Hospitality Happens At The Margins

Filed Under: Hotels, Travel

I think it’s fair to say that airlines and hotels make money at the margins.

In other words, you have various groups of guests you can “count on,” and then it’s filling those extra seats and rooms at the highest possible yields that has the greatest impact on your bottom line. That’s why dynamic pricing and inventory/revenue management are so important.

One of my favorite things about constantly being on the road is experiencing well-executed hospitality. The hotel industry is often referred to as the “hospitality industry,” and in theory for good reason.

But when you’re flying or staying at a hotel, how often do you really feel like a guest as opposed to a transaction?

A Starwood SVP appeared on Bloomberg the other day to explain that 2% of their guests generate 30% of their profits.

Let me throw some numbers out as a frequent flyer and hotel guest, as those numbers sort of resonated with me in another way. I’d say 30% of my perception and memory of a brand is derived from 2% of my experiences.

When I stay in a hotel or take a flight, there’s a range of services I expect.

In business class, for example, I expect call buttons to be answered quickly, flight attendants to be friendly, seats to be comfortable, food to be edible, etc. At four star hotels, I expect the check-in associates to be friendly, the phone to be picked up quickly, rooms to be clean, Wi-Fi to be fast, etc.

Of course there’s a range of services within those categories. But I’ve realized it’s really the smallest things that are memorable for me, and that leave a lasting impression.

I’ve had three such experiences so far this week, and they all put the biggest smile on my face, so I figured I’d share them:

In Singapore business class….

On Tuesday I flew from Frankfurt to New York in Singapore Airlines business class, and was really pleasantly surprised.

The service was amazing throughout. But what made me smile and really was memorable for me was in the middle of the flight when the cabin was dark, and within a minute of waking up I was approached and asked “Mr. Schlappig, would you care for something to drink? Perhaps another glass of champagne or a cappuccino?”

There are so many little things to get right, but in a cabin with 86 seats, he knew my name, approached me at lightning speeds without me asking for anything, anticipated I might want something, and remembered what I had to drink earlier. For me, that’s hospitality.


At the Park Hyatt New York…

I stayed at the Park Hyatt New York Tuesday night (which was also their grand opening), and will have a full review of that shortly. The hotel is spectacular and service was simply flawless.

There literally wasn’t one thing I could critique about the service. But that’s what you’d hope for from the flagship Park Hyatt property, right?

What stuck with me more than anything, though, was the doorman, Christopher. He was just so damn friendly and happy to be working there, and a positive attitude is infectious. But that’s not out of the ordinary. I expect people to be enthusiastic on opening day, and expect them to be excited to work at the flagship Park Hyatt property.

But what really impressed me is that when I left the hotel in the evening, he stopped me and asked if he could fix my collar.

That’s literally the thing I remember the most about my stay. Why? Because that was in no way part of his job description. He wasn’t doing it because I was a transaction, but was doing it because I was a guest.

And it was an amazing, amazing stay otherwise.


At the Grand Hyatt Tampa…

The Grand Hyatt Tampa is basically my home hotel. I stay there all the time, and they take amazing care of me. The staff are fantastic across the board.

I’ve stayed there dozens of times, but my most recent visit left more of an impression than anything that has been done before.

When I returned to my room there were two cans of Diet Coke (keep in mind Hyatt has a partnership with Pepsi), lime, and a cheese plate with nuts and strawberries. Thanks to Kenny at the front desk for that (who I swear will one day be the GM of a hotel).


I wasn’t expecting a welcome amenity (I chose the 1,000 points, after all), I’ve never received a welcome amenity before, and I don’t ever expect one again.

But that amenity which maybe cost a couple of dollars left a lasting impression.

Am I the only one impressed by the little things?

Well-executed service is great, and can certainly leave a positive impression. But for me it’s the little touches that make the difference between a great experience and a memorable one.

Loyalty programs are more competitive than ever, and in many ways the competition is getting tougher, especially on the hotel front. Hotels don’t just have to fight for business with one another, but are now also competing with the likes of Airbnb.

I’d love to see a “2.0” of most loyalty programs, which aren’t just about published benefits, but about customizing the experience.

How about a welcome amenity specific to the guest’s desires, like Kimpton has? Or actually getting to know the room preferences guests have?

For example, I hate rooms with connecting doors, and will take a room with the view of an airport over a view of something more “scenic.” I hate decorative pillows and when the TV is turned on at turndown, so I can’t even say how much of a smile it would put on my face if a hotel “got” that.

Interestingly in the Bloomberg interview I referenced above, the Starwood SVP (in part) says the following:

“One of the things we’ve learned from our SPG members is that their needs change trip to trip. I remember we were doing one of our focus groups and one of our Platinum members said ‘look, I’m on the road 100 nights a year at your hotels, and most of the time as a consultant what I care about is I’m going to arrive late and I want a couple of Diet Cokes and a cobb salad in my room. But you know what, the next time I’m taking a trip I might be with my husband and two small daughters, and if you don’t understand my unique needs for that trip, if you look at me as a Platinum guest as opposed to the valuable guest of yours who has unique needs, than you’ve missed an opportunity.’ So we’ve spent a lot of time on personalization.”

