By Alan Young

In my hometown of Barrie, Ontario, I spent some time chatting with some of the GMs of the hotels within our city limits. Most hotels in Barrie are what we would call “limited service”, however, some do offer more than others when it comes to amenities. I asked each GM what type of true service training each employee receives. Their answers were hit-and-miss. Some offer in-house training, and others offer the brand standard training, but very few of them truly offer service training. Also, due to the increasing turnover of staff, it is difficult to indoctrinate employees fully in a hotel’s service culture. The industry grapples with such high turnover. Do hotels invest in a full training curriculum, or do they train on the job as they expect 30% or more to leave the hotel due to any number of issues?

The answer becomes clear when you consider the dire consequences of poor experiences and the competitive advantages of a good guest stay. If a guest is offered exemplary service, there is a 40% chance that they will write a positive review. In a negative vein, the number jumps to 48%, and a guest is likely to write a negative review after a less-than-optimal experience, according to ReviewTrackers.  

Some other notable points to consider:

  • 73% of guests say that friendly interactions are what makes them fall in love with a brand. (RightNow Technologies)
  • Hotels with poor guest experiences see a 20% decrease in average daily rate. (Alexsoft)
  • Hotels with a strong service culture see a 10% increase in occupancy rate. (HVS)
  • Nearly two-thirds of guests said they had ended a relationship due to customer service alone, and when they end a relationship, 61% of the time, they take their business to a competitor. (MediaPost)
  • Hotels with poor guest experiences have a staff turnover rate of 30-50% higher than the industry average. (Mews)
  • Hotels with a strong service culture have a customer loyalty rate of 60% compared to 20% for hotels with a weak service culture. (Journal of Hospitality & Tourism Research)
  • Guests who have a positive experience are 3 times more likely to return to the same hotel and spend three times more per transaction than the other 90% of customers. (Conversational).

As someone deeply invested in the hospitality industry, I can’t help but notice that there’s a growing gap between the service culture we promise – and the actual service delivered. It’s like we’ve all read the same book on hospitality, but somehow, the essence of the story isn’t making it into the real-life script.

Delivering on ‘The Promise’

Take, for instance, W Hotels with their “Whatever/Whenever” mantra. It’s catchy, right? It promises guests that no request is too big or too small, but when was the last time we checked if our teams really feel empowered to deliver on that promise? Or Wyndham’s “Count on Me” service – it’s a pledge of reliability and personal attention, yet I’ve seen guests left at front desk lineups waiting while staff scramble behind the scenes, hindered by processes and confusion.

Then there’s Marriott, a name synonymous with hospitality. J. Willard Marriott’s vision was simple: “Good food and good service at a fair price.” But do we still measure every service interaction against that yardstick? Or has it become just another framed quote on the wall?

Consider Hilton’s mission: “To fill the earth with the light and warmth of hospitality.” This is about creating a home away from home. But how often do we see this light dimmed by the routine, the complacency, the sheer volume of operations?

I respect The Outrigger Way, with its focus on relationships built on trust, dignity, and mutual respect. In our day-to-day rush, are we truly forging these bonds, or are we just checking boxes?

And Virgin Hotels, oh, they aim high – to be irresistibly delightful so that “Everyone Leaves Feeling Better.” It’s ambitious and heartening, but it’s also a mirror held up to our faces. Do our guests really leave feeling better, or just relieved to be heading home?

The truth is, we can plaster our walls with mission statements and service promises, but if we’re not living and breathing these values, they’re just words. Words don’t fill rooms, create experiences, or bring back repeat guests – actions do.

So, what’s going wrong? I’ve been pondering this, and I think it comes down to something quite fundamental – the definition and delivery of hospitality. We need to go back to the basics, to the very root of why we all got into this business. It wasn’t to manage transactions; it was to create experiences, moments, memories.

We need to teach each and every person on our staff what true hospitality is properly. It’s not just about being polite or following a script. It’s about understanding the guest, the human being in front of us, with their unique needs and wants. It’s about making them feel seen, heard, and valued.

And yes, while we’re at it, let’s look at the stats. Numbers don’t lie, and the numbers are telling us there’s a decline in service quality. But numbers also don’t capture the whole story. They don’t measure the warmth of a welcome, the sincerity of a smile, or the comfort of feeling known.

Via a 2023 Beekeeper Report on frontline workers, 40% of frontline workers are stressed, 39% of them are worried about keeping up with inflation, and 7 out of 10 workers want to learn from experiences and opportunities alongside dedicated training. When employees are feeling stressed about their jobs, advancement opportunities, inflation, and corporate support, how can we expect them to deliver the best service possible? We need to put in place an experiential training platform that easily and quickly helps and empowers employees to be the best that they can be. As I mangle my metaphors, none of this is rocket surgery.   

I’m not just writing this as a critique. I’m calling for a renaissance of service – a return to what hospitality is truly about. Let’s set the bar higher than mere satisfaction. Let’s aim for delight, for loyalty, for that irreplaceable feeling of belonging. That’s our industry at its best, and it’s what we should all be striving for, day in and day out.

In the end, what will differentiate us, what will set hotels apart in a crowded marketplace, isn’t just the thread count in our sheets or the items on our menus. It’s the service. It’s the culture. It’s the people. If executed properly, service culture not only heightens the satisfaction of the guests but also substantially elevates a hotel’s revenue. The impact of superior guest experiences is evident in the increased occupancy, Average Daily Rate (ADR), repetitive bookings, as well as online reviews, all contributing towards the profitability of hotels.

And indeed, the spark starts with the leaders, setting the standard and exemplifying what hospitality truly encompasses – every guest, every interaction, every time