Mr. Bill Marriott: What Do You Think?
By Dr. Lily Lin, Author of "Interviewing Successful Hotel Managers"
I have been teaching hotel management for a good part of my career. For more than 20 years, I taught at one of the top hotel management schools in Europe. I was the Chair of the Marketing Department for a number of years and I pioneered many courses, including marketing plan, revenue management, consumer behavior and sales management. I can proudly say that I have taught some of today's best hotel executives. After I quit teaching, I became fascinated with what makes or breaks hoteliers. So, I started interviewing them. Subsequently, I published the first book of its kind a few months ago, "Interviewing Successful Hotel Managers". In this book, I interviewed 44 senior managers, representing the world's top international chain and boutique hotels.
During the interviews, I asked the kind of questions that would allow me to get to know these hoteliers personally. They told me some truly amazing stories about their personal and business successes and failures; and they spoke their minds about the challenges they were facing on their jobs and in their personal lives. Afterwards, I would send my interviewees a draft for comments. In some cases, I would receive a revised text from the hotel company's PR who had made my interviewee's answers sound like a perfectly orchestrated PR masterpiece. Despite their best intentions, I believe that by doing so they depersonalized the interviewees. In fact, while most people would want to experience perfect services, they find someone with a perfect public image not real and difficult to relate to. It is persistence, courage and determination to overcome life's challenges that people admire, respect and find it personable. My gut feeling, therefore, tells me that without the genuine personal touch, these interviews would not have been nearly as successful as they have been. For this reason, I tend to decline requests to revise unless I've made factual errors.
In fact, so much of the hotels' written communications on- and offline lack personal connections with those who are responsible for making the hotel a warm, welcoming and vibrant place to stay.
I've also noticed that some hotel companies discourage their GMs and other senior executives putting their names and faces out there. In today's hotel industry, it is a shame that there are no more Bill Marriotts. Regardless of how excellent the hotel managers are, they are seldom given the opportunities to make themselves known to their current and potential guests. In fact, the majority of the hotel guests have no idea, who ultimately is responsible for making their guest experience memorable.
Bill, can you imagine guests visiting your house without knowing who you are?
In your recent interview with the Wall Street Journal, you said: "We've got to be cool!" Although you were referring to the development of future hotels, however, no matter how high-tech and contemporary a hotel concept is, in the end, a hotel is designed, built and, most of all, managed and energized by people.
If a hotel is to be cool, do you not think that the hoteliers should be cool as well? So, why do hotel companies discourage their hotel managers to be cool?
I believe that the hotel industry as a whole needs to rethink its approach because we are no longer living in the 19th century, in which hoteliers were seen as service staff — not to be seen or heard for fear that they might outshine their guests. In today's market, people buy from people — not only that, they buy from people with a personable – but not always a perfect public image. Even tech companies recognize the importance of this human factor. For instance, Microsoft = Bill Gates, Apple = Steve Jobs, Facebook = Mark Zuckerberg. These public figures are not necessarily the most charming or attractive ones but they are certainly some of the most engaging business leaders, who inspire followers and attract repeat customers. The truth is that the public image of such business leaders helps to motivate customers to become engaged in his/her business. The founder of Virgin Group, Richard Branson, understands this principle well and goes out his way to be an engaged leader to his companies' current and potential customers.
In addition, a recent Gallup research shows that emotionally engaged hotel guests spend 46% more per year than actively disengaged guests. Celebrity chefs in the restaurant business understand that their names are not only the guarantee for the quality of the food they serve; they also draw the crowd because of a personal connection. In casual dining, the same Gallup research shows that fully engaged diners make 56% more visits per month than actively disengaged diners do.
And yet, many in this most human-driven industry overlook the importance of a basic psychological principle.
Of course, realistically speaking, it is not possible for the GM and senior hotel managers to personally welcome all of their guests. However, we know that roughly two thirds of an average consumer's purchasing decision is based on emotional factors and one third is made up of rational choices. Therefore, it is possible to personalize senior hoteliers and create a similar emotional connection between the hotel and its guests as if the visitors personally knew their hosts. As a marketing expert, I know this can be done! And most importantly, it works for the guests and it works for the hoteliers!
Ultimately, finding and retaining guests is the way to sustain growth. So, what do you think, Bill? Should there be a paradigm shift in hotel management and communications?
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