They’ve certainly talked the talk, but I’d love to see the major hotel chains actually walk the walk on this one.

And a sincere thanks to those of you in the airline and hotel industry that make it the hospitality industry. You guys rock!

Am I the only one more thrilled by the little touches that make me feel like the hotel knows me as opposed to just knowing me by how often I stay with them (be it the individual hotel or the chain as a whole)?

  1. Your theory here is very similar to that of the former SAS CEO Jan Carlzon. He enumerated this very well in his book entitled “Moments of Truth”.

    Even though I’m not in full agreement with what he outlines in the book, there is a lot in there to learn there about hospitality management theory and how to maximise positive impressions on the customer. Suggest you check it out if you haven’t already.

  2. I do agree as well. It’s always the little things for me. At several locations that my partner and I travel to, they actively remember us from *last year*. Even being remembered for a stay a year ago was amazing.

  3. So well said. As hospitality consultants, and equally as frequent travelers, we agree that the little things truly, if done well, correctly and over a sustained period, are what makes memories vs. just stays.

    Great post.

  4. yes, it’s definitely the little things… too bad many airlines don’t realize that.

    btw, why not stay with your parents in Tampa? wouldn’t it be cheaper?

  5. It’s because you’re an introvert that you value these small socialization things. All of the things you mentioned can be had at 2/3* hotels, at half the price, and free wifi and even free breakfast.

    BTW this marginal thinking is nothing new. And is taught in Marketing 101. Guess you were too busy mileage running on your parents money to remember that important class.

  6. It is always the “plus 1” that is the differentiator that make one experience stand out over another!

  7. The “little things” are really the only way for a stay to be extraordinary. Otherwise, it’s just what I’d expect from that level of hotel. The most remarkable thing I’ve experienced was at the Four Seasons Buenos Aires (and there were several at that property) was that the pool attendant greeted us the next day by name, and asked how we’d enjoyed our dinner the evening before at XYZ restaurant (we hadn’t discussed our dinner plans with anyone but the concierge). I know there are ways to gather this information, but the natural and sincere application of it (without referencing any notes) was what blew us away and made us feel like GUESTS. Ben, I know you say the Park Hyatt is the best property in BA (and I used to agree), but you’ve got to give the new FS a shot! Plus, you can’t beat its outdoor pool in the summer — feels like a resort in the middle of the city.

  8. “I’d love to see a “2.0″ of most loyalty programs, which aren’t just about published benefits, but about customizing the experience. How about a welcome amenity specific to the guest’s desires, like Kimpton has? Or actually getting to know the room preferences guests have?

    For example, I hate rooms with connecting doors, and will take a room with the view of an airport over a view of something more “scenic.” I hate decorative pillows and when the TV is turned on at turndown, so I can’t even say how much of a smile it would put on my face if a hotel “got” that.”

    October 15th.

  9. Yep. We had our anniversary weekend at the Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay a few years ago. I came downstairs late and hungover only to find that the restaurant was closed in between brunch and dinner service. After the host gave me the bad news she said, “but what would you like? i’ll see what I can do…” She walked us over to a lobby table with an amazing view and about 5 minutes later a gorgeous tray appears with fresh croissants, fruit, yogurt, and (most importantly) a large french press full of coffee. I still remember that as the moment when the price of the hotel went from “absurd” to “worth it”.

  10. Great post, spot on.

    I am lucky to stay at great hotels a lot for business, so I get spoiled.

    Recently, I stayed at a Hilton Garden Inn – was the best hotel in the town we were in for a pitch, and I wasn’t looking forward to it at all. But the kid who checked me in – he could not have been older than 24 – was incredibly fast and helpful, and went out of his way to help us get some IT issues solved – our issues, not theirs – and made my life MUCH easier the night before a big meeting. Saved me from having to drive 30 miles each way to a FedEx Office store.

    Definitely made me think about that brand in a new way.

  11. Stayed at the Trump Waikiki last June with my family and was amazed by all the little things that we offered by the hotel staff without us asking and most important without using the “nickel and dime” attitude that most hotels use. Here are some examples of little things that amazed us:
    – When we got to our room there were several water bottles already in the fridge, cake pops for my two kids with a personalized card (their names on it) welcoming them to the hotel. Also, a full box of a top brand of Hawaiian macadamia cookies for us. A kids folder with lots of information about the activities for kids, a card where they could ask for a video game to be installed in the room and a menu of games they could select. A kids bath robe for each kid and a stuffed animal from the Trump Kids club;
    – When waiting for our car from the valet park, a nice lady from the concierge asked if we were going to the beach. Once we said yes she asked us to wait a moment since she had something for us. She came back with an insulated beach bag with towels for all of us, cold bottles of water, sunscreen and fresh fruits;
    – At breakfast, we had the full buffet included in our rate but the waiter gave us a a la carte menu so we could order many special items that were not part of the buffet. All at no extra charge.

