Creating a Memorable Guest Experience
By Larry Spelts, Vice President, Business Development
It is the guest experience that distinguishes a well-designed hotel that also becomes an award-winning hotel. The awards and accolades touted on our website are not for shameless publicity of Charlestowne Hotels but help make a point about guest experience. We are honored to be the operator of the No. 1 hotel in the U.S. according to the readers of Travel + Leisure magazine this past June, and the No. 2 in the world by the same readers.
These awards are guest driven. The independent, boutique hotels under Charlestowne Hotels’ management are not necessarily better designed and decorated than many other hotels that did not receive these same accolades, awards, or top rankings. There was something about the guest experience.
Design can help or hinder the quality of that experience. Goethe declared, “architecture is like music standing still,” and I like to follow that with composer, Ernest Bloch who said: “I have a horror of gratuitous virtuosity which leads nowhere and diverts us from the ultimate goal.” Most of us have seen design work displaying “gratuitous virtuosity diverting from the ultimate goal.” The ultimate goal being the guest experience.
This reminds me of something that was told to me early in my hospitality career: “a guest may not remember what you say, what you do, or the things that you gave them, but they will remember how they felt.” So, it is supremely important that we make our guests feel good. This same idea may be applied to design and décor. The guest may not recall the details or even the color of the walls of the room in which they slept, but they will recall how it all made them feel.
We refer to this as experiential travel. Now, essentially, all travel is an experience, so what I mean by experiential travel may best be explained with an example: the difference between eating and dining. Dining, in contrast to merely eating for sustenance, takes into account all of the senses (taste, olfactory, tactile, visual, and aural) and combines these senses with human interaction to create the dining experience.
As professionals who are involved in the creation of new hotels, we ask how may we thoughtfully and with specific purpose create lodging and dining experiences that arouse memorable feelings that will drive reputation, rankings, and ultimately the pricing power of a hotel and its ability to take market share and even induce demand. This question has inspired the work of researchers who ask travelers, “What makes for an experience that can do this?” Research among the demographic of travelers who prefer independent, boutique hotels, confirmed that authenticity is the number one characteristic desired by these travelers.
Existentialism has defined authenticity as the unimpeded operation of one’s true or core self in one’s daily enterprise. Existentialism philosophy describes authenticity as being a revelatory state, in which one perceives oneself, other people, and even things, in a radically new way. And, if this happens at our hotels, then this becomes the catalyst for the second and third most important characteristics for these travelers’ experience, which is discovery and wellbeing.
Discovery refers to today’s travelers’ thirst to experience and learn something new. In this age of the internet, it is easy for one to feel that one has pretty much seen it all. What is there that we can share with our guests that is new to them, that is revelatory. It may be as simple as an innovative use of a building material, the story of the artists who created the artwork, or a unique beverage or food item. Wellbeing is a result of the positive impact that the authentic experience of discovery within the revelatory experience has upon our emotional, spiritual, and physiological state. Remember, guests remember how they felt, not necessarily the details. We now understand the steps to attaining that feeling: authenticity enabling discovery, which fosters our wellbeing.
To achieve this, one must have a process. I recommend Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle process. Sinek’s Golden Circle starts with asking “why.” Let the answer to “why” lead to the “how” which leads us to the “what.” The “what” is then articulated through the design, services, and overall experience. The process of answering “why” and “how” to inform the “what” fosters authenticity and enables the creation of opportunities for discovery that contribute to our sense of wellbeing.
Authenticity, discovery, and wellbeing – these three characteristics make for an experience that creates memorable feelings that builds a hotel’s enduring success.
For more insight from Larry Spelts, see the Wall Street Journal’s November 7th story, “Boutique Hotels Spread.”