More than anything this renovation is symbolic as a time of change for the industry as a whole. Big-box hotels are now in competition with up-and-coming lifestyle brands, which are once again placing the emphasis back on “service.” We are not necessarily competing for the same markets, but we are competing for the idea of a service-oriented culture, which has seemed to fall behind other concerns for big-box hotels.
This was never the intent, but it has happened, and now with new brands raising the bar it’s time for the big boxes to step it up. It’s not feasible to try and run a 1,000-plus-room hotel like a 200-room hotel, but it’s all about the perception of the guest. Do they feel like a person or a number? A walking dollar sign or a brand supporter?
One of the best things our renovation did was break down the traditional barriers hotels tend to set up. There should be a feeling of camaraderie between the guests and the staff rather than a separation.
Our front desk is a perfect example of this. We’ve adopted “pods” instead of the traditional “great wall,” as I like to call it. It creates a much more welcoming atmosphere for both the staff and guests. We have trained our staff to meet the guests in front of the desk rather than wait for them to approach it — sort of like meeting them at the door of your home and walking them inside. When the check-in process is complete, we encourage walking the guest to the elevator or simply coming around the pod and seeing them off.
Our restaurant, NY Central, offers an open sunken kitchen. No longer is the kitchen a mystery behind a pair of swinging doors. A guest can watch their entire meal be prepped, prepared and plated — another barrier broken.
I think 2012 is going to have a theme of “breaking barriers.” Traditional ways of doing business are tired. It’s all about emphasizing service, but more importantly, creating atmospheres that nurture this emphasis. Our hotels are not factories, our guests are not products and we are not robots, so let’s not act as such.