Catalyst

Making the hotel feel like home

R. Ravikumar | Updated on August 22, 2014 Published on August 21, 2014

More than a room Today’s traveller looks for more than well-furnished rooms

More than a room Today’s traveller looks for more than well-furnished rooms

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Hospitality players are vying to make guests happy through personalised service — be it enabling your morning jog or providing your own brand of shampoo



It is 7.30 in the morning. As we enter the plush lobby of Westin at Velacherry in Chennai, white tea fragrance wafts through. The guests assembled in the lobby are all set for their morning run. What is strikingly common to them? They are all dressed in New Balance running gear.

“We understand that being away from home, sleeping in an unfamiliar bed and eating out all the time makes travelling really hard. That’s why we at Westin do our best to make a traveller feel at home and not miss out on their routine,” says Shrikant Wakharkar, General Manager of the property. Westin offered them a complete set of running gear to encourage them to go for a refreshing jog. “After all, it is part of our brand philosophy. Wellness is built into the very design of Westin,” claims Wakharkar.

Westin has tied up with the running gear brand New Balance for Run Westin. Under this initiative, Westin hotels globally give out a printed route map to guests for jogging around the property, and also running gear for a fee. “Today’s savvy travellers expect a hotel brand to have character, and go beyond offering just well-furnished rooms,” he says.

Branding beyond rooms

There has been a churn at the high end with a lot of international and home-grown brands, where products and services are all too similar, leading to very bland and generic experiences.

The fierce competition has prompted most hotel brands to upgrade their products, making it harder to differentiate one from the other. Hence, successful branding has to go beyond just a signage and concrete walls.

Dilip Puri, Managing Director (India), Starwood Hotels, says the differentiation starts right from design. Designers are into it from the blue-print stage itself. For example, he says, Sheraton’s core elements are very different from that of Westin. They are both five-star hotels, they both probably have the same average rates, but the kind of guests who would choose to use the Sheraton or Westin visit for different purposes. You are constantly connected, you are constantly wired, everything is available at your fingertips, that’s precisely what a Sheraton is. Westin is meant more for a traveller who wants modern business conveniences.

Puri says these insights are based on research. According to him, Meridien globally gets most of its customers from the advertising industry. A lot of investment bankers using Westin. “It’s a matter of research, an experience. What does the customer expect in that hotel? A consulting guy could be spending two-three weeks on a project working with one of the clients. His needs and expectations are very different from a guy who is on a two nights’ stay,” he explains.

According to him, Westin’s patented ‘Heavenly Bed’ is not available at ‘Sheratons’ or even at ‘Luxury Collection’ hotels — luxury brands from the same Starwood stable, as there is a need to distinguish each brand to cater to a specific audience group.

Little things, big impact

But meeting each guest’s preferences all the time can be expensive and complicated. How can a hotel develop guest interactions that are cost-effective?

While many high-end hotel chains have been working hard to make the guest experience more personalised, the capability becomes more authentic when it stems naturally from the brand. Hyatt says it strives to provide guests with a home away from home, no matter which country they are in. For instance, if a guest from, say, the US, stays at Hyatt in Chennai, the hotel staff here stock up his room with just the tea/coffee flavours he prefers. Hyatt’s database of guest preferences helps them to personalise their service wherever in the world he is — the staff even know how many ice-cubes he slips into his whisky.

A compelling brand represents a rich, proprietary source to offer a distinctive guest experience, which will drive loyalty, says Sunjae Sharma, Area Director, Hyatt Hotels & Resorts.

Wakharkar of Westin says it is often the little things that matter. A handwritten note or a phone call from a hotel manager can make a big difference. He cites the instance where a member of the housekeeping staff realised that a guest was using his own shampoo and not the one the hotel provided. When the guest’s bottle of shampoo was almost used up, he replaced it with another bottle of the same brand bought from the shop across the road. The guest was extremely happy. Most guests appreciate these small niceties.

“Hotels should use their brand as a platform to create distinctive ways to offer an experience that makes each guest feel special,” says Wakharkar. If you’re convinced about the need to move beyond the product, you have two priorities: First, define your unique guest experience. Second, encourage your employees to deliver that experience across all touch-points.

All hoteliers, indeed, agree with that. After all, they all believe that the battle for mind share is won in the heart and mind of customers, and not just in the architect’s office.

Published on August 21, 2014
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