Dare to be Different: Accommodating the Increasingly Sophisticated Global Traveler
By Pamela Barnhill President & COO, IHT, IBC and IVH Hotels | August 16, 2015
I remember a snowy afternoon in Salzburg when we wandered into what looked like a safe hotel near the mountains associated with "The Sound of Music" and the manager (or owner, for all I know) gave us a room – and an immediate shot of schnapps. Sure, the shower wasn't the best, but I still remember that place for the friendliness and, of course, the schnapps, which I wouldn't have been able to get in the States anyway because of my age. What stands out for me is how personal the service was, and how considerate. Nothing like a kind, worldly hotelier to make a girl feel at home, and in a clean, quiet place to boot.
What about the fourth floor of an old building in Florence where the rooms had frescoes on the ceiling and the most amazing lady brought us breakfast each morning? I'm also still shocked and gratified that we landed in a beautiful hotel in Venice with vaulted ceilings, stunning chandeliers and over-the-top decor.
That special hotel feeling wasn't just about Europe. After traveling extensively around Asia for a year, I recall similar stories about boutique hotels there – especially ones outside the big cities, where hospitality and respect for one's inner spirit is for many a way of life.
One of my favorite boutique hotels was in Koh Samui, Thailand, where I enjoyed a beachfront bungalow mere steps from the ocean and was served the most amazing fresh seafood. Thai service is unmatched, every detail taken care of before you even raise a question.
Another incredible stay was in Pokhara, after a two-week trek through Nepal's Annapurna range. Again, attention to detail and service and concern for our comfort were hallmarks of the hospitality there.
But in the States, even now, it is hard to find fun, funky stays that would give you a warming shot upon check-in, classical paintings on the ceiling or glass chandeliers in the lobby and rooms. While Europe has changed over the last 20 years, and amenities have standardized there as everywhere else to satisfy visitors from all over our ever smaller planet, hoteliers in the States still seem afraid of being funky, afraid to make changes in their approach to the increasingly sophisticated global traveler.
It may be hard to embrace, and the process may be slow, but hotel owners and managers should stress out-of-the-box hospitality if they want to address the traveling public's desire for something different that offers value. I'm not sure if our mistrust of what's different stems from thinking the US traveler is enough of a market; maybe it's because 9/11 made it hard for us to welcome different types of people to our hotels. Maybe it's because our two largest hospitality vendors have yet to provide cost-effective alternatives that are fun and don't mimic the big brands.
While the term "boutique" is evolving, to my mind it's always meant fun, funky and not the same, and owners and managers of such properties are having fun too. Boutique hotels in the U.S. were always limited to four- and five-star, full-service hotels, and back in the day, the number of them could probably be counted on just two hands.