By: Andrew Carey
A successful hotel needs to be more than a box with bedrooms. It needs to inspire. It needs to educate. It needs to have a soul.
To be clear, I am not just talking about a brand or fancy name and all accompanying brand standards or loyalty program benefits. Those are nice from an immediate external marketing sense, but I am referring to the creation of a lasting impression based on becoming a place of wonder and fulfillment.
While this is a concept that most luxury brands have already fully embraced – and indeed many have positions dedicated specifically to this mission – I believe that making a property aspirational is attainable for any hotel, be it four-star, select service or economy. As a senior executive at Newport Hospitality Group – a management company specializing in branded properties – for over two decades, this is something that I can speak about with absolute certainty.
As hoteliers, we all have a responsibility to our guests and employees to paint a clear vision that’s worth following and to lead in its delivery. Today’s customers expect this from each and every stay regardless of ADR or star rating. For that reason alone, we must strive to be better.
As business leaders, this means that the vision we establish and then manage with our daily decisions must be easily understandable and approachable for the target audience – your guests as well as your employees. All must immediately comprehend and visualize the stated vision, and know where they fit into the program. Being profitable is not a vision; being a welcoming home and a community leader is.
A good vision should provide a strong sense of inclusion and belonging. This is feasible for every hotel no matter its size or its amenities. It drives to the core of hospitality, yet somewhere in the barrage of metrics and calculations we’ve lost sight of this overarching purpose. If you are looking for a good place to start redefining your property, look no further than putting the ‘human’ back in hospitality.
To go from good to great, a hotel needs a personality that both employees and guests can empathize with on an individual level. Without this as a foundation, associates will treat their employment as a job rather than a place of engagement, and guests will derive no personal connection worthy of a long-term relationship. In contrast, the best hotels in our portfolio have been so successful at creating a sense of community that our associate turnover has become negligible while repeat guest stays represent a meaningful portion of our bookings. More importantly, guests and associates develop a deep rapport, both amongst themselves and with the property itself, furthering this overall sense of hospitality.
As a manager and leader, the most immediate and controllable situation is your relationship with your staff. If you master this, the guest piece will fall into place. Create an environment where your associates are energized, and you will be rewarded with a business that attracts and retains guests with ease. From our experience, there are three critical behaviors that work to foster and support this degree of excitement – providing relevant and interesting training, building your team through internal promotions and publicly rewarding hard work.
Associates want to belong; associates want to excel. As hotel leaders, we need to provide an environment that allows our employees to fulfill their dreams and achieve their career ambitions by providing real opportunities for the improvement of essential skills. This ongoing training should range from enhancing guest interaction to workplace safety. Moreover, this training needs to be hands-on and reinforced through regular updates. We cannot expect employees to internalize training and how it relates to the overall vision if both are not thoroughly endorsed by leadership via explicit actions, engagement and feedback.
In addition to training, hotel teams are strengthened by hiring from within the organization. There is a natural progression of skill and role development that must be honored as companies grow, with loyal and motivated employees coming to wholeheartedly embody your vision. If we fall short on either training or promotion, we break the fundamental promise of personal growth to our employees then the work will suffer. Further, we are shortchanging our hotels if we are not investing in our staff, which is the ‘human’ aspect of any operation. We cultivate associates to fulfill our organizational promises and to deliver extraordinary guest experiences. Why wouldn’t we protect these team members and provide them every opportunity available for professional development?
Finally, we need to reward our associates – financially as well as emotionally. And it’s this latter quality that is often forgotten. Hospitality jobs are physically and mentally challenging. Start by making certain that you are paying employees a full wage. Equally critical, though, is providing public recognition of excellent job performance. Through stand-up meetings, newsletters and impromptu conversations, we need to show team members that they are making a difference, and we appreciate their contributions.
Beyond the personal manifestations of their job, employees need to be proud of their workplace – that the property’s vision is align with that of the community at large. Hotels are well-known as points of refuge, but we can do better. We can take the lessons of hospitality out into our communities so that all can benefit, whether they are paying for guestroom or not. By sharing our efforts with those beyond our walls, we provide a vital link between our hotels and their surrounding neighborhoods, and this builds a point of pride for our staff.
Thinking of the industry on a more philosophical level, is a hotel a business or a living organism with a soul? It is a leader’s choice to decide how the former can be transformed into the latter. From my experience at Newport Hospitality Group, those who paint emotional visions and create workplaces of inclusion are rewarded with more successful and far more resilient hotels. Build your business to flourish as a component of its constituency rather than languish on the fringes.
If there’s any single takeaway from this manifesto, it’s this golden rule. Associates will fight for businesses that fight for them, and communities will support those businesses that support them.
(Published in Hotel Interactive on April 6, 2017)