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5 - STARS? NOT QUITE…!

22 April 2013 06:30 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Phillip, my friend from England visits Sri Lanka very regularly whilst also travelling to various other worldwide holiday destinations. Phillip’s link to our island stretches back to the time when he was born in Ceylon (as it was then known), in 1952, at the time his dad was stationed here after serving in the British Navy during WW2. Last year, Phillip spent a few days with his wife and daughter, at a famous 5-star beach resort hotel down south. Despite paying a premium rate in expectation of an authentic 5-star experience, their stay was so disappointing that he was compelled to complain to the hotel management. The hotel responded by inviting him to share his observations with the hotel’s management team.



The Hideaway Report 2013
Andrew Harper is the ‘nom de plume’ of a gentleman traveller who grew frustrated by inaccurate publications by guide books and travel publications. So, in 1979, he began writing his own candid reviews of hideaway hotels worldwide. Every year he singles out a number of particular memorable hotels and resorts and publishes the names of the recipients who made it in what he terms “The Best of a Memorable Year of Travel’. To be considered for his annual awards, properties must be relatively small in size, possess strong individual personalities, offer relaxing atmospheres and demonstrate a consistent devotion to personal service. These hotels are all unique in their own way and each more unforgettable than the last. Now, more than 30 years later, all the while travelling incognito at his own expense, his independent recommendations of hotels, restaurants and authentic travel experiences set the gold standard for travel advice and are prized by a community of elite travellers. Whilst the report showcases the best-of-the-best’, it also carries a section sub-titled ‘Last Year’s Disappointments’- where some highly rated hotels were described  as “my most forgettable ”. Unfortunately, amongst the four hotels to receive unenviable acclaim in the latest Hideaway report, is a Sri Lankan hotel located in the cultural triangle, and, which is a member of the ‘Small Luxury Hotels of the World’. This is what the report had to say: “Sri Lanka — set amid wetlands irresistible to birdlife, this resort enjoys an idyllic location. Wild peacocks stroll along the gravel pathways, herons stride through the shallows, and white-throated kingfishers lend a dazzling splash of turquoise, crimson and bronze to the scene. First impressions of my duplex Forest Dwelling were extremely positive, but it soon became apparent that a ground-floor ornamental pond was a breeding centre for mosquitoes. And although the rustic-chic design was atmospheric, it was also poorly lit. Looking around, I began to notice a lack of maintenance: One of the lights in the bedroom needed a new bulb; and in the mini-bar, the mineral water had been consumed and replaced with tap water. I also discovered the heralded Wi-Fi connection to be exasperatingly unreliable. The conception of my suite was admirable; the reality proved distinctly less impressive.



The Starting Point
 The fundamental need for travel does not change– but the way it’s expressed, served, or encouraged does. The beach hotel that Phillip chose expressed its promise to provide hospitality and service to be amongst the finest and the best. The boutique property that was featured (for the wrong reasons), in the Hideaway report, boasts of offering untold comforts fit for ancient royalty and the requisite indulgences for everyone in the present, on its website. Both hotels sold ‘dreams’ that excited the imagination of its readers, and yet these dreams failed to resonate with reality when acted upon. Most hotel operators typically pursue a ‘service economy’ approach and believe they are in the business of selling guestrooms, food and beverage and event space. These offerings are viewed as currency with a focus on profit as their reason for existing. The failure to realise that profit is a result and not necessarily the singular purpose for being in business, prevents these organisations to successfully juggle between creating the dream, making it happen and ensuring the flow of profit. In economics, currency is what we use to buy something of value (value belonging to the eyes of the beholder). It is the ‘experience’ that makes the currency valuable – not the currency itself. Great hotels exist beyond that, as they move to the ‘experience economy’ era, unlike the ordinary ones who marinade forever in the ‘service economy’.




Evolve or Dissolve
Driven by continuing social change and technological progress, the needs of the modern day travellers are becoming ever more subtle and more complex. Suzanne Cook of the U.S Travel Industry Association reiterates that, “Research undertaken suggests the underlying needs for travel haven’t changed at all, although as markets evolve over time people become more sophisticated.” Both Phillip and Andrew belong to the ever growing band of sophisticated travellers who expect good to be invisible, where only the remarkable is to be seen everywhere and delivered all the time. To put it bluntly, good is never good enough... What counts for today’s sophisticated traveller is a journey involving a truly memorable and powerful experience. To this end they will seek out the hotels that can meet their aspirations, even if it means paying a premium for the privilege.  Stunning locations and inspirational buildings are all well and good; in fact they are very important props in the 5 star theatre of hospitality. However, the people who act on stage, i.e. the hotel staff have to be world class performers. They must strive to be perfect all the time. The leadership in 5-star properties must always challenge their teams and themselves to get better. The small unexpected things they do – add to the delight of discovering service that far exceeds expectations. To do so – one must know your guests. But if you cannot remember, recall or know your guest’s name – your stars don’t count! Remember, 5-stars is not about an award or designation. Being 5-stars is more about an uncompromising habitual way of thinking than it is about adhering to certain standards. It’s about a mentality...a passionate way of working...discipline...and most of all, a healthy rejection for anything mediocre.  

(Shafeek Wahab has a Degree in Hotel Administration and Operations, with a background in Hospitality Management spanning over 30 years of field experience. He has held key managerial responsibilities in internationally renowned hotel chains, both locally and abroad, including his last held position as Head of Branding for a leading Hotel Group in Sri Lanka. He can be contacted on shafeekwahab@in2ition.biz)
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