As a frequent business traveler, I spend a lot of time in and out of hotels; but I also have a special superpower that many travelers don’t: I have a lot of professional experience in hospitality. With over a decade under my belt in hotel sales and operations across several brands and properties, I have a keen eye for exceptional hospitality, and I even make mental notes of the best—and yes, even the worst—of each hotel I visit. And the ones that stick out like champions, to me, are those whose staff are well-equipped to meet my needs and solve problems that arise quickly and with little fuss, especially when it falls out of the scope of what I think, as a traveler, is typical of hotel offerings.
Enhancing the guest experience is a multi-faceted approach and you can’t assume all travelers have the same needs; hotels must shift what they provide based on what you know about each guest and how you interact with them. As a lover of hospitality and with an exceptional guest experience still very much part of my work, I want to help educate your property on how to make every guest feel cared for. Ensuring your staff understands the ways to communicate with guests will prepare them and your guests for the best possible experience. I’ve heard many stories of exceptional hospitality from friends and family around the country and have a few of my own. I’ll share two stories that highlight how asking your guests the right questions can enhance the guest experience in incredibly memorable ways.
I was traveling recently for a long weekend to celebrate a friend’s wedding in San Francisco. Because of the pandemic, we had to sandwich the bachelor and bachelorette parties into the same weekend as the wedding. (Don’t worry, this isn’t the plot to The Hangover.) As the maid of honor, I had a full suitcase of treats and surprises for the happy couple and the rest of the bridal party. My checked bag had wigs, many outfits, hats, card games, and pretty much any bachelorette-party-themed trinket I could fit. It was going to be a long weekend and my bag was heavy and my brain was scattered while I prepared for a wild weekend to celebrate my beautiful friend. It wasn’t until I checked into the hotel on Thursday afternoon that I realized my very full, very heavy bag had very little that I needed to get ready myself. In the chaos of preparing for the long weekend and my excitement at planning an incredible bachelorette party, I forgot a full list of must-haves to stand up in a wedding. I was embarrassed with very little time to spare so I rushed to the front desk to get a list of nearby department and drug stores to start checking things off my list. When the front desk agent noticed my panicked face as I scratched a laundry list of items down on a hotel notepad while I simultaneously made a list of nearby stores, he asked if he could take a quick look at my list. He asked a few questions and after getting my whole sob story—though I was only almost sobbing at this point, he promised he could help and disappeared behind the front desk. When he returned, he had an armful of items. He had mascara, a set of toiletries, and a manicure kit. “For the big day,” he said, he had Advil and a sleeping eye mask for whenever it was that I would have a moment to relax. I was stunned; he managed to turn what was sure to be a chaotic afternoon running around town for supplies into more free time to spend with my friends. I thanked him a hundred times over and headed back to my room, now, better prepared for the weekend. Not only was he able to read my mood and help solve my immediate problems, but he was also able to anticipate what would make my trip easier the following day.
Like my story, families have their unexpected turn-of-events while heading out to make memories together. A property in Atlanta hosted some friends of mine recently that ended up in a very unlucky but all-too-common situation: The parents and their two kids were traveling from the west coast to Disney World for some much-needed excitement. Unfortunately, while rushing to make a tight connection at the Atlanta airport with two toddlers in tow, they missed their flight to Orlando. It was now late evening, and my friends had to book a last-minute hotel nearby to make for an easy night and hopefully smooth morning travel. When they called around asking about hotel availability, they mentioned their situation to the front desk agent that booked them their room. Knowing they had small children, the agent had extra towels and children’s books sent up to the room prior to the family’s arrival, hoping it would ease them out of the day and into a restful night’s sleep. However, when the family finally arrived in the lobby, it was nearing midnight. The parents were slumped over, dragging their luggage, looking defeated and worn out. The toddlers, trailing shortly behind, had puffy eyes, sad faces, and empty bellies. The front desk agent knew that after their long day of travel and with almost nothing nutritious to eat nearby, there was one more thing he could do to help. He quickly compiled healthy snacks for the kids and a few things for the adults into small gift bags, including roasted almonds, granola bars, cheese crackers, and a bottle of water each. His training taught him a two-tiered approach: understand the guest’s needs before arrival and reassess upon arrival. It may not have helped the family get to Disney World on time, but it certainly helped make their lives just a little bit easier amid the chaos of their day. In turn, he left an impression with that family that their hotel can adjust to the needs of every guest.
Each guest and the experience they are walking into your property with is going to vary, from a little to a lot, meaning their needs are going to vary just as much. I had a very different reason for travel than my friends with their kids and ultimately incredibly different needs, but at the end of the day, the best way to enhance the guest experience—that piece that goes above and beyond—is for your team to know how to read the guest and when to ask the right questions.