Most people can offer decent service, but what's the key to a truly memorable and luxurious hospitality experience, asks Peter Hancock
A journalist from a design publication recently asked me what trends I had noticed in the best luxury hotels, with particular emphasis on the use of technology and cutting-edge design in bedrooms. Better brains than mine would know all about the clever use of fabrics, lighting and high-pressure water systems, although even I can recognise a nice piece of furniture when I see it.
Let me give you an example of 'good' hospitality from a recent visit to Scotland. We left the car outside our first hotel and waited to speak to a charming lady at reception, who whistled up someone to fetch the luggage and explained everything we needed to know. Our room had adequate space and was spotlessly clean, the team were friendly and the food wasn't bad. It did feel rather 'corporate' for our tastes, but overall we rated it pretty highly. All the extras offered to special customers were available to us - early check-in, room upgrade, breakfast, minibar, complimentary water, and so on. There was nothing to fault, to be honest, but one night was sufficient.
Our journey then took us to a more familiar property standing in hundreds of acres of drop-dead gorgeous scenery. A trio of charming gentlemen appeared at the entrance to greet us and immediately we were swept up in the arms of 'great' hospitality, which continued until we'd left. The bedroom was comically vast and filled with interesting items, books and fresh flowers.
Crucially, everyone working there seemed to genuinely enjoy looking after people, to the point where you felt you were doing them a favour by accepting the endless flow of service. We wished we could have stayed forever. We later learned that the entire team had been retained when the place changed hands a couple of years ago - a rare occurrence - and the trust placed in them by the new owner was clearly being repaid tenfold.
My dictionary defines hospitality as "kindness in welcoming strangers or guests", although we all know the snide alternative: "making your guests feel at home, when you wish they were". It's very difficult to measure with stars or percentage scores; you just know it when it happens.
At Pride of Britain we've grappled over the years with attempts to define great hospitality, only to return to relying on the subjective judgement of fellow hoteliers.
How lucky we are to belong to an industry where you can make thousands of people happy just by doing your job brilliantly.
Peter Hancock is chief executive of Pride of Britain Hotels