APRIL FOCUS

Guest Service: Health and Safety First

 

What Makes for Outstanding Guest Service Amid The 'New Normal'?

By Herbert Laubichler-Pichler General Manager, Alma Resort | April 18, 2021

A smile, a handshake and even a hug are touchstones of good, old-fashioned hospitality. Excellent guest service has always been underpinned by that genuine, human touch.

However, as the global pandemic has inexorably hurled the hotel industry into a 'new normal', what happens to a smile when we need to wear masks? How can we shake hands and hug when social distancing is a must?

Can these simple yet powerful gestures such as a smile, handshake or hug even exist in our industry or can we try to enact that goodwill in other ways?

Only months after our independently owned and operated resort Alma, situated on Vietnam's up-and-coming Cam Ranh peninsula, first opened its doors for business in late December 2019, COVID-19 changed the world. We were swift to adapt, introducing a raft of stringent health and safety measures to keep our guests, staff and ultimately the community safe.

Spacious set-ups of facilities such as restaurant tables and sunbeds to ensure physical distancing. Limits to the numbers of guests permitted in restaurants and other venues. Body temperature checks. Temporarily closing our 13-villa spa, 170sqm gym and yoga room. Suspending buffet breakfast at our main restaurant Alma Garden and expanding our in-room dining menu. Requesting guests fill in a health declaration using a QR code and furnishing them with an electronic COVID-19 information kit upon check-in.

I could go on and on about myriad changes yet the point I'd like to make is that, with each and every measure we've implemented, we've also tried to be mindful of its influence on the guest experience, and gauge what an overall picture of this continually-evolving guest experience may look like.  In light of the global pandemic and the proliferation of technology, where is guest service heading and what kinds of changes should we expect to see in future in this realm? And, importantly, what else can we do to still 'connect' with our guests as best we can?

Alma Resort commands some 74 acres of inspiring ground on Vietnam's up-and-coming Cam Ranh peninsula.

Our resort has just launched a mobile app that opens the door to "contactless" communication with guests and staff in real-time. Now available for download on Android, Apple, Windows and Amazon devices, the "Alma Resort" app offers menus, promotions and vouchers, live stream broadcasts, and information about events, COVID-19 health and safety tips and more.

In addition to providing an array of menus for Alma's restaurants, bars, in-room dining and Le Spa and promotions and vouchers on food and beverage, spa services, beauty products, karaoke and items at Alma's mini supermarket 'Alma Mart', the Alma app also includes our Alma cinema's movie schedule and ample opportunity for app users to provide feedback about our resort and its services.

As part of the second phase of our app's development, to be rolled out over the next couple months, users will also be able to access information about the weather in real-time as a result of the installation of a live weather cam on Alma's stretch of Long Beach. The second phase of the Alma app will also usher in a payment gateway, permitting guests to settle bills in a cashless manner via the app. Our goal is for our app to be a comprehensive one-stop shop for information, an efficient means to obtain feedback from our guests, as well as a weapon in our arsenal to fight the spread of COVID-19 and to keep guests, staff and the community safe.

The app is a game-changer for the hospitality industry because, under the new normal of heightened hygiene and social distancing, this app is an effective and "contactless" way to instantly connect with guests and staff.  I place "contactless" in quotation marks because I believe this word isn't an accurate way to describe our app; our resort is still in contact with our guests, letting them know about updates and promotions in real-time, just in a different way.

Alma Resort is home to oversized suites that all afford spectacular vistas of Long Beach.

While it's impressive that Alma has muscled its way into the realm of mobile app technology alongside predominantly major global hotel brands, it will soon be incumbent for five-star resorts not only across Vietnam but world-wide to offer the same technology. Such an app also means we've transitioned to more sustainable solutions by offering menus, resort maps and other materials digitally instead of on paper. And although guests find out about our services, promotions and events in real-time via our app, our team is still on hand to say hello and ensure our guests feel welcome and have a great holiday when they opt to visit one of our 14 dining outlets or our spa to enjoy a promotion or voucher for a special dining experience or spa treatment.

