Hotels boast about experience without understanding the concept

Credit: ErmanCivici

Over time, in our business, you hear a lot of buzzy terms: millennial and home-sharing, to name two culprits. But my all-time favorite—scratch that, my all-time irritant—a perennial powerhouse that shows no bias to hotel segment is “experience.”

Offering an experience has become the de facto battle cry of the hotel industry. But it begs the question: If every hotel is offering an experience, then hasn’t the experience become commoditized? If everyone is doing it, not all can really be doing it and, further, doing it well.

At a recent hospitality conference I attended, and on a panel focused on new concepts in hospitality, the word experience was mentioned 14 times in 45 minutes. Millennial, the other buzzword of the moment, clocked in with eight references.

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Here were some of the highlights; I haven’t identified the name of the offender for fear of reprisal, of course:

“Money is important, it’s a business, but we are interested in the guest. We offer a genuine experience.” (No evidence of what that experience is was given.)

“The future of luxury is less about product and more about experience. Less services and more experience.” (So, you’re saying, I’m about to lose creature comforts, but in place I’ll have a better experience? Seems diametrical.)

“A great experience is local.” (Depends what location you are talking about, and if that’s the case—who needs you to deliver it?)

If you’ve read my columns, then you know I’m an eternal optimist; well, occasional; OK, fine, make it rare—I’m a rare optimist. But I completely believe in the power of the “experience economy,” an idea brought to the fore in 1998 by Joseph Pine and James Gilmore that argues that businesses must choreograph memorable events for customers, and that memory itself becomes the product or the experience.

How, then, does a hotel do this effectively and, more importantly, actually?

Here’s where I think some hotels and brands try and cop out. They set forth an idealistic premise about what they think an experience is. In the panel I mention above, one executive, a CEO of a brand, kept saying over and over that a great experience is all about great customer service. I’d agree that dutiful and cheery customer service helps, but does not make for an experience. In fact, great customer service should be table stakes. As an example, great customer service coupled with feeble water pressure and a dirty room does not make for a great experience. In fact, ever the contrarian, I’ll take a great shower and clean room any day over a smiling face. But that’s just me.

What, then, makes for a great experience from a hotel that goes beyond top-notch service? Obviously this is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Each customer has different expectations, so understanding your guests and tailoring something to them is the first step toward delivering a memorable experience.

For me, a great hotel experience is more about a feeling than anything else. And that can come through the smallest detail: from typography on a wall to the way the bartender mixes my drink (and the ingredients that go in it). An experience can be the fleetest moment, something intangible even that sticks in your memory bank until the next time you summon it.

My advice: Stop trying to create an experience and let it happen on its own. Maybe then you’ll create loyal guests out of those capricious millennials.

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