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Colin Nagy, head of strategy at Fred & Farid, a global advertising agency, writes this opinion column for Skift on hospitality, innovation, and business travel. “On Experience” dissects customer-centric experiences and innovation across hospitality, aviation, and beyond.
Most hotel arrivals are dreadfully mundane, even at high-end hotels. Either it is the familiar cadence, or a brand leans a little too hard on the R&D lab to innovate in ways people don’t actually want.
You arrive, hopefully don’t have to wait in line, give some basic details and a credit card, and get shown to your room with a rudimentary run through of the hopelessly complicated commands to open the blinds.
An earlier column lamented the rise of cost-cutting, artificial intelligence gone wrong, and the dark temptations that this new technology affords in hospitality. I implore those who are considering re-jiggering the arrival (yet again, in some cases) in the name of innovation to re-think, and just double down on training and polish, augmented with just enough data.
The reason? Whenever I have a perfect arrival that works like clockwork, I’m much more likely to overlook any other issue that pops up within those first few hours. It is an amazing diplomatic tool.
When greeted with empathy, recognition and checked-in in a fluid fashion, I’m a happy camper. When I have to wait in line, am not recognized if I’m a frequent visitor, or listen to too many clicks and clacks on a keyboard, all of a sudden the scuffs on the wall are magnified and any other small missed detail becomes all the more glaring.
So let’s deconstruct one of the best arrivals, in one of the most competitive hotel markets in the world: Tokyo, Japan. It is a city with old school classics like the Palace and the Imperial, polished offerings from chains like Peninsula and Four Seasons as well as the Mandarin in Nihonbashi, the Park Hyatt still manages to impress. While they are perhaps flashier and newer options in town, the elegant dark blue suits of the staff, their discreet but attentive demeanor, and finely tuned arrival process is something to behold. It is not over-the-top, it quietly hums in a way that delights when you pay close attention.
The last few times I’ve checked in, I’ve noticed a few recurring details. Let’s unpack them a bit:
When I made my booking, I highlighted an ugly early arrival time from a JAL flight arriving from San Francisco. In addition to having a room ready at dawn, a blessing in and of itself, I also was surprised by a light breakfast with pastries and fresh fruits waiting for me in the room, like clockwork. Taking a small piece of data, a flight number, was able to be engineered into something comfortable.
This wasn’t some crazy data mining of profiles, or anything complicated. It was taking a single data point, planning around it, and executing well.
2. The arrival and welcome
The poised doormen and bellhops are very good with faces, and if you are a new guest, they’ll make every effort to discretely check a bag tag, or do other necessary advance work. A warm “welcome back” from a face that you know is remembering you is magic. And it is the same if you’re arriving in a 7 series, or the Friendly Airport Limousine that frequent Tokyo travelers know and love. And from the arrival door, to the main lobby, there’s machinations that start quickly whirring as soon as you pass the double doors.
3. The check-in
After an elevator ride up, and a walk through the hushed lobby and library, I was greeted by staff, welcomed by name and quickly bypassed the check-in desk to be escorted to the room to handle basic formalities. Particularly notable was the fact that they refused my credit card. I’ve stayed the hotel quite a bit, and the subtle gesture was quite elegant: “We trust you” And because trust and small gestures such as these are a fundamental part of hospitality, it was well received. And the built-in word of mouth from that small gesture was priceless.
As hotels think where to allocate budgets and training, the brand diplomats on the front line, stewards of the all important first 30 minutes are invaluable to creating the perfect story.