There are probably more hotels in Paris per capita than any location on earth (aside from perhaps London or New York City), ranging from small B&Bs to the world-renowned Four Seasons George V or The Bristol. In Paris, location is critical. Visitors choose staying on the right bank (traditional) or left bank (historically considered quite bohemian). Where I stayed on my most recent visit with my wife, The Esprit Saint Germain, could be considered a typical left-bank property, at least from a size standpoint, being only 28 rooms including five suites.
I met Francesca La Mastra, the hotel manager, in the dining room. Here is the story. The property originally was a townhouse. The owners purchased the adjacent property and undertook a complete renovation, down to the bare early-1800s original structure. Four years later, the property opened as a very different, 5-star product, exceptional in every way.
Those who stay here will be awed by two words: no extra charges. Want a glass of champagne? Certainly! Free Internet? Of course! Breakfast, local calls, snacks and in-room minibar are all available at your convenience, as much as you want. Given the way surcharges work these days, this felt so … odd, as if itemization was a given. When I departed, the invoice had only one line, as even taxes are included.
This approach seemed to have an incredibly positive effect on the guests. Each morning and in the pre-dinner hours, we would meet with complete strangers as if they were friends. Peculiar as this may seem, the cozy environment coupled with free refreshments for all conjured a profound aura of camaraderie amongst the guests. Spontaneously, we ended up discussing our day, sharing travel, culture and restaurant tips. It definitely enhanced the experience, making it more memorable and unique.
Although this “strategy de gratis” isn’t anything new, it’s surprising more hoteliers don’t grasp its effectiveness towards elevating the mood. Consider the opposite situation at Esprit Saint Germain: pre-dinner drinks are not free. Would I have stayed in the ground-floor living room for one drink to close out the day? Maybe, but probably not, as I generally only consume alcohol during meals. Would I have stayed for two drinks or more, enough time for genuine conversations with other guests to start flowing? Definitely not. It would have been a completely different hotel experience, and not necessarily for the better.
Ms. La Mastra told me her strategy is to make Paris more approachable for visitors. To this end, she explained the property is intentionally not offered through OTAs. In her words, it was either give the guests the services they need or pay the high OTA commission structure, as that is where the margins go. The choice in her mind was obvious. Ms. La Mastra told me, “The Esprit Saint Germain aligns itself with traditional travel agents because they know their client base much better than electronic channels. They can send the hotel guests who will truly appreciate the concept of our hotel.”
All told, I see this all-inclusive formula as a clear opportunity to break through the mold, and I’d highly recommend investigating it for use at your hotel. If this isn’t enough to convince you then maybe The Esprit Saint Germain’s winning of the “Best Luxury Boutique Hotel Worldwide” award from Luxury Travel Advisor for 2013 will cajole you into action.