As an industry, we’re obsessive to a fault about the future. We look forward, not back. The vernacular is populated by terms like “projection” and “planning” and “forecast.” Instead of asking about what we’ve just experienced, questions reflect the wants and needs of tomorrow: How many hotels can we build next year? How many months before rates rebound? When will things get better?
Foresight and planning are all well and good—don’t get me wrong—but it’s worth taking a look back every now and again to reflect upon what we’ve lived through and what we can learn. (Had we done so 30 months ago, perhaps we wouldn’t have sunk so low during the downturn.)
The best place to start? Inquire with the most experienced. Even better? Check in with your representatives on the front line; their fingers are closest to the pulse of the industry.
Take Eddie Cotto, for example. During his 42-year career at the Omni Parker House, this veteran bellman—“people ambassador” is more like it—has seen it all. He’s had run-ins with everyone from Muhammad Ali (as gregarious as you might expect; the champ invited hotel staff to his room for refreshments) to the old Washington Bullets NBA team.
Eddie’s partner in crime, Seamus Murphy, is another good example. Seamus’ 34 years of service have brought him face-to-face with track legend Jesse Owens (“… the nicest person I’ve ever met”) to English rockers The Who (who Seamus couldn’t be bothered with because he was going through his disco stage).
During a recent look back with the boisterous duo, they shared six important lessons that are cause for pause and reflection.
1. Make guests feel at home
“If I was going to have a party, I’m going to meet you at the door, I’m going to make you feel comfortable, I’m going to invite you in,” Seamus told me. The same should go for hotel guests. “Make them feel that they’re at home.”
2. Treat every guest the same
When Eddie first started as a bellman 42 years ago, one of the first things his bell captain told him was to never judge a book by its cover. No matter what a guest looks like, give everyone the same high level of service and respect them as if they’re a billionaire.
3. Service is everything
A lot has changed over the years, but “One of the things that has to stay the same is the service levels,” Seamus said. Especially as markets become more crowded and competitive, service is the single greatest differentiator.
“It’s just keeping ahead of the rest of the hotels as far as service levels go and what we provide,” he said. “We have to have better service than other hotels.”
4. Character matters
A lot of new hotels are forgettable masses of glass, steel and concrete, Eddie said. “There’s not a lot of character, elegance and charm like (older hotels) have. … People today, they want the history, they like the old stuff. They like to come into the lobby and gaze. Sometimes you see people just gazing in the lobby for 15 or 20 minutes. … They take the time to notice all the different woodwork and all the characteristics of the hotel in general.”
5. Customize your offerings
Modernity isn’t all bad. One of the best advancements Seamus has seen in his three-decades-plus career with the hotel is the advent of the CRM. “You have profiles that you can use and you know that Mr. Smith likes a feather pillow and not a down pillow,” he said. “You can customize their experience. We can offer guests a lot more than what we did in the past.”
6. Keep up the pace
“People are really on the go,” Seamus said. While the bellman opined for the days when guests indulged in hours-long dinners or casual shoe shines, he can appreciate guests’ desires to stay on the go.
“Everything’s got to be done very, very fast,” Eddie added.