Developing Your Staff's Cross Cultural IQ

By John Hogan Director of Education & Cultural Diversity, Best Western | April 24, 2010

When we travel in familiar places, we are usually comfortable with the customs, habits and every day interactions. Our comfort zones often change when we are visiting new and perhaps more exotic locations or providing services to people from those places.

I serve on the American Hotel & Lodging Association's Multicultural Advisory Committee. This alliance of representatives from hotels and related hospitality businesses meets several times a year to discuss ways to break down artificial barriers to communication. Additional efforts are ongoing throughout the year as these competitors share best practices and explore ways to develop a cross-cultural understanding of guests and staff.

Part of this group's activities included developing the basis for understanding, including a "Diversity Glossary of Terms". In particular, 'Culture' - The total social behavior patterns, beliefs, and traits passed within a specific group of people. 'Assimilation' - Being absorbed into the culture of an existing group; conforming to one culture.

In 1992, a dozen European countries entered into an economic agreement linking their trading fortunes together. In late 1993, an international agreement in North America allowed for the easier flow of services and goods among the nations of Canada, the United States and Mexico. While the World Trade Organization is not universally embraced, developing countries like China have lobbied for years to be included. Even though legal business agreements may allow for some ease in formal truncations, people must still interact on a daily basis.

Successfully addressing that interaction does not always happen by chance. According to the article "International Migration" published in August 1994 in the American Psychologist, Loyd Roglier quoted statistics that the foreign-born population in the United Sates alone reached a number approaching 20 million people in 1990. At that time, he identified more than 100 countries that comprised that figures and that was fifteen years ago!

Cross cultural understanding means making the extra effort to recognize and respect ethnicity. By definition, ethnicity refers to groups of people who are historically, racially or otherwise directly related. Further insight would find common culture, language, perhaps religion and ethical perspectives as defining characteristics.

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Sales & Marketing: Selling Experiences

There are innumerable strategies that Hotel Sales and Marketing Directors employ to find, engage and entice guests to their property, and those strategies are constantly evolving. A breakthrough technology, pioneering platform, or even a simple algorithm update can cause new trends to emerge and upend the best laid plans. Sales and marketing departments must remain agile so they can adapt to the ever changing digital landscape. As an example, the popularity of virtual reality is on the rise, as 360 interactive technologies become more mainstream. Chatbots and artificial intelligence are also poised to become the next big things, as they take guest personalization to a whole new level. But one sales and marketing trend that is currently resulting in major benefits for hotels is experiential marketing - the effort to deliver an experience to potential guests. Mainly this is accomplished through the creative use of video and images, and by utilizing what has become known as User Generated Content. By sharing actual personal content (videos and pictures) from satisfied guests who have experienced the delights of a property, prospective guests can more easily imagine themselves having the same experience. Similarly, Hotel Generated Content is equally important. Hotels are more than beds and effective video presentations can tell a compelling story - a story about what makes the hotel appealing and unique. A video walk-through of rooms is essential, as are video tours in different areas of a hotel. The goal is to highlight what makes the property exceptional, but also to show real people having real fun - an experience that prospective guests can have too. The June Hotel Business Review will report on some of these issues and strategies, and examine how some sales and marketing professionals are integrating them into their operations.