User Engagement or Guest Engagement?
By Jochen Ehrhardt
Thursday, 20th February 2020

As an aficionado, visiting hotels is the greatest pleasure but as a perfectionist, however, inspecting hotels with great names that look tired is not so much fun.

As we know, "tired" can be fixed at the cost of everyone's time and the owner's money. The real issue in hospitality is the human factor and getting it right is paramount, especially for luxury offerings: In a perfect world, this ought to be management's top priority. Is it really? Let's do the reality check.

Hotels that cater to a very demanding clientele receive support from a host of different external advisors: To monitor guest reviews and all kinds of mentions in social and other media; quality inspectors that specialize in subjects like F&B offerings, etc. in order to alert hotels to their fading property and furniture, or how they could improve their guests’ entire stay, making it even-more memorable.

But why can’t hotels do their own quality control, why do they need to spend money on external advisors, one might wonder? Well, when you do something on a daily basis, a thing called routine tends to set in gradually and sometimes even takes over. When this occurs, you might need a seasoned and totally unbiased expert to find out what the issues are and subsequently tell you what to do in order to rise above this routine dilemma.

I have been confronted with a lot of routine lately at some of Europe’s finest establishments run by some of the most prestigious brands.

Let’s talk about breakfast, by way of example, which almost all hotel guests experience. To make a long story short, I had this really, absolutely wonderful, perfect breakfast experience at London’s most British hotel, The Goring. I wish I could have spent the entire day there. So, what made it so special, apart from the delicious food? The short answer is: The vibe, the staff, the venue.

The employees displayed the ideal balance between being attentive and pro-active without being intrusive. On the emotional side of the equation, they struck the right balance between being friendly, warm and engaging and not crossing any lines. Sounds simple and easy, doesn’t it?

So why was a completely unaffiliated independent hotel, not part of any prestigious luxury chain or well-known affiliation, able to deliver big-time on breakfast? Or should I ask, why weren’t the others similarly able?

Is breakfast somehow complicated? To be sure, a lot of bits and pieces have to come together; as with any service-related task, people need to work together hand in hand, efficiently and seamlessly, ideally applying the basics of human interaction. Most importantly, the human factor decides what you do to the customer, and how you do it, both being equally vital.

If most of these famous hotel brands really are assessed on a bi-annual basis by experts, how come too many of these hotels do not deliver on some of the basics? Although, to be fair, the hotels that do not work with third-party experts fared no better.

Perhaps the entire approach to quality assessment is an anachronism.

My take on quality and substance, which is the core of any luxury offering, is coroborated by many conversations I have had with hoteliers, who despite claiming the opposite, are forced by the present mindset to focus on quantitative rather than qualitative hotel assessments despite the notion that a purely qualitative approach would give hoteliers a better perspective on what they are doing well and not so well.

As Lyn Middlehurst, owner and editor of the esteemed The Gallivanter’s Guide, puts it, “Most find it easier to respond to ticked boxes and numerical scores.” One could conclude that the interest of the employers are considered above those of the guest.

While shallowness and complacency has become a widespread and worldwide phenomenon in general, across most industries and all layers of society, it doesn’t really help the hospitaliy industry, being one of the most human-intensive industries.

What I personally find disturbing is the notion that these days, one of a hoteliers’ main tasks appears to be posting about their being awarded any of a myriad of questionable awards in terms of quality/substance, for which they had previously solicited votes from their guests via social media.

For example, the Rosewood London topped the list of hotels in London in 2019, according to a well-known international publishing house, much to the disbelief of people who are familiar with the London market. While we know that Rosewood operates the most stunning hotel in Paris, Le Crillon, their hotel in London needs a (room) renovation after just six years in operation. How valuable, then, is this awarding of Number 1 hotel in London?

The bottom line is, the focus of the hospitality industry appears to have shifted away from delivering the expected quality and substance to the customer in favor of generating cheap and easy PR. Self-adulation can never be the answer.

Hoteliers work hard for likes and user engagement, but how long can these be sustained without guest engagement being the real focus and driving force?

Jochen Ehrhardt (jochen@dna-qa.com) is a Managing Partner and EVP Audits for DNA-QA, an independent Quality Assurance provider that focuses on 5-star plus offerings, and the founder of TRUE 5 STARS, an online platform that focuses on just the 1,000 top hotels in the world, most of which he has personally inspected.


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