The single most important differentiator in hospitality is service, says Peter Hancock, chief executive of Pride of Britain Hotels
You don't need to be an economist to see that vast amounts of money are being poured by big companies and foreign investors into luxury hotel developments in this country, especially in London, of course. Driven by the need for relatively secure assets, top-end hotels have become a favourite place to park cash, making it increasingly difficult for independent operators to match the level of bling we see behind all those shiny new doors.
So is there anything one can do to really impress guests without spending tens of millions of pounds on similar upgrades? I believe so, largely because the very essence of luxury is not about decor, important though that is, but about service.
Because of my job, I'm at risk of taking wonderful service for granted, since I receive it far more frequently than somebody on my income could normally expect. However, I do try to notice when those little magic touches, which cost absolutely nothing at all to deliver, make customers beam with appreciation.
Here are some examples of what I mean: a low stool brought to the dining table, without prompting, as a place to put your handbag; a little tag pegged to your re-hung towel saying ‘thank you' for incurring less laundry; a message after your stay to check everything was satisfactory; or the use of a guest's name to denote recognition.
Close relatives of mine remained loyal to a, by all accounts, rather ordinary hotel in Tenerife for many years, despite inducements from far superior venues nearby. Why? Because they were made to feel special, wanted and welcome. It all came down to a few individuals working in that hotel who had the gift of relating to people properly. The cautionary end to this tale is that eventually those gifted staff moved on, and suddenly the shabby bathrooms and gloomy restaurant came into view in high definition - adiÁ³s to all that.
Whether the warmth of feeling towards customers is genuine or not seems hardly to matter. Let's face it, we would all prefer to be told to have a nice day by someone who doesn't mean it than be told to sod off by someone who does.