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The missing three senses

While traveling overseas to speak at a hospitality conference, I was put up in a hotel not of my choosing and instead one that was convenient for the event. Performing my typical inspection as I casually walked the halls and entered my guestroom, nothing seemed out of place, yet something was still missing.

The hotel in question proudly touted its recent renovation, which I can confirm given the scent of fresh paint, glue, wood and new upholstery. The doorman performed in strict accordance with his title while the receptionist at the front desk was cheery but still matter-of-fact. Arriving at 10 p.m., the corridors were quiet while the room was neat and functional. Overall, everything looked fine, and if I was checking off an inspection sheet I would probably assign a perfect mark. Yet the hotel ended up feeling devoid of character. Why was this?

1. A sense of place. There was nothing in the property from the time I stepped out of my car to the time I checked around my room that told me I was in London, New York City or Tokyo. In the room, the only differentiators in this regard were the TV channels and the wall plugs. And from the standpoint of the neutral color scheme and absence of any visible printed materials, I could not even name the hotel brand without glancing at the room key or tent cards. Often we think about a sense of place as being a grand show of force in the lobby, but this term also encompasses far smaller touchpoints that nearly any hotel can deploy.

2. A sense of welcome. With very little human contact, there was no one to provide the reassurance that the property I selected was ‘correct’ for me. The total number of words that were spoken to me could barely fill two lines of this blog, including “Good evening,” “Thank you!” “Your stay is fully prepaid, so I do not need your credit card,” “Can I take a copy of your passport?” “I’ve marked your room number on your key along with the Internet password,” and “Good night, sir.” There was no small talk or attempt at small talk, nor were there any questions about my specific needs or late-night dining option suggestions. How about a simple, “How was your trip?”

3. A sense of hospitality. My stay lasted three nights, and throughout it the housekeeping was flawless. Breakfast was included, and by the third morning the waitstaff were a bit friendlier. At least I caught one of them smiling and saying good morning. The food was quite good, as was the coffee. Yet again, there was little human interaction. As the breakfast was buffet-style, the service was limited to the hostess and coffee service. Moreover, there were no roving greeters or managers, all of it making me think that the staff were specifically trained to be invisible. While this can have its merits, it also can make a property seem like a shell of a place.

I was told that the owners had just spent tens of millions of dollars on an interior renovation, and this was quite evident. But would I stay there again? Would I give them more than an average rating on TripAdvisor? Would I recommend it to a colleague?

Hardly. And this raises the question about whether the renovation was actually worth its cost or if its focus was maligned. Hotels are about specific places and people. This property got the place right but forgot that staff matters, too. Service is what elevates you and makes your renovation meaningful. Next time you renovate, don’t forget this or you risk wasting millions of dollars when perhaps instead you should double down on staff retraining.

(P.S. If you’re interested in the name of the property, drop me an email.)

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