    In sum, the service and the attitude of all hotel personnel really went above and beyond our expectations.

  12. I am 100% with you on that! In customer service, it’s really the small things that matter. As a recent graduate from a hospitality program, I could say that being hospitable to someone weren’t something that could be taught in school, but rather a desire to go above and beyond customer’s expectation from that individual.

    The differences between a good and a great barista is someone who could remember a customer’s complicated drink order even before they walk up to the counter. I always greet my regulars with something along the line of ” Is it gonna be your regular grande nonfat 2 pumps toffeenut extra hot latte for you this morning?!” And let me tell you, that customer is more likely to come back because they know that their loyalty is being appreciated, and that they are being treated more than just a transaction.

    To sum it up, it’s like CX’s motto: ” Service straight from the heart”

  13. Strangely, my wife just recently had the exact same experience you had with Singapore. I say strangely because, even though we were in First Class, we were flying AMERICAN AIRLINES. On a 777 from LHR to MIA, she woke up from a mid-flight nap, and the FA instantly appeared at her side and asked her if he could get her something more to drink. Which actually sort of startled her, since she was still half asleep, and besides, who expects that sort of service on AA, even in First?

    The entire flight was that way. 30 seconds after arriving at my seat the Purser came over and introduced himself. I said “a friend” ( I didn’t want to say Lucky) 🙂 says you can tell within the first minute how good a flight’s service is going to be. And that I could tell this was going to be a great one. He replied “Yes, we are going to give you 110 percent service”. And they did; it was the best onboard service of my life. We SO wish we could book all of our future flights with that same crew.

  14. Great, great post. I completely agree with every word you said.

    And @Barbara: Why so rude? I hate wasting my time with these comments, but you people need to be told off when you speak how you do. You don’t talk to people like that, even if it’s online.

  15. Recently stayed at the Williamsburg Inn and was talking to the hostess at the restaurant about how we haven’t seen rain in many months, living in California, and how much we missed it. About an hour later, as we were at a table in the bar, she comes over and asks us to take a little walk. It had started to lightly rain, and she had opened a door by the restaurant so that we could step out and see, hear and smell it. It was the most wonderful little treat, so very thoughtful and kind, and we will remember it for a very long time. The entire stay was like that with the most friendly and attentive staff. My parents live nearby and it is now my go-to hotel when visiting.

  16. I just made reservations for dinner at the Park Hyatt during my stay. They connected me to the restuant and the lady said, “Certainly, Mr. John.”

    I hasn’t told them who I was.

  17. Absolutely love the little things as the hotel or front desk staff goes out of their ways to complete those things. Last week I stayed at the Park Hyatt Zürich (on award nights) and just had a phenomenal stay. The front desk clerk who checked me in (via in-room checkin) also checked me out two days later and he was able to recall me telling him that I live and work from Belgium but am from Texas and have a return trip home next month. As I was leaving he goes “Have a safe flight back to Belgium for work, and a wonderful time visiting your family back in Texas next month.”

    I was floored by this, yeah its a small thing but being able to remember personal details about your guests when you have many guests at the hotels goes an extremely long way. On top of this I received a check-in fruit basket along with a personal note from him as well. What amazed me about this part is that I checked in extremely early (9:30am) without request early-checkin and the fruit basket and note had already been placed in my room. Yes, probably they were no where near full occupancy but just the LOE that they show for each guest was just amazing!

  18. I stayed at the Double Tree Asheville on vacation and it happened to be my birthday. I left a comment to that effect on my reservation, and when I arrived at the hotel, the front desk attendant said, “We’ve been waiting for you!” and alerted the manager, who offered me a choice of local beer or a bottle of wine — delivered to the room. They had also upgraded me to a one-bedroom suite. I was surprised that they took such notice of the “notes” field on my reservation, but I really appreciate that they did. I’d be much more likely to stay there again than anywhere else in town.

  19. A few experiences like this indeed; i stay approx 4 times / year in the same Holiday Inn hotel in Vienna. About 3-4 years ago, I had an issue and discussed it with some people at the reception and also with the manager. Since then, they do remember me – in a positive sense. Each time I come there, when i step over the door, they say “hello Mr S, nice to see you again”. I’m now no longer Plat with IHG, just gold, but they keep giving me an upgrade. When the manager walks by occasionally, he does remember me and takes a minute for a chat.
    Another experience was the Excelsior in Köln. Old(fashioned) hotel, not that special, but the service – wow. If you ask they concierge or anyone else for a close by ATM, instead of telling you, “it’s 200 m around the corner”, they say “let me walk with you to it”. And the second day at breakfast, they remembered I liked pink grapefruit with 1/3 or sparkling water and offered that spontaneously. Always impressive! Very different from the LH service where they say “Hallo Dr S” if you are in business, because I am a Sen**… not because they know me.

