Have hotels lost their sense of hospitality?By James Bland
Towards the end of the last century I started my hospitality journey checking guests in and carrying their bags at Highgate House, one of Sundial Group’s conference venues. Quite a few of my school friends worked there – they paid pretty well (significantly better than the £2.75p/h I’d been earning elsewhere) and because at that time it was more conference centre than hotel, the work felt somehow more civilised.
When I turned 18, the GM called me into his office and asked if I’d be prepared to cover the night manager’s holiday for a fortnight over the summer. From 11pm until 5am I’d be the only member of staff on-site and basically my role was, well, everything. Sandwiches at 1am? “Yes madam”. Servicing conference rooms at 2? “On it”. Security patrol at 3? “Where’s my torch”. Cup of tea for the passing coppers at 4am? “Step this way, officers”. I had a cordless phone, a dozen keys and I was in charge!
I soon discovered that by far and away my most important role was barman-cum-host. You see, these were the days before social media. I’d been given a brick of an Ericsson (no Sony) for my 18th but it spent most of its time turned off at home. Even the Nokia 3310 was but a glint in a Finnish milkman’s eye. The bar was the social hub, and my role was – in part – to serve the drinks but mostly it was to talk, introduce and basically make guests feel welcome. For a few hours it was my house and they were my friends. It was a community… long before that became such a trendy label.
If I could turn back time
Twenty years on a fair bit has changed and hotels are facing challenges that very few people could ever have envisaged. The rise of peer-to-peer homesharing and, in particular, Airbnb (although others are available) have altered the accommodation landscape enormously. Most notable, of late, has been the ever-increasing amount of innovation we’re seeing from hotel brands; both in terms of what they offer and the new brands being launched. (Check out, in particular, Greet by Accor and Motto by Hilton, both of which seem to me to be direct responses to some of the features and attributes of homeshare accommodation).
A couple of years ago we did some research into why hotel guests had switched to homesharing and what hotels could potentially do to win them back. There were a number of reasons in each column but the one thing that really, really jarred with me was a comment about how a hotel could be very lonely when compared with staying in someone’s home right in the middle of town.
If you feel lonely in a hotel then, in my opinion, that hotel isn’t doing its job properly.
So last summer I was very pleased to see one that is.
My family and I stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn in Mississauga, near Toronto for a few nights in July and our visit happened to coincide with one of their monthly “sip and sizzle” sessions. Between 5pm and 7pm the hotel staff members put on drinks and nibbles and invite their guests to join them in the lobby. As we passed through on our way out to visit friends the lobby was alive with conversation, socialising, networking and the general buzz that comes when people interact with each other.
How clever. How simple. How refreshing (in more ways than one).
And how much it reminded me of what the job used to be.