In the vein of technology, another service trend is that of robots.  I'm sure you've heard that the Henn-na hotel in Japan is staffed by front-desk robots.  Hilton and IBM joined forces to welcome robot concierge "Connie".  Aloft introduced a butler robot to deliver room service, and Crowne Plaza's robot called Dash bring guests snacks, toiletries and other hotel amenities at all sorts of hours. Some hotels already have machines that purify the air in rooms and kill off germs. Other hotels allow you to check in on your mobile, sending you a welcome note that includes your room number, so that you can make yourself at home without coming into contact with any hotel staff.

However, to bring that human element to this process, it would be ideal for a staff member to, after being alerted to you entering your room, call up your mobile to see if everything is ok with your room and ask if you need anything else. That interaction, while it is not face to face, still has a personal touch to it. It will be interesting to watch what happens with the check-in and check-out processes, cleaning and other services over the next few months and what the big hotel chains do about them as a result of the global pandemic. I suspect more machines will make their presence felt, tasked with bringing guests meals and fresh towels, spraying down frequent touch points, and more.

Alma's ocean view pavilions offer private swimming pools and stunning views of Long Beach, where sampans and coracles ply the waters and islands loom offshore. 

Has Alma introduced robots, do you ask? Admittedly I have looked into them but they are heinously expensive. Personally, I believe robots fronting the welcome desk and delivering food and other hotel amenities is a little too much.  It's all akin to landing on the moon or Mars, or waking up in a dystopian setting, where there is no oxygen and only the robots can survive. Also, COVID-19 has brought enough instability to hospitality jobs; that human element is important to our industry and robots completely wipe that human element out of guest service (a display screen with smile, handshake and hug emojis may seem innovative but it's nowhere near as good as the real thing!).

Meanwhile, interior design may not be the first concept that springs to mind when we think of guest service yet it has a big impact on what services we are able to provide guests and, in turn, the overall guest experience. The design of a hotel room, suite or villa has never been more important in the new normal. And the worldwide trend of people wanting to leave cities for regional areas during COVID-19 and its lockdowns speaks to this trend. People no longer want to be confined to a cramped, boxy hotel room, particularly after lockdowns and quarantine. They want a balcony, they want a garden, they want excellent wi-fi, they want somewhere a coffee machine and the ability to heat and enjoy meals (for example, if they need to provide food for their baby).  They want a fully functional home away from home. 

At Alma, although our resort opened just before the onset of COVID-19, social distancing comes naturally here due to our design. Commanding some 30 hectares of inspiring beachfront land, we are home to oversized accommodations that all have panoramic views of the sea, 12 large swimming pools that cascade to the beach, and a host of spacious venues ranging from 14 restaurants and bars to a science museum, 6000sqm waterpark, art gallery, cinema, convention centre, amphitheatre, youth centre, kid's club, water sports centre, gymnasium and yoga room, an 18-hole putting green, sports fields, our  'Alma Mart' mini supermarket  and much more.

To wit, there's plenty of space and fresh air.  Our one-, two- and three-bedroom ocean view suites total 71, 114 and 165sqm respectively, and the two- and three-bedroom ocean view and ocean front pavilions range from 144 to 224sqm. All suites and villas feature master bedrooms with soaking bathtubs and separate rainwater showers, huge living rooms with massive sofas, kitchens and dining areas. The three-bedroom pavilions and two-bedroom ground floor pavilions boast private swimming pools, and the two-bedroom upper floor pavilions feature private jacuzzis. Inland from the villas, the suites are housed in two V-shaped towers, affording panoramic ocean views.

Alma's 6000sqm Splash Water Park features a kid's pool, water slides, a lazy river and a wave pool.

At Alma we're also very attuned to what our guests' wishes are in regards to whether they would like hotel staff to enter or not enter their suite or pavilion during their stay. Some of our guests do not want any staff to come into their rooms during the entirety of their stay, not even to make their beds, replace towels, or empty the garbage and instead, for example, opt for extra towels to already be there from the onset of their stay and call us to inform us they wish for our housekeeping staff to collect garbage they will soon place before their front door so that it's disposed of straight away.

