Too Far East is West!

A simple truism that can act as a useful compass in guiding our thinking and anchoring us back to what's important.

Great thinkers often use great words to express great ideas. However, sometimes so great that the simple ideas, and language, become complex and complex can lead to a complete loss of direction, purpose and motivation.

Calling a Spade a Spade

Management guru, Tom Peters, recently wrote; "Forget initiatives, let's call them all out assaults!" It's not a bad idea. Industry and Commerce has a habit of speaking jargon. In many ways, the jargon becomes the norm, the norm becomes jargon and the plot is lost. The creative chaps at Ronseal got it just about right; "it does what it says on the tin". Sometimes marketers get into dreamy little space ships that fly, soar and sparkle but often they can be far removed from planet earth when their journey is done. Similarly, hospitality operators are often consumed with efficiency but fail to develop the people, the difference, the promise and the experience.Oh! And by the way! The customer!

Change and Opportunity

Like every other industry and business, hospitality is in a constant state of change. Change leads to new conditions and new realities. Think back to the local petrol station twenty years ago. You got petrol, oil and a greasy handshake if you were lucky. Now think again, wine, freshly baked bread, newspapers, fresh flowers, oil, petrol and they even make you serve yourself. Not bad from the operators point of view, very good from the owners. Fantastic from the customers. It's a little like the old Irish laborer. He said; "I have had this hammer twenty two years and it has had only three new shafts and four new heads in all that time" It's still a petrol station but it has reinvented itself so often. Similarly, the corner shop was consumed by the big supermarket. What was gained was also lost. We got efficiency but lost personality. Supermarkets got bigger and corner shops disappeared. However, wheels eventually turn and today there is evidence to show people miss character, charm and warmth and are beginning to shun impersonal efficient sterile "units" in favour of interaction, warmth and recognition.

Big Boys and Little Brands

Small hotels cannot offer what big branded hotels do. They should not begin to try. They should develop difference. Both are relevant, both are necessary but both are different.

Our needs determine our mood and our needs and moods therefore determine our decision. At different times we will absolutely need and demand all the things the branded chains have to offer. On the other hand, the quirky little unique family run hotel may just be the most tantalizing little piece of heaven to help me escape the travails of life. This is the opportunity and this should be the focus, after all, it's how every great brand started.

Moods and Needs

If my mood is escape, indulgence, relaxation and a base from which to venture out, give it to me and develop all the elements that make this the most tantalizing hotel I could ever wish to visit. Think of how some wonderful Irish hotels in wonderful settings have carved out their role and place.

If I am in full power business mode I need technology, a place to call my office. I need a place to meet, greet and entertain. At the end of the night I need to sleep and I may just have to catch an early flight at the airport next door.

Spot the difference?

Watch your Language

Too often I hear the term "product development" In itself it's cold and clinical and conjures up images of microscopic analysis in a white walled laboratory. Let's take a leaf out of Tom Peter's book and swap the term. Let's call it "experience development"

Of course a hotel has to be well groomed, clean, neat and tidy. Of course it has to perform and deliver. They are fundamentals, not points of difference. It is the one percent that tips the scales of our decision making, not the one hundred percent. Let`s look at the basics;

The Customer

There is always a danger that industry speaks to industry. It is astounding how often the very thing we are dissecting, analyzing and challenging is not represented by the customer, the consumer, the guest. It's an incredibly simple starting point. It is a starting point that often gets missed. People i.e. guests, do not talk industry jargon, they talk experience. We are unlikely to report on "an excellent nights fine dining accompanied by a robust merlot whilst repairing to the superior upper class fourth floor king size en suite bedroom". However, we will say "what a brilliant place to stay" This is the key to success. Treat your guests as they want to be treated then deliver that time and time again. Develop your hotel to meet these needs and create your unique brand of hospitality. Forget imitating that which you are not. For example, fussy little comment cards. Instead, take a leaf out of the ex Mayor of New York's book, Ed Koch. He shunned his official car and took cabs to have his ear to the ground. His famous question? "How am I doing?"

Your Staff and Colleagues

Until you ask your staff where the hotel is at everything else is irrelevant. In other words who knows best what's really happening other than those at the coal face. Your staff and colleagues know the truth and therefore they know the solutions. You cannot successfully develop exciting new ideas if you do not hear the internal issues and barriers first. Successful hotels listen, learn and then act.

Creating Ideas

The best ideas lie within. Again, once you have listened to your staff and unblocked their barriers, it's time to hear their ideas. If you create an atmosphere and method to encourage ideas they will flow. Their intimate knowledge will give you the answers.

Build a Team

Develop a cross section of people throughout the hotel into a meaningful group that meet regularly. They will reflect what's really happening. Train them, teach them and empower them.

Design for a Reason

Create unique comfort elements, elements that define you and make you memorable. Hotels should be an oasis; an oasis is a place of comfort and rest. If you do not entice yourself to stay there, what chance the customer? A critical design eye can often suggest simple, low cost solutions very quickly and easily implementable.

Atmosphere, Experience, Atmosphere

People create atmosphere. Nothing else, full stop. Good design and comfort merely facilitate that. The secret to a successful outlet is to understand and develop your own DNA. Develop your points of difference. Develop what you do best, what you know best and make it absolutely relevant to where you are and who wants you or could want you.

A hotel is like a theatre. Every night when the lights go down the show is over another day is done. The next day, no matter what has gone before it, the show will have a new audience, often a first time audience, and today's show must, at the very least, be better than the day before. The actors who will deliver the show are your people. If you do not invest in them in many ways you will have an average show. After all, what is the point of a beautiful comfortable cozy theatre with great sets, great seats and great lighting if the guys on stage have no idea what they are doing?

And Finally

As Isadore Sharpe, the CEO and founder of Four Seasons said "Luxury isn't about diamond jewellery anymore. What makes life better for me and my kids each day? The life experience. That's what counts"

In the end we will never tell our friends about the "great product we stayed at" We will however, always tell them about "a great experience"

Conor Kenny is Head of Hospitality Industry Consultants, Conor Kenny & Associates. For more information, or an informal chat, log on to

At Conor Kenny & Associates we start with one simple belief - "that your people are better persuaded by the reasons they have themselves discovered than by those which have come into the mind of others". Our business is your business, where exceeding expectations, maximizing performance and effective communication are all in a day's work. We may be known for doing things a little differently but our aim is simply to bring out the best in your business. But don't just take our word for it, browse through our site, look at who we work with, read a few articles and see what our clients have to say. Then, if you like, get in touch and see how we can help make your business...better.

Conor Kenny
Conor Kenny