Who’d have thought it? In the era of internet, social networks and global couch surfers, the age-old notion of hospitality is experiencing a comeback. This rediscovered phenomenon could even be the one of the future keys to sustainable growth in the service industry.
Here’s a scoop: there exists a universal religion, one that can unite 75 million pilgrims a year around one mecca… the Eiffel Tower. Yes, tourism. And in 2012 there were 13.4 million hotel rooms in the world to accommodate these fervent believers.
So exploring what has converted billions of individuals to this new belief means looking closely at three strands: hostelry, accommodation and hospitality. These three words bring to mind different things today than yesteryear, and will mean something else in the future. “We have to be aware that the modern day meanings of these words are only linguistic snapshots at a given time, our time. And at the moment the world has never seen so many tourists and business travellers; the need for hospitality has never been greater,” say Frédéric Dimanche and Brice Duthion in their latest book Hôtellerie et hébergement, les enjeux de l’hospitalité.
Hospitality, looking after one’s guest
The word hospitality comes from the Latin hospitalitas, meaning “the action of receiving someone as a guest”, and this in medieval times became “the right to be given shelter”. Over time, hospitality became the act of welcoming into one’s home someone who turns up on the doorstep and giving them free food and board.Then it gained a more economic slant as it began to be used to de ne the type of relationship between guest and host. “This use became widespread in the 20th century as the reference for both hotel and accommodation activities and also for business management and strategy,” states Frédéric Dimanche.
And so the word has a distinctly modern connotation in 2013 in the hotel sector. “At Suite Novotel, we have been working on the concept of hospitality for about ten years now, and whether we are modern or not isn’t an issue: our customers are asking us to be more generous and totally devoted to the pleasure of welcoming them in our establishments,” says Gwenaël Le Houerou, managing director of Novotel -Suite Novotel (Accor group). And if there is one line of business which is all about hospitality, it has to be the hotel industry, adds Olivier Cohn, managing director of Best Western France. “Hospitality gives us an added responsibility because it is what customers expect to receive when they come to the hotel, to spend a moment of their lives, often looking for a social connection. Among our jobs, two in particular crystallise the idea of hospitality in a hotel: the chambermaid and housekeeper and the receptionist. One works in the shadows, preparing the ground where the customer will be able to relax, and the other works in front of house, in direct contact with the customers when they arrive. In my opinion, this is where hospitality starts.”
Processes to lock down the customer journey
More than just a concept, hospitality is a state of mind that runs through all of the jobs in the wider hotel and catering sector (encompassing bed and breakfasts, five star hotels, campsites, family-run hotels, the golf club house and the local riding club). This state of mind is exploited to its full potential at a time when the tourist industry is experiencing its greatest upheaval of recent times due to the digital revolution which is verturning all the perceived wisdom in consumerism. “In our sector, the expectations of customers can be felt directly,” says Gwenaël Le Houerou. “We are fortunate in that the customer instinctively knows that the service provided can’t be 100% spot-on: he accepts the part of the imperfection that is down to the human factor but on the other hand goes mad if we try to hide it and don’t try to solve the problem as quickly as possible.” This brought about the quality promise dreamt up by Novotel a few years ago christened “Satisfait ou Invité” (Satis ed or our guest), subsequently relaunched worldwide in 2013 under the name “You”. This is a way of reassuring the customer that every hotel manager and their team are fully committed to their complete and total satisfaction. “The customer is without a doubt better informed thanks to Internet and social media, and de nitely more demanding. However, through their growing attachment to a service or band, the customer also turns out to be more open to discussion or even comprehending of certain situations,” notes Philippe Soille, head of the R&D Innovation division at Groupe FLO. “The aim is therefore not to aim to satisfy absolutely everything but to be able to fully answer each of our customers whilst remaining in our core business.”
And the solution isn’t necessarily to standardise all services and industrialise customer relationships in the name of satisfaction at all costs. “There must be processes in place to lock down the customer journey, and these help to free up members of staff so they can make their customer relationship more individual,” argues Gwenaël Le Houerou. “The main thing is that these processes respect the individualities and differences of employees and do not impinge on the way that each host welcomes their guest: an effective form of consideration symmetry.” This point of view is shared by Best Western France, for whom checking customer satisfaction on an extensive scale is a must. They send customers digital surveys to assess their satisfaction and commitment on every aspect of their stay. But that is the outer limit of the use of standardisation which had previously heralded the success of fast food chains and the international development of major hotel groups. “As far as hospitality goes, industrial methods are only going to be useful if they help to maintain and improve the relationship with our customer,” adds Philippe Soille. “That’s the limit we have to set in order to remain in a true and proper service relationship.”
