If I see one more hotel claiming that it is offering “hospitality redefined”, I shall scream.  Probably, like the little girl in the rhyme, until I am sick.

It is normally in the “bush-est” of hotels that you see this claim, in hotels which have been built by an owner with a “professional” team who have not a clue what hospitality is all about.  Least of all being able to “redefine” it, whatever that means.  The architect probably visited a hotel once, may even have stayed in one, and sees what is, to the unpractised eye, a big house with lots of bedrooms.  And then proceeds to waste an enormous amount of the owner’s money on a design which just does not work.

Their design principles seem to include the following:

  • The further the kitchen is from the restaurant, the better;
  • Either the staff need absolutely no facilities at all, and can just come in and start their shift without washing or changing their clothes; or
  • Bedrooms are provided for staff to sleep in when they are on the night shift;
  • TVs are placed in all areas, clearly for the benefit of the staff;
  • The reception desk is built to a height that puts the guest firmly in his place, preferably on a level lower than the receptionist;
  • Light switches are placed where you would least expect to find them;
  • Bathrooms are placed on the outside wall, instead of on the corridor wall, so the first thing you see when you open the bedroom door is the toilet;

And then they ask me to find them an international operator for this, this …… “redefined” hotel.

Then the hotel opens, and has what is described as “the restaurant”.  Typically a most uncomfortable area, with hard floors, metal chair legs, the brightest of lighting (and unpleasant light fixtures), the (staff) TV at full volume, and a tabletop strewn with “amusing” pieces of cheap Chinese plastic masquerading as cruet sets, flowers and toothpick dispensers.  Get the menu, pages and pages of “mouth watering” dishes, but there’s nothing available except meat and fish.  Or often just meat. That soooooo p*sses me off, you choose something, and it takes ten minutes for the staff to find out they haven’t got it.  And then it takes ages to get what you do (can?) order, because the architect didn’t provide a large enough kitchen, there is not enough equipment, and the cook can only do one dish at a time.

I’ll tell you how to “redefine” hospitality in these hotels.  It is, first, to build a hotel that follows the basic principles of design that have been developed over many years to ensure that the guests’ needs are met, that he feels comfortable, and both physically and mentally secure.  Second, it is to provide a service that has as its core focus the needs of the guest, the guest that is paying for that service, and the guest that you want to come back. Time and time again.

It is curious, methinks, that people who pull out all the stops to provide hospitality when an aged parent comes to visit them at home, these same people change completely when they are in a hotel environment, providing services to guests who pay their wages?  A lack of training doesn’t help, of course (I once had an owner tell me that he doesn’t train her staff because if she did, they will be poached by another hotel.  Cute, real cute).

After almost 40 years in the industry, I am yet to find any rocket science or brain surgery involved in building hotels and in running them.  It really isn’t difficult to get it right.  And there really is nothing to “redefine”.  Go back to basics.  Invest in knowledge, and keep investing in that knowledge for ever.  That way your guests will want to come back.  Time and time again.

Oh, I nearly forgot, it’s January so a New Year’s resolution is in order, isn’t it?  Here’s mine for 2013 – never more assume that a hotel restaurant menu is anything other than a part of the décor!  It’s a tough one, I know, people always told me different – “choose something from the menu” – but it might keep down my stress levels.

Trevor Ward

W Hospitality Group, Lagos           

trevor.ward@w-hospitalitygroup.com