En Garde! In the midst of boom, beware the bust.
By John Hendrie ~ Hospitality Performance
Thursday, 15th February 2007
"Darling - peel me another grape please"  These are heady times for Hospitality operators - We exult in the investments, the expansion, renovation, growth and profitability.  Great times, and we should be very pleased and thankful.

However, are we being short-sighted about the State of Hospitality?  Many Operators are tired, beaten up, spent.  Their energies are internally directed – staffing, budgets, complaints, legislation, etc. – whereas, the external focus on the Visitor and Guest Experience has become almost secondary.

Our true calling is now controlled by the numbers not by the virtues of a Host. Beans are good and should be counted and then ground, because many have forgotten the aroma of good Hospitality. Technology has been a boon to facilitate our rudimentary systems but has also removed us further from Guest contact.  When was the last time you escorted a Guest to their room or even to their table?  A distinct shroud of complacency shadows Management. But, we are so comfortable right now,   many may not see the dangers that lurk.  And, the harbingers are out there.

The Organizations we look to for direction and traffic, the DMO's, are in similar straits of disarray and ennui, beset by financial mismanagement and woes, absence of leadership and ineffective marketing programs, scrambling for relevance.  In regions and even states where Tourism is known to be a significant factor if not the major economic driver, we, who should be at the helm to move our businesses and communities forward, are not taken seriously, because we cannot get it together, form the proper coalitions, construct the message, and lead the charge.  We're too busy.  "Might I have the next dance?" And, Organized Labor is just salivating, looking at our soft underbelly.  "Pass the champagne and some salt, please!" We are the Service Sector, and our employees are prime candidates for union organizing attempts. We have supported an underclass, primarily immigrant, female, limited education, holding several jobs to make it.  They are the disadvantaged and disenfranchised.  Connect the dots.  Let's not even think about Immigration matters, living wages and turnover.  "Don't Worry, Be Happy" is a soulful tune we hum on the way to the bank.

We are vulnerable!  Yet, our outrage is directed to a silly advertisement in the Super Bowl or the fact that someone uncovered bed bugs. We react rather than act! In the time of plenty we should be articulating the future.

Some Hospitality businesses get it, as do some Destinations.  However, many do not.  They read, they observe, they fret, titter and make noise, and then sit down.  Someone else will take the lead! We all have seen this "me" emphasis from our colleagues.  What happened to the "them", the Visitor and the Guest, those we serve, nurture, entertain and accommodate?  "Sorry, got to run.  Tee Time!"

Flag operators may casually nod, comforted in the resources and safety net of the Corporate Offices.  Independents cover their eyes and ears, believing they have no voice or recourse.  We look at other industries to see how they have recovered, reinvented and reoriented themselves, and moved forward, profitably.  We shutter because their paths taken were fraught with peril, littered with casualties and intense pain.  But, the Consumer became King, again, and the Experience reigned supreme.  Even in other countries around the world, especially Europe, tourism efforts present high standards and minimal "surprises".  In the US, "surprises" are part of the package, as are lowered expectations.  Goodness gracious, what to do?  "My, that buffet table looks appetizing!"

We handily used to be able to blame everything on the Communists – the weather, the economy, events in general. Now, sadly, the options are even more terrifying.  However, as Al Capp's Pogo exclaimed, the enemy might just be us.  It is time to do business differently and regain the prominence we acquiesced.

That journey is just not that difficult, but it does require an engaged realignment of product, service and resources, and most importantly, mission.  No matter what you think of Hillary Clinton, we live in a global village, interconnected and integrated; good and bad news and events travel so swiftly. "Is Madras in season yet?"

Meeting Planners and our Visitors instinctively evaluate that "balance of expectations", and you must transcend the merely acceptable to the Remarkable. Your paradigm shift to this Remarkable Hospitality is a readjustment to Visitor/Guest focus, where it belongs.  If you do not care, they surely will not either. As an operator or DMO, there are several Key ingredients, which drive this shift:

  • Product/Service:  What did you present to the Guest/Visitor?  Hospitality Businesses should start out with the most fundamental building block — Quality.  Is your operation clean, safe, secure, comfortable, and in good condition?  You construct from there, establishing your distinction, your Hospitality "legos".  As a DMO, the picture you frame must be descriptive and enticing, but also honest, emphasizing Brand Value.  It is about Reliability.
  • Delivery on Customer Service:  Hire for attitude; everything else is trainable.  The relationship created   should be the objective!
  • Technology:  Support systems allow you great efficiencies and reporting capabilities; front of the house amenities, such as WiFi, create your competitive stance in the marketplace.  For DMO's, easy Web Site translation and navigation are the keys. The word "innovation" has vast play across almost every Industry, whereas, in Hospitality there is a dearth.
  • Reward and Recognition:  Staff members, your Ambassadors, who provide performance excellence, demand a suitable response from Management.   Enough with the pat on the back.  Make them a true Partner, and, I am sorry, compensation is a huge motivator, especially, if I cannot pay my rent.
  • Communication:  Information empowers those who represent your interests.  And, it is a two way street.  Meaningful conversation creates trust and performance.
  • Marketing/Promotion/Advertising:  Review your mix and the means you have selected.  Be consistent, fresh and passionate with your message.
  • Visitor/Guest Satisfaction:  If you do not know what your Visitor/Guest desires, how can you possibly exceed those needs?  How well did you then deliver?  Capturing information by comment cards or at the Visitor's Booth is passé in today's wired world.
  • Collaboration:  Unity; a forum for exchange of ideas and challenges to the status quo; understanding that the sum is more dynamic and powerful than the parts; talk, prod, question and commend – dialogue is essential for change!  The communities who seek synergy will be successful – a public and private alliance, broadcast by your media partners.
To be a Hospitality player, whether it be with your own business or in your community, requires responsibility and accountability.  It is time for some "Rainy Day" (or Season) planning.  Your response to events and history will be either reactive or thoughtful and planned in nature.  2006 was wonderful and 2007 indicates another banner Year.  "Pass the sun screen, honey."

However, complacency can lull even the most conscious and conscientious operator.   If you wait, falsely comforted, you are already at the "back of the pack", attempting catch-up, and that bus may have already left.  Only you can make the choices! Is our stance defensive or full of action? What is your posture?  En Garde!

This article is meant to be provocative and challenging.  I invite your comments at: jhendrie@hospitalityperformance.com

The author believes that Remarkable Hospitality is the portal to the Memorable Experience.  Seek solutions at: 
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