I have to ask what is happening in the hospitality industry? Do people no longer care about the standards that should be met? Do they not expect a certain level of professionalism when visiting a new hotel, guesthouse, lodge or B&B? I am not referring to the low-budget establishments, or the type that may cater for backpackers or shoe-string travelers, but rather to the places that are at least 2-star, all the way up to 5-star, where the market is mid-range to luxury travel.
I have been absolutely blown away by some of the places that we have stayed at, where the room, decor or level of service far exceeds what I was expecting. I have been amazed by the little touches that some excellent housekeeper, manager or owner has added to delight their guests. This has been in small, intimate B&B’s, all the way up to top class accommodation. In equal measure, I have been vastly disappointed by seemingly upmarket places that really don’t seem to care if their rooms are not up to standard. Sometimes just a simple and quick fix is all that would be needed to make something up to scratch again. A pair of scissors, a screwdriver, perhaps a replaced item may be all that is required to rectify a problem, and these are all easy tools that would ensure that the guest’s stay was not marred by irritation and dissatisfaction, leading to a potential poor review for the establishment in question.
Do such establishments even care if their guests are not 100% happy? Do they not look for repeat business or word-of-mouth advertising? Can they afford the bad publicity that a damaging review might bring, or would the management team just shrug these off as being the rants of people who are always complaining? Sure, there will always be someone who picks fault, even if the experience they were given is absolutely spot-on and top class, but each complaint needs to be looked at individually to see if the guest in fact has a valid point. I think if I was the owner of the accommodation, I would be making sure that the staff had the training and knowledge to always apply themselves to their job, be it in the laundry, housekeeping or front-of-house. Knowing when to contact the maintenance department, or to request new or improved items for the room is a good start.
I have worked in various countries, and in different grades of lodge, camp and hotel, and perhaps this is why I have such a sticky sense of what is acceptable and what is not. I have been drilled by some excellent owners and top management, and woe betide if they did an inspection and something in the room or lodge was amiss! I just have to walk into a room and I will find myself scanning quickly to get the general impression of the room, the furnishings and fittings, and find mental notes stacking up in my head as I catalogue the good and bad points I have noticed. This is within the first minutes of entering the room!
My thoughts will range from noting the pretty fresh flower arrangement, to the dirty mark on the carpet, the picture hanging skew, the attractive bed linen and soft furnishing, and the absence or presence of certain things like a fan or air conditioning, and an obvious place to put my suitcase while I unpack. Some of these are not a requirement in every place I visit, but I do notice if they are there or not. It may seem to you that I am thinking so many thoughts at the same time, but it is a trained eye and attention to detail that allows me to see so many varied and random things in a very short space of time.
An inspection of the bathroom may have me muttering under my breath, or probably aloud, as I take in the bathmat with threads hanging from it and the hole in the towel. I will probably eyeball the shower to see if it is potentially going to flood the room, either because it is poorly positioned, has a too-small screen if it is above the bath, or just simply because there is no curtain or screen at all. Depending on the outcome, I may need to use all the provided towels to mop up the floor, or risk having to swim to the toilet!
Some establishments provide free toiletries and these can be amazing, but depending on what the place has chosen, they can be a source of annoyance as well. If the toiletries are small, individual bottles or tubes, they can be fine, providing you haven’t been left with three shampoos and no shower gel or body lotion. If they are big containers, they need to be at the minimum half-full, or else they will detract from the overall experience. Nearly empty bottles just look cheap, as if the property couldn’t be bothered to replace or fill them. If the container is hanging off the wall as well, with the bracket dangling by its screw, that just adds to the negative impression. Sometimes the placement of these bottles also shows a lack of thought, either by the person tasked with the job, or no guidance by the management. The bodywash bottle may be fixed halfway up the wall, out of reach if you have decided to bathe and not shower. Is this intentional? Am I not meant to use the bath? If this is the case, then the bathroom should be fitted with a shower only.
Another area that often shows lack of care, attention to detail or just plain checking is the light fittings. Blown globes need to be replaced and should be something that the housekeeper checks daily. How often do you find the bedside light doesn’t work, only to note that the globe is not blown but missing altogether? It’s not a major issue, but if the item has been provided, it should work!
