Traveling is a perfect time for self-reflection, and staying at a hotel is likewise great for contemplating aspects of our industry. As I sit in the living room of my suite at a luxurious property enjoying a few minutes of down time, I start to dwell on the question, “What is hospitality?”
The dictionary defines hospitality as: “The friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests.” Well said! Examine your operations and ask yourself if you are indeed both friendly and generous in how you welcome and host your guests. No one is expecting you to open your arms and offer everything for free. But on the other hand, as hoteliers, is it not our credo to be true to this essence of hospitality?
An example here may provide some elucidation. Just a few weeks ago, I found myself staying at a branded airport property for a few nights. The front desk was certainly friendly enough — albeit slow — and the lobby was quite attractive. And I fully understood the “armed guard” approach to the parking lot given that it was an abode strictly reserved for guests.
One could say the same about the basics of the room — bed, television and HVAC all functioned perfectly. However, there was no newspaper delivery, no bathrobes, no coffee maker, one mini “decorator” bar of soap, a reduced number of towels and small-volume amenities (to the point that two people would be on rations!). Furthermore, the Wi-Fi was $15 per day. Even the compulsory notepad beside the bed was reduced to a few sheets of paper. Here was cost cutting at its finest.
So, is this the modern essence of hospitality? I am afraid to think about what limited service means, as this was a full-service brand.
In a world before the Internet, a hotel’s success was based upon its reputation — derived from service, amenities and product. Hotel brands meant something. I used to look upon the industry giants like Hilton, Marriott and Sheraton with the utmost admiration. I knew the name on the house delivered a promise, each in its own particular brand elements.
Now, even though my respect for the big-chain names has not faltered, I am not so sure. Can you clearly differentiate these brands insofar as product and service offerings? And if you can’t as a hotelier, how do we expect the consumer to figure this out?
With all due respect to the accounting profession, hotels are more than just numbers. Hotels should offer hospitality — something that is quite unquantifiable. Hospitality means catering to guests’ needs. Catering to guests’ needs means welcoming. Welcoming means being friendly and generous. But the drive for revenue maximization has now moved away from this, I’m afraid. After all, how do you measure friendliness and generosity?
Another definition to throw at you: A commodity is “a material that can be bought and sold on an undifferentiated basis.” In Chicago, they have the CBOT, or the Chicago Board of Trade. It opened in 1848 to trade futures and options contracts on commodities. In trading these items, no one is particularly concerned about where the oil or iron originates. They are strictly focused on price and delivery date.
Can you draw a parallel with today’s room delivery mechanisms and channels? Isn’t a listing on Expedia (an excellent OTA, for what it’s worth) no different than on the CBOT? I want a room in this city on this date. Voila! Expedia provides me with a way of finding the best price, regardless of brand name. There it is, the option board of hospitality pricing!
This brings me full circle to the suite I am presently sitting in. The setting is perfect and the room service flawless, as is everything about the property. True, you pay for this, but it is the quintessential essence of hospitality. Commodity is nowhere to be found in the vocabulary.
I know the brand, and I would pay a significant increment more for this level of service and comfort in any city it is offered. Sadly, I cannot say the same for 99% of the other hotels out there. They are limiting themselves in more ways than one, and it troubles me greatly.
How can we bring the concept of bona fide hospitality back into the hotel world? For the mainstream market, we’re at the abyss of full hotel commoditization. If the limits are continually put up on service levels, then guests will look elsewhere for the experiences they want and the ones they deserve.