  20. Consider this: when you stay at a giant chain hotel, chances are the hotel will be huge, with hundreds of rooms. It’s really, REALLY hard to deliver personalized service on that scale. Typically the best that can be hoped for is that the staff is both pleasant and competent, but I would certainly never expect them to remember my name, where I’m traveling from/to, etc. Which is why Ben and all of the above commenters were so pleasantly surprised at the memorable personal touches – I would have been, too.

    But the equation is totally different if you stay at a smaller inn or B&B. You actually come to expect this kind of personal attention. That’s one reason why I try to avoid big hotels whenever I can. For business trips where there’s no alternative, fine. But hotel rewards programs just aren’t lucrative enough to make me want to stay in a giant faceless box, especially when I’m on vacation. I’d much rather stay in a small, non-brand-name place, typically costing much less than the big chains, and experience that personal connection every single day I’m visiting.

    My family and I have had some *fantastic* vacations staying in these sorts of smaller places, where the warmth and friendliness of the proprietors and staff have contributed greatly to the overall atmosphere of charm and relaxation. In fact, I simply can’t imagine spending a significant number of vacation nights in a big box hotel at all.

  21. I can’t believe the rudeness and the inane criticism that is sometimes directed at you on these boards, Ben. (I’m looking at you, @Barbara). I won’t repeat the name a commenter called you a day or two ago, but wow, just wow, WTF is wrong with people?? I’m so happy I found your blog, absolutely love it…keep up the good work!

  22. Well, Barbara I hope you feel better for sharing your petty and small-minded comments with us. Enjoy the rest of your day.

  23. I had this happen a couple of years back at the Andaz in San Diego. I told no one is was my birthday, i hate celebrations, but some how they found out and 5 minutes after getting to my room a cupcake and wine shows up. All this for a lowly platinum. It really did make my week.
    I just wish Hyatt had more properties….

  24. The smile that these memories give me on a Friday afternoon at the end of a very crazy first week of school cannot be valued.

  25. The little things make a HUGE difference in my humble opinion. A simple chocolate bar at the Sofitel London Gatwick to the most memorable three plate olive, cheese, nut tray plus a bottle of bubbly at the Ritz in Miami on a stay for a job. Those small extras make the stay memorable and the next time I go to book a hotel I think on who has taken care of me in the past and who likely will again.

  26. The amazing service and the little things are the reason I’ve given up tens of thousands points in London to stay with the Firmdale hotels – boutique hotels with less then 90 rooms. After the first visit to the Soho Hotel and subsequently the Charlotte Street hotel, I was hooked. From handwritten note cards and small (different) welcome gifts (the spa nail polish was a big hit) to the bellman running four blocks to find me a cab on a sunday morning because I forgot to pre-order. Recently, I stayed at The Rosewood London the concierge booked a spa treatment for me, the fact that I dislike lavender came up as a bit of a joke, when I returned later, all of the lavender toiletries were removed and replaced in the bathroom. In the US, the Peninsula Chicago made me swoon and its been love ever since. I’m happy to forgo the points for incredible service that makes my stay so memorable.

    Service is key for me and my employees whether you stay once or once a week, it is easy to make people feel special with two rooms or two hundred rooms, etc. and yet so many miss the opportunities- it really takes one bad experience for me, staff or clients to shift our travel spend elsewhere

  27. Really good take on it Ben. Those little things will be remembered years down the track. It’s what makes the experience special. Look forward to seeing some more pics of PHNY. Safe travels.

  28. I agree very much with this post. I stayed this past week at the JW Union Square in SF, and while it mostly was a nice hotel, I am still peeved that it took an act of God most days to actually get the Wall Street Journal, despite this being on my profile and confirmed several times. This lack of the little thing ended up coloring my stay.

    On the other hand, I don’t tend to love very small hotels or B&B, because I dislike the small talk and the chatter that is required. I talk as a career, sometimes when I travel alone I just want to be … left alone.

  29. I completely agree about the little and small touches making the biggest difference. I definitely don’t need room upgrades (though they are nice), but I do like to feel like a valued guest, particularly in smaller hotels…

  30. Yes the little things – I arrived at the Intercontinental in Vienna with one wheel of my wheelie bag literally hanging off. The bellman gave it to maintenance who fixed and reinforced not only that wheel, but also reinforced the other three. This was accomplished while I was out to dinner and had been delivered to my room by the time I returned. My appreciation (and gratitude) for IHG definitely increased.

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