Tears in cushions or soft furnishings are easily rectified, provided the item in question has been noticed in the first place. If a cushion or pillow was removed and taken away to be fixed, the guest probably wouldn’t even notice that it was gone or know it as supposed to be there. Some rearranging of the cushions would easily fill the gap, but a torn cover is a no-no. In a stay at an executive suite, just one grade below the presidential suite, I was somewhat horrified to see the cushion on the bed was badly torn. Inspecting it I could see that it had been like that for some time, and wasn’t something that had just happened. A couple of stitches and a little time was all it needed, but instead it had been left in the room.
Considering that the first thing I had noticed upon entering the bedroom was a rather large stain on the carpet, immediately the hotel went down in my estimation. If this was the standard in the executive suite, what were the ordinary rooms like? Further prowling led me to find more issues with the room. The air-conditioning was stuck on a very cold temperature, once you could get it to switch on that is, and it was winter! The curtains were meant to be closed at the touch of a button, a button that proved unresponsive, so I had to haul the massive heavy curtains across the rail to close them, and they were pretty reluctant I must say! Of course some of the lights didn’t work either, and the bath plug was missing to mention more problems.
Outside the room there was a table with a dirty plate on it, that had obviously been left there earlier in the day, as it was there when we arrived. The plate remained there the entire afternoon and was still sitting there when we came back from dinner much later that evening. By the morning the poor forgotten plate had been collected, but the food scraps that had been on the table next to the plate were still very much in evidence. This is really not the level of service you would expect. Do the staff really not care at all? Where is the management and supervision?
At breakfast one of the senior staff enquired about our stay and I said there were some problems in the room. Before I could elaborate she went on to say that those rooms were going to be renovated in the next few months, and brushed off my surprised look, taking it to mean that solved the problems and answered any potential queries I might have. What I wanted to say was that most of the room issues had nothing to do with renovation or remodeling, but rather a gross lack of supervision and attention by the relevant staff. No amount of renovation work can make up for the lack of attention to detail.
By now you may think that I am just picky or fussy, but I am really not. I can stay in rustic bush camps, with a shower under a tree, and find way better attention to detail and caring staff than I would ever encounter in a top-class luxury hotel. I can visit 5-star accommodation and be absolutely bowled over by the entire stay from start to finish, simply because everything was working, every possible whim had been catered for, and there were no hidden or nasty surprises. I will allow for discrepancies in taste and make allowances for personal likes and dislikes. A small B&B will probably not have all the finest decor and furnishings, but the whole experience stands out as excellent because of the added touches, however modest they may be. A guesthouse may be highly advertised and thought of as THE place to go, but the overall impression you get is poor because of the lack of care given by the staff and top management. There are exceptional places at every level, however big or small their budget may be, simply because they went the extra mile for each and every one of their guests.
Some of the nicest places we have stayed in have not been the top rated or fancy establishments, but every detail was taken care of, from the warm welcome we got when we first arrived, to the room being perfect. Gracious hosts and smiling staff go a long way to add to your impression. A little note left on the table, someone explaining to you in broken English exactly how the heating worked, with smiles and gestures to emphasise the point, beautiful small ornaments dotted around the room, an extra thick towel, these are the treasures of the experience.
At the end of the day, I would like to see more accommodation establishments actually taking the time to make sure that all is well. Quality control and attention to detail are the main aspects of any hospitality business. A certain level of care is required from all the staff, and should be carefully taught to ensure that the guest experience is top-notch from start to finish. In this day and age, with new places opening all the time, isn’t it amazing to think that some places still get repeat business, with their regulars coming back year after year, simply because they know that everything will be perfect? What is their secret? It’s not classified information, it is really just professionalism, standards being consistently met, and a level of service and attention to detail that are not a one-off but rather a way of life and the norm for the individual establishment.
When people really care about their guests, it shows. Whether they are a budget lodge, or a top starred hotel, all of them can meet the expectations of their customers, simply by making sure that all the details have been taken care of. The “I’s” have been dotted and the “T’s” have been crossed… the stitching is all complete, the light is on and working, and they are waiting for you with a warm smile and refreshing attitude, waiting to make your stay memorable for all the right reasons. These top quality places exist, and not just in fantasies.