The Hotel Standards Trap
I read an article the other day that reported on a talk given by Ms. Niki Leondakis, CEO of Two Roads Hospitality’s Hotels and Resorts unit. In the article she recounted an incident she had when staying at a chain hotel (not one of her own) where she wanted a cup of coffee before her morning workout but was told that the restaurant would not open for another 10 minutes; long story short; no coffee for her. The article then went on to talk about how over standardization within hotel brands has, essentially, made the hotel experience so formulaic and structured that it has shifted the focus from serving and engaging with guests to adhering to the company standard. She used the term ‘pleasantly unhelpful’ to describe the experience.
Over standardization and the proliferation of tightly segmented ‘lifestyle’ brands seems to have reached the state where there is so much focus on not doing anything wrong that we are failing to do anything right. Standards are good, don’t get me wrong, they provide important parameters within which management and employees can infuse a degree of predictability into a decidedly unpredictable service business. The larger the chain, as Ms. Leondakis points out, the more centralized the service standards are and the further removed from the locale where the hotel is located.
How does this relate to Belize? Well, while we do not have many chain driven hotels, we do tend to try and follow the generally accepted standards of the major chain properties. I applaud the efforts of the BTB in raising the standards of our hotel product and using amenities to differentiate one class of hotel and resort from another. This is vital to building credibility in the Belize hospitality product which, at this juncture in the tourism development cycle, is vital to our continued growth. Service however is another matter.
Rather than blindly try and imitate the service plans of other properties and chains I suggest that we use our creativity and local knowledge to harness the natural friendliness and unpretentious nature of our people. Build that into service plans that reflect what a Belizean experience is like and why it is different from the over segmented, homogeneous brand offering likely found almost everywhere else in the region and the world. As Ms. Leondakis comments at the end of the article; would it have been so bad if the employee had felt empowered enough to go into the restaurant and just get the coffee? No one knows the challenges of hospitality employee training more than I do, but I also know that empowerment and building in enough leeway to allow employees to be themselves makes us different and in the hospitality industry of today being different is what the game is all about.