From a seat 39,000 feet in the air, Earth looks like a peaceful, tranquil and hospitable place. From this height, the Rocky Mountains — dotted with lakes and city lights like jewels hanging from a beautiful necklace — are an inviting sight. Then as the wheels of the plane touch the ground, reality sets in. The flight attendants come over the loudspeaker to thank you for flying their airline, yet the tone in which they say it makes this an empty gesture at best. As you attempt to remove your luggage from the overhead bin, the person three seats back pushes past you in the aisle without as much as a “pardon me.” Suddenly you wake up and realize it isn't all that hospitable down here.
You finally arrive at your destination. Checking in to your four-diamond/three-star hotel, you find not only is your room not ready yet, but they don't even have your reservation! The desk clerk passes you off to a manager with the air as if this is somehow your fault. You show the manager your confirmation and itinerary — again, nothing. All you get is a hollow, “Sorry for the inconvenience” and an offer to book you at a lower-end sister property — the “Something Inn and Suites” in the suburbs. Sound familiar?
Many of us experience this on a regular basis: the lack of hospitality in the hospitality industry. From hotels to restaurants, airlines to taxicabs — and, yes, the special event and meetings industries — it seems that in the pursuit of a quick dollar, many have lost sight of the meaning of hospitality and the core of why they are in business.
WHAT DO YOU SAY?
Good hospitality starts not with the front desk clerk, waitperson or ticket agent, but with you. Take the scenario above. More likely than not, after such a long journey, you failed to say “hello” when you approached the front desk. You probably didn't thank the taxi driver for dropping you safely at your destination, either.
Hospitality is circular. The saying “what goes around, comes around” applies to our businesses every day and in every way.
Each one of us is to blame for training the consumer to get what they want by demanding it, as well as being the demanding consumer ourselves. But how can we expect to receive exceptional hospitality and service when we may not even know the definition of it?
Wikipedia defines hospitality as:
“The relationship process between a guest and a host and the act or practice of being hospitable, that is, the reception and entertainment of guests, visitors or strangers, with liberality and goodwill.”
The hospitality industry was born from a need to have a “home away from home” while traveling or entertaining. The event and meetings industry originated from the hospitality industry. We have evolved from hotel banquet management, convention services and restaurant management into a full-fledged, worldwide industry that brings billions of dollars into the economies of the globe.
Ritz-Carlton Hotels and Resorts posts a sign in the back halls of every property it operates stating: “We are Ladies and Gentlemen, serving Ladies and Gentlemen.” Management has set a lofty goal for every executive, manager and line employee — to treat everyone as you wish to be treated.
JUST GOOD ENOUGH?
Given enough money, anyone can create a hotel complete with 600-thread-count linen, high-end bath products and luxury Turkish bathrobes; offering superior service can be the point of differentiation. But how many hospitality companies and professionals have distinguished themselves from the pack? Not many. Why? Most in the industry believe that as long as the bed is comfortable, the meeting space is adequate, and the food is on time, their goals are achieved.
Too many of us just glide by meeting expectations. We turn to our checklist: entertainment arrived, check. Coffee hot, check. Emergency exits clear, check.
Having begun my own career in hotels and resorts — with training at a Mobil Five-Star hotel — I know exceeding expectations involves far more than just completing a checklist. It starts with a warm and gracious greeting. Then the real work begins, when we interact with our clients, guests or attendees directly, anticipating the need that every one of us has to be treated with kindness and respect.
The goal for each of us in our industry should be striving to exceed the expectation of our clients and guests. This is a lofty challenge, one I put myself and my company up to every day. The phone is often a potential client's first experience with my business. How do I answer my phone? Did I greet the caller warmly and politely, or just answer with my name?
What kind of impression do you make when you answer the phone, respond to an e-mail or greet someone on the street? To make positive change in our hospitality experiences, each of us must be hospitable every day.
My challenge to each of you is this: Test yourself every day, every moment. Warm smile by warm smile, polite greeting by polite greeting, we can all bring hospitality back into the industry.
Kristjan Gavin is president of In Good Company Meetings & Events, headquartered in San Ramon, Calif.; www.ingoodco.com.