Inns have been the venue of hospitality for generations, for thousands of years even. It seems to me, though, that in the past several decades, hospitality has increasingly gotten lost in the business of innkeeping. Has your hotel lost its hospitality edge? And if so, how can you get it back? Can hospitality become an element of your marketing plan?
In my experience and considered opinion, hospitality is the key to running a successful lodging property. And by hospitality I am referring to the art of making your guests feel welcome, happy, and cared for. Employees benefit from this same hospitality attitude. Your marketing efforts are more real when you approach it from your hospitality style.
Hospitality isn’t a suit you put on when you go to work. Hospitality is the atmosphere — the habitat of your hotel — that imbues everything you do.
How Do You Tend To Your Guests?
In running your business, you can do lots of things wrong (or less than perfect) like not keeping it sparkling clean or perfectly maintained, and if your guests are happy with you they will (mostly) overlook those items. The opposite is also true: even if you have the most perfectly cleaned and maintained inn around, your guests won’t give an inch on any tiny error or disappointment if they don’t feel welcome or taken care of. That’s a shame when it’s so easy to effectively roll out the welcome mat.
Note: I’m not advocating you slack on cleaning and maintenance, only pointing out you can slip occasionally and be forgiven, if you provide fabulous hospitality and customer service.
My first B&B employer gave me the absolute best hospitality training. She had the right attitude about her guests’ importance — they were her reason for having her B&B. She understood guests were the reason she stayed in business, and she made sure they knew she appreciated them. Add a southern upbringing to her background and you had the most pampered, cared for guests to be found in town, if not in the entire state.
I still remember the morning one of my regular guests pulled me aside to share a business philosophy. He pointed out that we could make a lot more money if we had fewer employees. That statement came the day after he told me how much he loved coming to stay with us because he felt so pampered and catered — he knew he mattered to us. He understood the value of the hospitality without understanding the costs associated with providing that hospitality he cherished.
What was our secret? First, having the attitude of service and hospitality. Second, having the equivalent of one full-time employee for every two guestrooms. By being that fully staffed we were able to get the work done that needed to be done every day: cleaning, baking, reservations, preparing and serving breakfast, etc. And we had enough staff to handle the hospitality pluses — known as concierge service in some hotels — of serving a tea tray as a guest requested one, recommending restaurants, or making reservations for dinner or a performance. We were in business to take care of our guests, so we did.
After watching Chip Conley, the former CEO of the Joie de Vivre hotel chain, talk about the happiness equation — my memory of the above conversation came back to me. I recognized Chip’s message as a key to providing hospitality, something I’d not heard back in my B&B innkeeping days.
So you don’t have to go find that, I’m inserting it right here for you: “Measuring What Makes Life Worthwhile”
Here’s what I gleaned from Chip’s TED talk. Most business people count tangible items, like the bottom-line money figures, what the utility, staff, and marketing costs are, and the number of supplies in stock. By any metric, what we count truly counts. With that in mind, my question is “Are business people counting the right things?” Are hoteliers counting the right things, and remembering their primary purposes of being in business?
Let me tell you a story of an innkeeper who forgot what his primary business was. He ran his inn by the books, not by the guests. To save money, he wouldn’t turn lights on at night, keeping only night lights on to great guests upon their return from dinner. When the front door combination lock broke, he told guests to just walk around to the back door and let themselves in — of course there weren’t any outdoor lights to help navigate the side yard and back door. I heard many guests say they’d never return because they didn’t feel welcome or wanted. His inn didn’t flourish, as others’ in town did. Not surprisingly, his inn failed while others in town flourished.
Let’s look at your joy in taking care of your guests. Do you count the ways you give joy and make your guests feel welcome? Do you thrive on providing hospitality to your guests? Your joy comes from more than greeting guests at check-in, providing great food, making beds, and cleaning rooms and toilets — though those are vitally important elements of hospitality. More than that, your joy comes from the emotional connection you make with all the people at the inn, not just guests — the employees, vendors, and suppliers, too. Serving with joy is what helps make that hospitality connection. Hospitality is the habitat that welcomes your guests and creates a great guest experience.
When you instill in your staff that their job is more than the work of running your hotel, that it’s the joy of serving, you instill in them the spirit of hospitality. Your job is to make your guests happy, and to help your staff find that same spirit. That creates a hospitality attitude in you and your staff. That is what generates and supports a hospitality habitat.
It Starts With You
My challenge to you is to find the metrics you can use to evaluate your connection to your guests and employees. Find those attitudes, supported by action, that generate warmth, loyalty, and a solid connection. That’s what your relationships rely on. Your relationships are be made and maintained through technology too, the technology that is so integral to the guest:hotel connection. Those attitudes create the habitat for hospitality, the one that you’ll succeed with.
When Chip undertook the challenge I presented above, it was during the recession of the late 1990s and the aftermath of 9/11. He asked himself about the emotional connections he had with the people involved in his business. By addressing those connections he addressed people’s needs, and his business tripled. Let me make that even more explicit: he significantly expanded his business during an economic downturn, the bad one following the “.com” bust and 9/11, a time when many inns failed.
Great hospitality is also the best marketing tool you have as an innkeeper. When your guests are happy they return, and they tell lots and lots of people about their great experience — which is easy to do in this age of review sites and social media. Your success is based on making a hospitality habitat part of your mindset. Then it’s woven into your daily operations, your daily marketing activity, and your reputation management efforts.
What steps are you taking to create the habitat for hospitality?