Your staff will always be the backbone of quality guest service. Each and every member of our team lives by our five core values at Alma – care, respect, responsibility, integrity and passion. We apply them to everything we do, including every guest interaction. We developed our core values as a team well before the onset of the global pandemic yet they seem ever more salient when it comes to guest service and stopping the spread of COVID-19. We genuinely care for the health and wellbeing of our guests. We respect them and their wishes. We feel immense responsibility for their wellbeing and for their time with us. We do everything with integrity and do not cheat or cut any corners under any circumstances.

We also have an incredible amount of passion and energy for what we do. Sometimes you may read this sort of thing and dismiss it as empty rhetoric. However, what I say about our entire team embracing our five core values is genuine. It is the absolute truth. In fact, we have taken our responsibility to stop the spread of COVID-19 so seriously and have acted with such integrity that the Vietnamese authorities have contacted us to say we are an exemplary resort in this regard. So much so, the authorities are planning for our executive assistant manager Tran Quoc Dat to speak at an upcoming conference about best practice and share our measures with other hotels so that they can follow suit.

I cannot stress enough how crucial it is to have a motivated management team nor just how influential they are upon the rest of the staff who are on the frontline of guest service.  At Alma, I am fortunate to steer an excellent executive committee devoid of office politics; it is made up of talented and dedicated leaders and their goodwill trickles down to the rest of the staff. It's so important for your staff to be aligned with what you do and deliver excellent guest service; in our case, in accordance with our five values. I'm the first to admit that keeping your team happy and fulfilled, particularly amid COVID-19 and all of the instability and see-sawing occupancy levels in its wake, is no easy feat. Trying to keep jobs safe is a massive challenge. We need to be far-sighted about this and realise that if we don't look after our staff now and they leave the tourism industry for good, we will be in trouble when things get better and inevitably they will.

We are continuously considering how to bring that human element into guest service as much as possible. For example, we are looking at implementing Perspex sheets at our reception to protect guests and staff alike. Does this mean that the receptionist will no longer have to wear a mask and be able to smile at our guests behind the safety of a Perspex screen? Or will he or she still be required to wear a mask? (Albeit a see-through one?) How do we conduct a socially distanced wedding?

There are still numerous situations that remain to be seen. The authorities will ultimately play a huge role in who we are and aren't allowed to welcome. Will guests only require a negative COVID-19 test or will they also need to be vaccinated? Travel will recover after COVID-19 (AC), but travel and guest service will never be the same as they were before COVID-19 (BC).

While it's not always possible to see a smile behind a mask (unless the mask is see-through) nor shake hands with a guest or give a returning guest a hug due to the need for social distancing, I'm a big believer in bringing that human element to the guest experience as best we can, wherever we can.  We live by our five core values, we are still always there for the guest and strive to do whatever we can to personalise their experience, whether that is determining and listening to their wishes as well as a phone call here and there to see if everything's ok.

Guest service is a continually-evolving realm and subject to change for the time to come. However, be rest assured there's always room for that genuine, human touch and Alma will not be overrun by robots anytime soon!

Mr. Laubichler-Pichler Herbert Laubichler-Pichler is a hospitality veteran with life-long experience making guests feel welcome at hotels and resorts in Europe and Asia. Austrian-born Mr Laubichler-Pichler is currently the General Manager of Alma, a new 30-hectare resort overlooking Long Beach on Vietnam's Cam Ranh peninsula, with 14 food and beverage outlets and a cascade of 12 beachfront swimming pools. Mr Laubichler-Pichler's work in Vietnam includes management of some of the country's most acclaimed properties such as Anam, that also fronts Long Beach, Ho Chi Minh City's Reverie Saigon and Nam Hai in Danang. His experience in Asia also includes overseeing the opening of Raffles Hainan in China, working for Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts in mainland China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines, and managing GHM (General Hotel Management) properties in Malaysia. Born into a hotelier family, Mr Laubichler-Pichler started out in the industry working at his parents' guesthouse in his native Austria as a bellboy at 10 years of age during the summer season. He later studied hotel management at the Hotel and Catering College Schloss Klessheim and became a certified chef before steadily rising through the ranks to become the general manager at properties in Austria, Germany and Cyprus. can be contacted at +84 258-399-1666 or h.laubichler-pichler@alma-resort.com Please visit http://www.alma-resort.com for more information. Extended Biography

