“My bill please”
Sitting in a stranger’s tent sipping freshly brewed mint tea amongst cactus groves in the vast silence and brooding solitude of the desert is the saga of Bedouin hospitality. In such an unforgiving environment turning away a stranger is on par with murder. For the inhabitants of the Sahara, hospitality is a cultural value and moral imperative.
As a standard of conduct, throughout our history hospitality has been applied as a law, an ethic, a principle, a code, a duty, a virtue. Today, as any hotelier will demonstrate, hospitality as a moral imperative has survived into the commercial hospitality industry. Descendants of the ancient ideas continue to inform current standards and practices.
Satisfaction and happiness – raison d’être
Hospitality is no ordinary industry and it’s an industry that is hard to criticize because it speaks to a universal human concern: happiness and being cared for. It is one of the few industries in which the authenticity and actual concern for the well-being of the customer is put into practice. Hospitality offers a moment of respite. It shows how business does not necessarily have to be brash, profit-maximizing and self-indulgent, but can be genuinely friendly and offer instant customer satisfaction.
The core qualities of hospitality may have remained the same throughout time but our expectations around them have greatly progressed. In the early days a traveller would settle for the first inn he came along with no particular expectations other than being offered a roof and something to keep his hunger at bay. There would be pillars in place for him to hang his hammock and the owner would most likely join his guest for a cold beer. The traveller would eventually retire to his room and the following morning without disgruntlement pay his bill and venture off in high spirits.
Today, the story is slightly more complex. Due to the plethora of choice, the modern-day guest isn’t going to settle for second best and some sensitivity from the hotel manager or receptionist is required to deal with the demanding guest. Avoiding embarrassing faux pas – such as those of John Cleese’s “Fawlty Towers” Basil character of the highly successful and hilarious British TV series – demands more than just smiles, but an indisputable interest in and knowledge of how to make your guests feel genuinely welcomed.
Hotels – playing with our minds
Why is it that so much energy is spent on improving the well-being of the guest? Are people not capable of creating their own happiness? What’s more, when people are on holiday, their state of welfare is already better than it is the rest of the year. Looking at how we really are when we’re away could offer an explanation. Whether it’s a business trip, a family holiday or a romantic getaway, we’re not entirely our seemingly selves.
For all the excitement – or disdain – that comes upon stepping into a hotel, there passes through us a moment of helplessness. Even in the plushest of five stars adorned with rose petals, echoes of jazz music and leather armchairs around every corner, we’re still out of our own comfort zones, feeling out of place and lost.
This is how a psychologist would analyse the situation. Most of us, thank goodness, probably don’t ever consciously feel like this because some member of staff instantly beams a welcoming smile at you and our initial apprehensions are immediately swept away. This is why hotel staff is so vital. If we take away the staff, the hotel becomes a hostile environment.
When we are away the hotel is the nearest thing we will get to a home. When the air outside smells different, the people talk a strange language and the food has a funny texture, the hotel becomes the safe haven that we turn to at the end of the day. A good hotel is like a compensation for the challenges of being away. It puts our psychological security at ease. The greater need for friendly staff where the focus is entirely on us is also probably a reflection of our individualistic society. In this context a hotel fits the bill perfectly.
Professionalism: Today’s quest for perfection
These personal and emotional needs explain the rise of hotel management schools. In the broader perspective their existence is also illustrative of what travelling has become today. It’s no longer aimless wandering around but has become institutionalized. We find at our disposal services catering to all our travel needs. The world has realized how to capitalize on the travelling man. Before, such service-mindedness was out of habit; nowadays, people spend years at higher education institutes being trained in what should be a natural given.
The Business and Hotel Management School in Lucerne is an example of one such institution. This top-ranking institution reveals that hospitality is more than a cultural disposition. The intensive and comprehensive programmes cover a diverse spread of courses such as yield management, front office operations, accounting, human resource management, food service operations, personal computing, sales and marketing, business ethics, strategic financial management and law, to name a few. An 18-month internship illustrates that hospitality in the modern age requires practice.
As a traditional ethical code of conduct, hospitality shouldn’t be rocket science but part of our ingrained knowledge. It appears, though, that hotel management schools are needed more than ever. The reason: we’re living in an age of professionalism. In an era where we strive for the best, it looks like hospitality is no longer just an art but also a science.
Article by Désirée Esmeralda