Commitment, driving customer satisfaction
Today we are seeing a move in the other direction, where over-obvious signs of standardisation are being erased little by little to allow for individual service to take over. Consequently the digital revolution is an opportunity seized on by a certain number of hotel owners, in particular with a view to simplifying the administrative procedures ahead of check-in (passport number, official clearance, credit card details, etc.) which are not part of the hotel welcome itself, and therefore going straight to the essence of hospitality today, giving the customer his key and showing him the way to his room. “Tomorrow the job of receptionist will revolve much more around hospitality: an SMS will indicate the guest is on his way, and this will set off the administrative process up until the guest actually arriving, picking up his key and going up to his room,” forecasts Gwenaël Le Houerou. “In this area, the paperless services offered by airlines are a source of inspiration for the hotel industry, except that for us, the time saved is for investment in our new practice of hospitality and not a source of economies of scale.”
This is a silent revolution on the march, which, even if it has relatively little impact on the walled-off organisation of jobs within the industry, gives great importance to hands-on management: regularly convening representatives from all activities within the hotel to spur them on together towards the same objectives. This is about increasing the awareness among every member of staff, so that the cleaner can understand that her activity has the same objective as that of the receptionist or the cook, working towards the same goal, the guest’s satisfaction throughout his entire experience. “In the past, jobs in the hotel industry had very little prestige, but they are changing today thanks to these new objectives being set in terms of customer satisfaction,” says Olivier Cohn. “This recognition happens through training, a good method of making everyone feel involved in the life of the company and reaching the goals set. It also helps to gain loyalty from skills and talents by giving employees Group advantages whereas they work day- to-day in small units.”
The virtuous circle of hospitality
At a time when economic growth is still showing signs of weakness, particularly in Europe, imagining the future of the tourist sector through the prism of the values demonstrated by hospitality (those wished for by clients as well as those claimed by professionals) is promising. “Rather than a concept of economic growth in its own right, I think that hospitality must be looked at as the essential prerequisite for anyone who wants to develop in the hotel restaurant and accommodation industry and increase their service activities,” says Philippe Soille. This is echoed at Novotel – Suite Novotel where the feeling is that “hospitality generates a virtuous circle” as says Gwenaël Le Houerou. “If we respect the quality of the relationship at every level of our business activity, customers will prefer to come to us instead of the competition, this will make them more loyal to our brand, and make our company more pro table.” This will also delight investors, who will continue to support the growth of the business. “From my standpoint, the key to our future is to continue to work towards customer satisfaction,” continues Olivier Cohn. “Because of – and maybe thanks to – the transparency that Internet and social networks have imposed on us, a hotel must have the right tools and train its staff to be perfectly attentive to each customer whatever their pro le.” This is a winning formula, given that one point gained on a 5-point scale such as that used by TripAdvisor can be worth an 11% average price increase for one’s hotel at constant occupation rates. Who said that hospitality was a thing of the past? More like a model of inspiration for services everywhere.
(1) Consultancy Source: STR Global (Feb. 2012)
A handbook of realities and changes in the art of receiving
Co-written by two tourism specialists1, with a foreword from Accor founder Paul Dubrule, Hôtellerie et hébergement, les enjeux humains de l’hospitalité (Éditions de Boeck, November 2012) looks inside the industry today and how it has changed both in France and abroad. The authors rst examine what “lodging the passing guest” successively meant through History, from age-old ancestry to more recent and globalised economies. They then draw on a large number of professional testimonials, analysing relevant company and product case studies, illustrating the most vibrant areas and most sought-after skills in the industry today.
(1) Brice Duthion is a lecturer at the Conservatoire national des arts et métiers (CNAM); Frédéric Dimanche is a marketing lecture rat SKEMA Business School, on the Sophia Antipolis campus.
My definition of hospitality
“The ability to make the client feel at home when he is staying with us, with a bit of extra soul so that he doesn’t feel too far from his own home.”
Olivier Cohn, managing director of Best Western
“Caring about someone else and wishing to welcome them as they would a friend via a series of kind gestures that are the proof of you wanting to bring them pleasure.”
Vincent Delaitre, deputy director of the Picardy tourism committee.
“First and foremost the act of receiving, a concept with is quite singular in my opinion because it implies something else which is just as crucial: offering a service spontaneously.”
Philippe Soille, head of R&D Innovation division, Groupe FLO
“The art of welcoming someone in a friendly, benevolent and cordial way, and showing generosity, which is what makes the difference between hospitality and just reception.”
Gwenaël Le Houerou, managing director of Novotel and Suite Novotel
“Everything connected with the concept of meeting and greeting in hotels and accommodation, in an intuite personae relationship, from person to person.”
Frédéric Dimanche, marketing lecturer at SKEMA Business School