The lights are on, but no one is home!
By John Hendrie, CEO, Hospitality Performance, Inc.
Monday, 17th July 2006
That old saw is an apt statement about the state of Hospitality in certain areas of the US today.

Operators are tired and beaten up - their energies are internally directed – staffing, budgets, complaints, legislation, etc. – whereas, the external focus on the Visitor and Guest Experience has become quite secondary.  "Just let me make it through the day" or "I can't be bothered" are the laments. 

Our true calling is controlled now 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.  Even at a high time of mergers, acquisitions, and renovations, a distinct aura of malaise shrouds Management.  Our symbol of Hospitality, the pineapple, has morphed to that of a kumquat.

The Organizations we look to for direction and traffic, the DMO, are in similar straits of disarray and ennui, beset by financial woes, dearth of leadership and ineffective marketing programs.  In regions and even states where Tourism is known to be a 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.  Rather than substantive action like a "barn raising", we settle for the more social "pot luck dinner". 

And, Organized Labor is just salivating, looking at our soft underbelly. We are the Service Sector, and our employees are prime candidates for union organizing attempts.  We are vulnerable, folks! 

You can raise the red flag, some will salute, but many others will head to the hors d'oeuvre table.  Where is the outrage and the surge to action?  We need to see collective Peter Finches (the movie "Network") proclaim their alarm and distress; however, the Industry is muted.

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, our raison d'etre.  

Local Chain 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 created 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?

We 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 acquiesced.  That journey is just not that difficult, but it does require an engaged realignment of product, service and resources, and most importantly, mission.  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.  Hospitality "legos".  As a DMO, the picture you frame must be descriptive and enticing, but also honest, emphasizing Brand Value.
  • Delivery on Customer Service:  Hire for attitude.  Everything else is trainable.
  • 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. 
  • Reward and Recognition:  Staff members, your messengers, who provide performance excellence, demand a suitable response from Management.   Enough with the pat on the back.
  • Communication:  Information empowers those who represent your interests.  And, it is a two way street.
  • 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 and irrelevant 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!
To be a Hospitality player, whether it be with your own business or in your community, requires responsibility and accountability.  Your response to events and history will be either reactive or thoughtful and planned in nature.  If you wait, falsely comforted, you are already behind the "eight ball", attempting catch-up, and that bus may have already left.  Only you can make the choices!  I would prefer to be at home, at the door with a hearty, warm welcome. Where are you?

This article is meant to be provocative and challenging.  Let me know what you think at: jhendrie@hospitalityperformance.com
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