Mastering the Art of Transforming Your Hotel

By Tom Conran Principal, Greenwood Hospitality Group | April 20, 2014

Today's competitive landscape requires that close attention be paid to creating a unique hospitality experience. If we start from the premise that all hotel rooms include the same basic features such as bedding, carpeting, bathrooms, etc., then how do we begin to transform a property in order to take full advantage of its potential? In order to be successful it needs to involve various focus attributes including design, service delivery, staff engagement and varied support mechanisms, i.e. ala-carte restaurants, etc.
Recognizing a shift in focus is needed to meet the needs and demands of the current traveling clientele, including the Gen Y and Gen X traveler, hotel owners must fully understand the nuances and unique characteristics of this dynamic segment. As such, all touch points of the property should create and support an experience that is in line with their specific lifestyle and travel patterns. Your hotel should not be viewed as a commodity but rather a distinct buying proposition with meaningful benefits.

As a first step, it is important and beneficial to engage in an "experience framework" exercise detailing the proposed positioning of the hotel. Once established, the various contributors and property attributes must individually and collectively align and reinforce the experience proposed. To that end the storyline of the property must be thread throughout the entire guest experience. The design of the guestroom should sync with the look of the associate uniforms. Those uniforms should be consistent with the feel of the ala-carte restaurant. There are many more examples but the important point is that the proper alignment of all functional areas to support the overall position of the property will pay significant dividends in the transformation process.

Research suggests that guests today are seeking an experiential element to their lodging stay. It's more than a clean guestroom and internet access. The key is to take the traveler on a journey consisting of memorable moments throughout the property. One must think in terms of being in the memory management business and thus create stories throughout the guest stay. Owners should detail and focus on the high-touch points the guest is seeking and, in many instances, demanding. But it is also important to be able to provide surprises along the guest's journey.

A key to the art of transforming a property involves the flawless execution of service. Travelers today are very discerning and seek experiences wherein they feel comfortable on the road. They also want to be recognized as an individual. To that end, service engagement and guest acknowledgement become critical in the setting a tone for the property. The welcome program should include "guest intelligence", whereby information is gathered regarding the traveler's name and preferences. For example, many hotels employ doormen and/or bellmen who seek to learn the traveler's name via luggage tags, etc. If they are successful they can discretely radio the front desk and provide the guest's name. Minutes later, upon arrival at the reception desk he or she is greeted by "Welcome Ms. Smith, we look forward to serving you during your stay with us." This certainly makes a much more positive impression than simply being asked "Are you checking in?".

Many hotels have strengthened their welcoming programs by modifying their traditional front desk arrangements. In an effort to eliminate the barrier between the hotel associate and the guest, reception desk designs now allow the agent the ability to navigate from behind the desk and greet the client in a more personal manner. This program reinforces guest engagement and provides a personal touch point. Additionally, it provides the guest agent an opportunity to more personally introduce and explain the property's attributes to the guest.

Once the guest leaves the reception desk, the pathway to the guestroom should include design attributes that are tied to the property framework exercise. Reinforce experiential elements in the design and include a surprise element that the guest would find intriguing. Remember, hotels should not be viewed as a homogenized commodity. Create interesting spaces that the guest would enjoy telling others about. Pathways could include interesting art featured in a gallery approach with lighting and floor materials supporting the gallery feel. Another approach may introduce music and lighting elements supporting the framework program. Historical and iconic type properties enjoy the unique advantage of telling a pictorial story including unique remnants from the area and/or the property itself. These various design options set the "tone" of the hotel prior to a guest entering his or her guestroom.

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Eco-Friendly Practices: Corporate Social Responsibility

The hotel industry has undertaken a long-term effort to build more responsible and socially conscious businesses. What began with small efforts to reduce waste - such as paperless checkouts and refillable soap dispensers - has evolved into an international movement toward implementing sustainable development practices. In addition to establishing themselves as good corporate citizens, adopting eco-friendly practices is sound business for hotels. According to a recent report from Deloitte, 95% of business travelers believe the hotel industry should be undertaking “green” initiatives, and Millennials are twice as likely to support brands with strong management of environmental and social issues. Given these conclusions, hotels are continuing to innovate in the areas of environmental sustainability. For example, one leading hotel chain has designed special elevators that collect kinetic energy from the moving lift and in the process, they have reduced their energy consumption by 50%  over conventional elevators. Also, they installed an advanced air conditioning system which employs a magnetic mechanical system that makes them more energy efficient. Other hotels are installing Intelligent Building Systems which monitor and control temperatures in rooms, common areas and swimming pools, as well as ventilation and cold water systems. Some hotels are installing Electric Vehicle charging stations, planting rooftop gardens, implementing stringent recycling programs, and insisting on the use of biodegradable materials. Another trend is the creation of Green Teams within a hotel's operation that are tasked to implement earth-friendly practices and manage budgets for green projects. Some hotels have even gone so far as to curtail or eliminate room service, believing that keeping the kitchen open 24/7 isn't terribly sustainable. The May issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to integrate sustainable practices into their operations and how they are benefiting from them.