Aiming for the stars


What is it that makes a great hotel great? I have often asked myself that question and, almost all the time, I have ended up with the same answer.

Yes, the size, location, grandeur and creature comforts are important deciding factors, but these are things one takes for granted when checking into a luxury hotel. Right? So, for me, as I am sure it’s with most well-heeled travellers, it’s the quality of service that earns a five-star hotel its true stars.
But there’s a problem here: even though every big hotel in the world claims to offer top-quality service, it’s not easy to define quality. And that’s simply because expensive service doesn’t necessarily mean good service. And, to make matters a little more complicated, service is not merely a question of laying the knives and forks right.
Still the beauty of it all is that it doesn’t take very long for a discerning guest to appreciate the quality of service and tell whether the reception is warm, lukewarm or cold. That’s why a good hotel doesn’t wait for the guest to arrive at its lobby to build a relationship. It starts bonding long before the guest has even checked in.  The airport manager who greets him on arrival, the attendant who ushers him into the limousine and the driver who brings him to the hotel all play a role in making the guest comfortable.
So, by the time the limousine has parked at the entrance of the hotel, the guest is no stranger. The message is straightforward: if the guest feels at home when he walks in, there is a good chance that he will become a part of the hotel when he walks out.
But all this more easily said than done. And that, I feel, is because, whether they like it or not, all hoteliers are asked to toe that Golden Rule: the guest is always right. But there’s no point in managers nodding all smiles at utter nonsense guests sometimes fling their way while abusing them at the back of their mind.
I’d say it’s much better to change that rule and, instead, like Isadore Sharp, the founder and chairman of Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts, puts it, “treat customers as a host would.” That way, you will win friends and not just fan egos. Trust me, a guest is no fool: he can always tell if a smile is plastic or genuine.
Not surprising then that, in this day of glittering five-star hotels boasting the best marbles and granite and state-of-the-art facilities, it’s this basic human quality that can make all the difference. And, more to the point, differentiate it from the hordes of glass-and-steel hotels lining your city’s skyline.
In a lot of large hotels, guests are treated as numbers not as individuals. Having stayed in some of the best hotels around the world - thanks to my father, who was a hotelier in a top five-star chain, and then to the perks of my job - I have often felt lost in lonely corridors and been haunted by the eerie silence in large, luxurious rooms. A new place and a new bed take time to get adjusted to. Having a friendly face in the lobby that can make you feel at home goes a long way in making a guest comfortable.
Often, a good first step is when a guest relation manager actually escorts you to your room instead of having to tag behind a porter who may occasionally flash a smile at you - reserving the biggest one for the time when he’s just about to shut the door behind you! - but you simply can’t get into a conversation with him. That way you are, perhaps, more likely to overlook small lapses in service. After all, they happen all the time at home!
We all know guests are pampered on the Club Floor and the Royal and Presidential Suites, where there is a valet on call and, often, a personal butler at your service. But then, I am sure, it will not take much to extend such courtesy to the other floors as well. Remember, when you are addressed by your first name, you will know you are not just another number in the hotel!