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HotelExecutive reserves the right to fully cooperate with any law enforcement authorities or court order requesting or directing HotelExecutive to disclose the identity or other information regarding any user or member alleged by any governmental entity to be using HotelExecutive or any Content or materials available in, at, through or in association with HotelExecutive in violation of any law or regulation, or in violation of this Agreement, including, without limitation, the posting of e-mail messages, or publishing or otherwise making available any such materials. By accepting this agreement you waive and hold harmless HotelExecutive from any claims resulting from any action by HotelExecutive during, or as a result of, its investigations, and from any actions taken as a consequence of investigations by either HotelExecutive or law enforcement authorities

10. APPLICABLE LAWS, VENUE, JURISDICTION & MANDATORY ARBITRATION

If any provision(s) of this Agreement is held by a court of competent jurisdiction to be contrary to law, then such provision(s) shall be construed, as nearly as possible, to reflect the intentions of the parties with the other provisions remaining in full force and effect. HotelExecutive's failure to exercise or enforce any right or provision of this Agreement shall not constitute a waiver of such right or provision unless acknowledged and agreed to by HotelExecutive in writing. The section titles in this Agreement are solely used for the convenience of the parties and have no legal or contractual significance. This Agreement may be assigned in whole or in part by HotelExecutive. This Agreement may not be assigned in any manner by you without the express, prior written permission of HotelExecutive.

Any and all disputes or controversies of any kind, including but not limited to any performance, duty, obligation or liability arising under or related to this Agreement which are not first resolved informally, shall be determined by binding arbitration in San Francisco, California, in accordance with the rules of the American Arbitration Association. The final award in any such arbitration proceeding shall be subject to entry as a judgment by any court or competent jurisdiction, provided that such judgment does not conflict with the terms and provisions hereof. The jurisdiction of the arbiter (or arbiters) with respect to legal matters shall be limited only by the statutory and common law of the State of California and the United States.

Notwithstanding the foregoing, any and all disputes, which the parties cannot informally resolve, regarding the scope of issues or matter with the jurisdiction of the arbitrator, shall be resolved by a separate dispute resolution process whereby HotelExecutive, in its sole discretion shall elect the dispute to be resolved by either (1) a court of competent jurisdiction in the State of California or (2) a panel of three new arbitrators.

This Agreement shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of the State of California notwithstanding any conflict of laws provisions. You and HotelExecutive agree that the venue for all legal disputes, controversies, actions of any kind arising under or related to this Agreement shall be San Francisco, California. You and HotelExecutive further agree that in case of any litigation regarding this Agreement, you irrevocably and unconditionally (i) consent to submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the state and federal courts in the County of San Francisco, California for any litigation or dispute arising out of or relating to this Agreement, (ii) agree not to commence any litigation arising out of or relating to this Agreement except in the California Courts, (iii) agree not to plead or claim that such litigation brought therein has been brought in an inconvenient forum, and (iv) agree the California Courts represent the exclusive jurisdiction for all litigation relating to this Agreement.

11. MEMBERSHIP FEES

Hotel Business Review Subscriptions

If you choose to purchase a subscription, member subscription payments can be made in U.S. Dollars, as well as a variety of international currencies. Membership terms are Annual Recurring, and Monthly Recurring. The Annual Recurring subscription is an annual commitment and subscribers will be charged each consecutive billing cycle. Annual Recurring subscriptions can be cancelled after the first billing cycle and within 30-days of the billing date for a full refund. Monthly Recurring subscriptions are ongoing and subscribers will be charged each consecutive monthly billing cycle. Monthly Recurring subscriptions can be cancelled after the first month and within 7 days of the monthly billing cycle for a full refund.

12. PAYMENT AUTHORIZATION

Payment for the services provided to you in, at, through or in association with HotelExecutive may be made by automatic credit card, debit card, direct debit, bankwire or Paypal and other approved payment means offered in, at, through or in association with HotelExecutive, and you hereby authorize HotelExecutive and its agents to transact such payments on your behalf.

