No room for robots as leading hoteliers reveal simple secrets

Seven leading figures from the world of hospitality tell their own stories

Dancing At The Fountain by Conor Kenny

Dancing At The Fountain by Conor Kenny

Mon, Dec 7, 2015, 01:00


Book Title:
Dancing at the fountain


Conor Kenny

Oak Tree Press

Guideline Price:

This book about the hospitality profession takes the form of seven conversations with leading world hoteliers. Kenny has edited the interviews into a first-person narrative style so the subjects tell their own stories, a method employed by his father Ivor in a number of previous business titles.

For the most part it works well, with good splashes of colour from the subjects. The vantage point of the hotelier gives them a unique and a times privileged view of the world. They meet the famous and the important. They are tasked with maintaining and reinventing iconic institutions. They manage egos and strive for the highest levels of quality and service on a daily basis.

It’s hard work running a top quality hotel. Michael Davern of The K Club provides an interesting and local perspective. A hotel training – in his case in Shannon and Switzerland – teaches discipline and rigour. Success as an hotelier is about self-discipline and dedication. You have to be observant, have common sense and you have to weigh up the problem or the opportunity in front of you and make a decision about how you are going to react to it.

Simple lesson

Michael Smurfit

Discipline needs to meet intuition. Philip Leboeuf of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Paris, puts it well. “Going into the restaurant you get the perception that even though they might not know your name, they know exactly who you are, they know that you are coming for business, they know that you do not need to be interrupted every five minutes to meet certain service standards that are written in scripts. On the surface it doesn’t look like VIP service – but it is a truly deep level of service – it’s very refreshing when you receive it.”

Greg Liddell, who currently manages the same group’s hotel in Barcelona, says to avoid stiff and robotic environments for guests, he tells teams that as long as they are not over-familiar, they should be willing to engage with guests to go beyond the standards set in relation to interaction. Intuitively, they should also be able to read when guests wish to be left alone.

In international hotels, language barriers lead to mistakes, he notes. Hotel staff make assumptions, which come from a lack of confidence to check facts with guests. The desire to not inconvenience guests by checking and clarifying for a brief moment can lead to monumental errors being made.

Promotion can be a double-edged sword. Bernard Murphy of the Gleneagles Hotel in Scotland says that some general managers are really unfortunate because to get to that level you have to work really hard and you’re not a hotelier when you get there. While it should be a great job, the reality for many people is that they end up having to answer a load of questions from an asset manager. What the owner really wants is to be told how they can sweat more out of the asset.

Culinary experts

He also notes the disruptive forces in the industry such as Airbnb, which can offer private apartments with housekeeping services, mini bars and access to maintenance services all through the simple navigation of a website. Technology in hotels also offers innovative service features but there is a downside in that it limits personal interaction with guests.

This book will be of great interest to the many people who work in the hotel industry and should prove an eye opener for any young person considering a career in this field.

* This story was amended on Monday, December 7th to correct the book price.