Loving hotels, hating airlines

In the opening days of April, a terse article was published in The Week entitled, “Why we hate airlines: By the numbers.” No matter what revelatory metrics they toss at you, I am still not surprised by any of the scorn shot across the bow at airlines and airports alike.

Airplanes are tight, cramped spaces with limited room to stretch one’s limbs, the constant droning hum of the ventilation system and no way to escape the coughs of strangers or crying babies. At 6-foot-3, traveling economy as I so often do can be especially noisome — the seat in front of me reclined and jamming into my knees with insufficient tray space to even contemplate opening my laptop.

Airports are a tad better. You can walk around the oftentimes clinical gray footpaths, check out a few shops (Duty-free, anyone?) or relax at a restaurant. But all that goes pear-shaped when there are delays, cancellations, hour-long security lineups and last-minute dashes to the boarding gate.

But, this is all pertains to the trials of air travel. We’re in the hotel business, so why care?

These metrics aren’t important; they’re cardinal knowledge. Think of all the guests who will arrive at your property via transportation from the airport. Given the elevated number of people who apparently find air travel displeasing, it’s safe to assume a corresponding ratio will arrive at your house in an affected mood. They’ve just sat through a horrendous flight, and in this ornery headspace one miniscule disagreement at check-in will set them off.

Whereas others might see this as an omen, I see it as one of the best opportunities to form positive bonds with your guests. Because the flight experience was such a disaster, if you do your best to be the opposite, your guests will love you all the more for it. Be warm and empathetic, and definitely train your front-desk staff to recognize the all-too-common scenario of the wearied, irascible airport arrival.

It’s all about contrast. Consider the frog in a bathtub example. Start on cold then blast hot water and the amphibian jumps away. But start on cold and gradually add a pinch of warmth and the frog stays put.

For this particular application, you should lean towards the former. When a guest arrives after an exhausting flight (cold), your well-gauged cheerfulness and genuine attentiveness (hot) will blast them into viewing you in a highly positive light. By virtue of contrasts, when a guest arrives after a breezy, uneventful flight (warm) and you bestow them with the same gratitude (hot), it just won’t have the same impact — emotionally speaking, that is.

Not that you shouldn’t be treating all your incoming guests with the utmost of care, but if someone drops a hint they’ve just survived a nerve-racking ride in the sky, it’s your chance to seize the day. Show them what real hospitality is all about with a generous dose of compassion, then win their loyalty and the oh-so-valuable word-of-mouth as a prize.