You hereby authorize HotelExecutive's Internet Payment Service Provider to charge your credit card to pay for your membership to HotelExecutive. You further authorize HotelExecutive's Internet Payment Service Provider to charge your credit card for any and all purchases of products, services in association with HotelExecutive. You agree to be personally liable for all charges incurred by you in association with your access or other use of any content provided by HotelExecutive or any third party in association with HotelExecutive. You acknowledge and agree that your liability for all such charges shall continue after termination of your access or any type of membership arrangement with HotelExecutive.

In the event that you have chosen to have your membership automatically rebilled, unless and until you notify HotelExecutive that you wish to cancel or terminate your membership to HotelExecutive, you hereby agree and authorize HotelExecutive's Internet Payment Service Provider to automatically renew your membership to HotelExecutive on a continuing basis and to charge your credit card (or other payment means you have selected) to pay for the ongoing cost of your membership. You hereby further authorize HotelExecutive's Internet Payment Service Provider to charge your credit card (or other approved payment means you have selected) for any and all purchases of products, services and entertainment provided to in, at, through or in association with HotelExecutive.

13. PRIVACY POLICY

The following is the Privacy Policy for HotelExecutive

We can be reached via telephone, email, or online at our contact page. When you visit our site we do not log any information regarding your domain or email address. Information Sharing: We do not share user information with any third parties other than via press release distribution as described below.

Hotel Newswire is a newswire service that distributes press releases on behalf of our users. If you decide to submit a press release for distribution through our system we will transmit your entire press release including any personal information therein contained to our media contacts and online distribution points including search engines. This is the only redistribution of your information that we engage in. Your submission of press releases through our system indicates consent with this policy. The information we collect during your registration process is used to notify users about updates to our service and inform users of any special events hosted by Hotel Newswire. This information is not shared with other organizations for commercial or non-commercial purposes.

Cookies: Our system requires the use of cookies to enable the user to log back into our website to access information from the newswire, without having to log in each time using the required username and password.

If you do not want to receive email from us in the future, please let us know by following instructions included in our communication with you. Users who supply us with telephone numbers online may receive telephone contact from us regarding their account, or informing them of new products and services available on the HotelExecutive website. If you do not wish to receive such telephone calls, please edit your account and remove your phone number from your account profile. This can be done from your user account menu.

Ad Servers: We do not partner with or have any relationship with any ad server companies. From time to time, we may use customer information for new uses not previously disclosed in our privacy notice. If our information practices change at any time, we will post the policy changes to our website to notify you of these changes and provide you with the ability to opt out of these new uses. If you are concerned about how your information is used, you should check back at our website periodically.

Upon request we provide site visitors with access to all information (including proprietary information) that we maintain about them. Users can access this information by logging in to their account.

Security: We always use industry-standard encryption technologies while transferring and receiving user data exchanged with our site. We have appropriate security measures in place in our physical facilities to protect against the loss, misuse, or alteration of information that we have collected from you on our site. We do not store credit card information in our systems.

If you feel that this site is not following its stated information policy, you may contact us.

Robert O'Halloran
Eugenio Pirri
Jamie Sterling
Ahmad Ouri
Michael Blake
Darrell Schuurman
Alan E. Young
Linchi Kwok Ph.D.
Fred Lounsberry
Coming up in May 2021...

Eco-Friendly Practices: Now More Than Ever

One theory about the pandemic states that future viruses are more likely to originate and flourish due to global warming. If true, the urgency to accelerate the adoption of eco-friendly practices is greater than ever. Of course, there are many other reasons to create a sustainable operation, including reduced utility costs, savings on operational costs, healthier and happier guests and employees, and positive publicity, marketing and community goodwill. Many hotels are introducing innovative programs into their operations - from recycling bins in guest rooms to starting a roof top garden. Other hotels are using eco-friendly cleaning products, reusing towels and sheets, sourcing locally grown food, supporting the use of electric vehicles, and permitting guests to refill their reusable water bottles with clean, filtered water. Finally, some hotels are encouraging guests to get involved by making it possible for them to participate in local community clean-up projects. 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.