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Embracing the Experience

Posted on July 04, 2006

By Michael Adams

Having recently moderated two panels of hotel owner/operators, the most recent in Hong Kong, I can report that the latest buzzword embraced by major brands is “experience.” Not that it’s a new concept by any means. The word was first used as a hospitality concept by authors Jim Gilmore and Joe Pine several years ago for their book “The Experience Economy,” but it is just beginning to take hold at the upper reaches of the executive suites of hotel companies. (Disney learned this lesson years ago and are credited by Gilmore and Pine as the exemplars of giving a guest not just a room with bed and bath, but a total “experience” that leaves him or her with a great deal more than a list of mini-bar and telephone charges at the end of the stay.)

Hotel chains are in a competitive dither trying to out-experience each other, giving customers everything from a custom-downloaded i-Pod to (in one Indian resort) the chance to become a mahout by adopting an elephant for the length of a stay.

Hotel designers are rising to the challenge by creating environments probably far removed from home sweet home. Having already conquered the bed (how long has it been since you’ve slept in an uncomfortable hotel bed?) and the bath (spa amenities abound), they’re now on to technology, lighting, and stylistic touches that are so attractive that most are available for purchase. Rooms that used to boast all the comforts of home now have become showrooms to make homes resemble the haute look of hotels.

But here’s hoping we don’t lose the human touch. Hoteliers on both of these panels I mentioned rejected the idea of the human-free check-in process that’s come to be standard on most airlines. “We’ll never give up the human touch,” one of them asserted, and all agreed.

That’s fine by me, as long as we can improve the human touch. A recent check-in to a Las Vegas hotel where I’ve been a guest maybe 12 times in the past seven years founf me dealing with a very pleasant desk clerk who asked (very pleasantly), “Is his your first trip to our hotel?” Even in a very busy Las Vegas property, isn’t there the technology available to let them know I’m a frequent visitor? That small gesture of recognition would go a long way to creating an experience for me.


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Joan Eisenstodt

Good stuff, Michael - and good for us all to discuss. First - the "experience" needs to be geared to a broader audience. As an aging Boomer, the "experience" in a guestroom designed w/ minimal lighting - esp. bedside so reading requires a flashlight - is not an experience I want to have. Second the human touch is what we are about. Saw an article in Fast Co. (July/Aug.) about the hotels that are adding boarding pass kiosks to their lobbies so that one can check in and out of the hotel and print one's boarding pass w/o having any human interaction. Hotels are, no matter the furnishings, just buildings. The people give them the personality and the sense of being a valuable guest. Just as your Vegas experience shows, it is not necessarily about a look and amenities.

Sandy Biback

I concur with Joan on this one. An experience that doesn't include human touch is not one that gives me warm fuzzies for a hotel. Having said that, I just recently stayed at the Fairmont Vancouver Airport & was blown away by the service, the people and much more. AND I was able to check out & get my boarding pass in one step. That saved me lots of time in airport lines that day & allowed me to have another leisurely coffee at the hotel before leaving.

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