experience as a whole. The person in charge of the customer experience is Martijn Brouwer, a 20-year veteran of the Virgin Group. During his career, he had the opportunity to work with Richard Branson’s family on their Caribbean island, allowing him to discover the Virgin Hospitality spirit first-hand. Admittedly, he said: “I don’t have the deep love for space our pilots have, but definitely an interest into bringing hospitality into this field.”
So what are the possibilities for hoteliers? How can a heavily scientific operation endeavor turn into a world-class experience with high standard relations? How can they deliver a unique hospitality experience to their guests? Fasten your seatbelts, and be ready to reach Mach 3 through the Virgin Galactic experience.
Becoming an astronaut
In the near future, we’ll have a base on the moon, or there will be some form of hospitality in space.
The experience at Virgin Galactic’s base in New Mexico will start six months before takeoff. Customers will begin their transformation process which involves physical and psychological preparation, building the tailor-made hardware, suit, communication gear and all the equipment necessary for a round-trip to space. Customers go from being on a waiting list to being labelled future astronauts, but it is only the beginning.
Four days before the actual flight, future astronauts will arrive in New-Mexico, experience a three-day preparation program and on the 4th day, they officially become astronauts by breaking Mach 3, breaching the atmosphere and reaching space at an altitude of 100km. The whole Virgin team uses this long preparation process to determine the motivations behind each customer’s aspiration to fly is with Virgin Galactic and what they want to get out of this flight. This is Virgin Galactic’s gravity point, which informs and enhances the entire experience.
Shifting from a technical environment to a world-class experience
Shifting from scientific operations to a world-class experience is a stringent process that has been taking place over many years at Virgin Galactic and it is no easy feat. It involves a complete culture shift of companies to provide the best possible journey for their customers.
Virgin Galactic aspires to make their team understand the key fragments of customer relations and what guests are going through when they choose to experience a space flight. But customer-centricity is not a given, some scientific teams will either not relate or not see an incentive to evolve a hospitality mindset.
The highest stakes lie with the employees who are involved in guest relations and are in direct contact with them, no matter the stage of the journey or the nature of the interaction. They are a group of people who makes a dream come true by delivering a high-standard service. They need to tailor the experience as a whole. This is only possible if they have a better understanding of how to produce the right service for the right client, they focus on why future astronauts want to go to space and what guests want to take back from this experience. At each touch point, it is a highly personal, individualized and empathetic process.
From guest attendants to guests’ confidants
Virgin Galactic need to bring the level of personalization a step further,
It is not only to be sure to have the right water and the right pillow in the room said Brouwer, they help their guests to realize the dream and strive to make them live this relatively short voyage to the fullest.
This is only made possible through a deep understanding of the client, by each employee. Breaking the barriers down is the way to do so. People are much more open to learn and listen to an employee if he is more than just a worker on-site. They need to mentor customers through their experience. Guests need to be coached to enjoy such an unknown and stressful experience, and employees need to be aware of this reality. People working in space hospitality will have much more responsibilities than traditional hospitality workers, they enter the intimacy of the future astronauts and provide an unparalleled service.
All the experience you live during your flight are things people haven’t been through before, so they need to be coached to enjoy these moments.
Unshared happiness has no taste
Virgin Galactic understands that involving customers’ friends and family constitutes an important part in the experience. Richard Branson’s company ensures that the future astronauts’ loved ones are closely involved in a way enhances the experience and provides support throughout the duration of the trip.
They are so closely involved that the future astronaut feels their support all the way, and don’t have to go back in the evening and relate the story of the day, they are there, and they can support each other.
This includes looking after them during moments where they can’t be with the future astronaut, by taking them out, connecting them to the other families, involving kids in the experience and making it is an enriching experience for all. Bringing this dimension into the process allows the customer to focus on his experience and allows him to feel the support of people close to him.
The space hospitality industry is a very niche and yet-to-be-defined field, but there are existing opportunities for hoteliers. Professionals: keep your eyes open! The space tourism industry faces the same kind of difficulties hotels do. For example, talent acquisition, demographic conditions, regulations, profitability and turnover. Moreover, space companies need to find the right product for the right client, at the right moment as well as the right people to work with. This emerging industry will be a sandbox for new hospitality concepts and set new standards for the industry as a whole. These changes bring new solutions to hospitality problems and are a source of inspiration. Providing a fully tailor-made experience is an example for our hotels and must be taken into consideration. It represents a development of the industry that hoteliers can bet on. Takeoff is imminent: hoteliers, don’t forget to book your tickets.