A Sense of Arrival.
By Larry Mundy
Thursday, 28th December 2006
When it's time to renovate your hotel - you probably want to hire a professional designer.  Otherwise your renovated hotel will look as tasteless as your own bedroom, and there will be no one to share the blame for the cost overruns.  If you talk to a professional hotel designer for more than ten minutes (not recommended unless you like hearing the word "magenta"), you will eventually hear the phrase "sense of arrival." 

The idea is that a guest approaching and entering your facility should have a pleasant and welcoming experience, as if entering the Oscars to the pop of paparazzi flashbulbs or returning to Rome after conquering Gaul.  The sense of arrival begins the moment the guest wheels his Buick into your parking lot.  If he hits a crater and loses his muffler, he will not reach the front desk in a good mood.  The porte cochere area should probably have a plant urn or two, and should be cleaned up occasionally – especially the underside of the porte cochere roof, which is where spiders like to leave their most elaborate web-work, which then collects dirt and gunk and starts to look reasonably like toxic mold, or worse.  I think many hotel owners simply assume a guest never looks up there, but if you can't clean that area, at least have your employees stage a domestic dispute at the doorway to distract the guest.  Unless, of course, all the parked and idling cars have left a slippery sheen of 10-W-30 motor oil all over the drive, in which case you should greet the guest personally and offer a complimentary pair of golf shoes.

The arrival area should be well-lit, but don't overdo it.  High-pressure sodium klieg lights may be good for security, but if guests exiting their cars wander around momentarily blinded, and the parking valets are developing skin melanoma from the rays, you've probably gone a bit too far.   On the other hand, if guests are randomly bumping into each other and wild mushrooms are dotting the entryway, more illumination is in order.

If you have one of those auto-sensing door-openers, become familiar with its sensitivity control. The door should not open when the guest merely crests the hill two miles away, because your utility bills will suffer.  But neither should the guest have to stick his nose to the door glass, jump up and down and flail his arms merely to make the sensor respond.  Guests don't like to look or act silly until after they've visited the bar.

Ideally, the front desk should be visible from the entry door, because the guest is probably carrying two suitcases, an overstuffed briefcase, a half-empty Diet Coke and a crying infant.  And it should look like a front desk, with a longish top and cheerful front-desk personnel and a rack of brochures inviting the guest to visit the World's Largest Ball of Twine.  There is a disturbing trend in boutique hotels to make the "front desk" a small Queen Anne table where an "intake concierge" sits smiling at a thin LED screen, looking for all the world like a library worker.  I hate to disturb someone sitting serenely at a small Queen Anne table, and will go wandering about the lobby with my bags, looking for the front desk.  If you have one of those hotels where the actual front desk is two floors up, past the elevators and turn left at the pseudo-Starbuck's, at least have a sign that tells me that near every entry door, with arrows to suggest a path of travel or even those little stick-on footprints on the floor bearing the legend "this way." 

Front desk personnel should not be wearing T-shirts that say "West Coast Choppers" or "Ask Me About My Lhasa Apso."  They should make eye contact with each guest, no matter how bosomy, and should always, always speak first.  They can say "I am the new Queen of Norway" or "Watch for falling rocks!," it really doesn't matter, just so the guest perceives his presence is recognized by another carbon-based life form, and doesn't have to resort to attention-getting strategies like throat-clearing or self-immolation.  And under no circumstances should front desk people register shock or surprise at a guest's appearance.  After negotiating airport security, airline seats 12 inches wide, airport cattle transporters, rental cars and traffic jams, the average guest arrives looking like Alpo.  It's OK to be indulgent, as in "Can we get you a fresh tourniquet?" or "Would you like bell service to help you get that steamer trunk to your room?"  But you should never say "My word, what happened to your hair?" or "Please point that pimple somewhere else."

By the time you're taking a guest's credit card impression, you've got them.  Only then should you disclose that the elevator is out of service and they're in 702, or that your complimentary painters' masks may help them avoid that nasty Legionnaire's Disease that's making its rounds.  First impressions always last, and it's the trip from the rental car to the front desk that forms them.  Let the guest know he's arrived.

Larry Mundy works for a hotel company in Dallas.  His views are his own, and may differ considerably from those of a sane person." Contact: Larry Mundy LJM2804@yahoo.com
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