Talking to strangers

The hospitality business is a job where you always need to be “on” — outgoing, engaging, upbeat. So I talk to a lot of strangers, because you never know the great personalities you can find by talking to hotel guests or the person sitting next to you.

Case in point — on one flight I took back to Phoenix, I started a conversation with the man next to me about movies. The man told me he was Native American, a member of the Cree tribe, and he made documentaries. He was engaging, smart and funny, and we talked nonstop the rest of the way. I mentioned to him that the property I oversaw, Enchantment Resort, was looking to introduce authentic and engaging educational activities that incorporated Native American culture and I was looking for someone to lead the program. I asked him to please keep in touch if there was someone he recommended. A week later I got a call from him saying he would be interested in taking on the position himself, and a month later he not only became the program’s ambassador but took it to the next level. Over the course of three years he brought us Native American dancers, created an annual event around the summer solstice and filmed a documentary about the history of our canyon location. We’re still good friends today. I can’t imagine what would have happened if I never bothered to say “hello.”

Communication is crucial in our industry, and I share stories like this one with my staff frequently. It’s not always easy to establish spontaneous rapport with a new guest, but practicing on the person sitting next to you on the plane helps. As an independent, we don’t script employees, but we do train them to make eye contact, smile and greet guests. Beyond that, it comes down to an awareness and ability to intuit what the guest wants and needs, and that takes time to learn but can have enormous consequences for customer service and, ultimately, overall hotel operations.