It's still hospitality to me

It's time we bid 2016 adieu, make an about-face to 2017 and hope this is finally the year that all our hopes and dreams come true.

Every year starts out like this, right? Rarely have I heard: “[Insert year] was just so fantastic. Why does it have to end?” For instance, never has a Cleveland Browns fan uttered this line.

Like spring training, hope springs eternal. And the consensus often heard is that the future is always rosier than the past and the present. That is, of course, until the future becomes the past.

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Predictions are inconsequential and exist only to confuse the truth: No one knows the future. The universe is full of too many variables to allow for it. Handicapping the future exists for oddsmakers and speculators; the rest of it is in the stars.

Trends, however: They are predictive of what’s here and will continue to be. In hospitality, there is a continual movement toward what I am coining “DIY Travel.” That’s Do-It-Yourself Travel if you aren’t into the whole brevity thing. Technology has allowed us to be more independent of others than ever before. Entire lives operated from the palm of our hands, reliant on nothing more than the likes of Apple or Google. For the introvert, it’s your moment!

Now, a smartphone is your front-desk agent, the key to your room, your concierge, your point-of-sale. It’s all very “2001: A Space Odyssey”-like, converting us into a legion of aloof zombies with neck and thumb ailments. Moreover, it’s turning hostelry into an automat.

Don’t get it twisted: I’m not begrudging technology. No, wearables, VR, AI—these are all curious and lasting movements. What I do think is that the velocity of technology is having a damaging subliminal impact on guest service. The more we automate, the less we interact. For those in the service industry, engaging with customers in a meaningful way is in jeopardy of becoming a lost art form.

From the economy segment up to luxury, we stay in hotels for some semblance of service, an expectation of care with a human touch. If we didn’t, Airbnb would have 100-percent market share. Too often, I am witness to insouciant employees: in a hurry, heads down, too preoccupied to actually listen and observe. These aren’t bad people; they are just conditioned to our frenetic, gadget-driven epoch. Where have conversation, anticipation and reflexive reaction gone?

Case in point: Me. I recently tore my calf muscle, had to travel still and was pulling myself around the hotel Boris Karloff-style in “The Mummy.” Now, I pride myself on not being fussy—that’s what I have my girlfriend for. But I was a bit shocked that over the course of my three-day stay, and an array of chances, not once did an employee offer as much as a “How are you, what happened?”

Do I sound needy? Maybe. But hostelry is about hosting and hotel employees should reflexively be of an accommodating mindset. A simple “Can we arrange something to make you more comfortable” would have sufficed. Mind you, I was at a conference in Las Vegas, where walking long corridors is the norm.

Simple, unscripted, pleasant interaction between guest and employee should be the rule not the exception in a hotel. This is what sets hotels apart from other types of accommodation void of guest-facing staffing. Hotels can’t afford to lose this touch or risk becoming obsolete.

The modern-day hotel may have iPads that control every movement of the guestroom, robots capable of housekeeping duties and kiosks that allow for wordless check-in and check-out. Fine and dandy, but I’ll take a human with the heart and mind to offer a genuine good morning and the wherewithal to make a guest’s stay as good as it can get.

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