Sometime in the 90's I remember reading about the home that Bill Gates was having built in Washington. The article was several pages long but the only thing I remember was how it described the guest experience. The article said that a visitor to the home would be given a pin that tracked them as they moved throughout the house. As they would enter a room, the house would sense their arrival and change all of the art on the walls to their favorite art and all of the music in the air to their favorite music. Their preferences would have been provided weeks in advance on a questionnaire that they would have filled out. They would be served their favorite foods and anything pertaining to their hobbies or interests would also be available. I remember thinking at the time that this was sort of creepy in an Orwellian way. Little did I realize that Gates had figured out the very essence of Hospitality, even if he was going about it in a strange kind of way.
Hospitality is defined as the relationship between guest and host; the art of being hospitable. It is about welcoming your guests and ensuring that they are well provided for. In recent weeks I had asked a group of close friends and colleagues "What was the best hospitality experience you ever had?" I said that it didn't necessarily have to be a 'hotel' and that it could be a B and B, a friend's house, a relative's place, or whatever. Surprisingly most people chose an experience that they had over the place itself. For example, one friend said that the most enjoyable vacation they'd had was renting a little shore bungalow with some friends. Another cited an Inn that was part of a special trip but they couldn't even remember the name of the place. And my own wife picked a bed and breakfast that served afternoon tea with fresh baked scones.
What this experiment confirmed to me is that people remember how they feel at a place more than they remember the place itself. You always remember an experience that is out of the ordinary or when someone goes out of their way to make your stay more pleasurable. Having worked in the Hospitality Design industry for a number of years you get accustomed to hearing phrases like 'brand standards' or 'signature elements.' Some hotels even have proprietary 'scents' that are pumped in through the duct work. Unfortunately, this uniformity tends to counteract the idea of being hospitable. It takes the personal element out of the equation, which is essential to a good Hospitality experience.
Fortunately, a new group of young companies are out to change all that. These companies are out to create geographically specific and lifestyle oriented destinations that don't try to please everyone. I remember staying at the ACE hotel in Portland, Oregon and finding a record player with a crate of vinyl in my room. I will never forget how cool that felt. The desk looked like it came from an old army barrack and the bedspread and pillows looked like something from a camping trip. When I went down to the restaurant, there were more locals there than hotel guests. This was truly a unique kind of place and the food was fresh and delicious. Definitely not hotel food. Companies like ACE along with others such as King and Grove have tapped into a timeless element that has long been forgotten in the Hospitality industry. They are making destinations that are all about experiencing the place and sharing it with their guests instead of drugging them with rewards points or an all you can eat breakfast buffet. And while the new face of hospitality may be smaller more niche oriented properties, this kind of development will create more variety in the market and more choice for the consumer.
So the next time you are looking for a cool place to stay, get off hotels.com and check out the feedback on trip advisor. You just might find something unique that makes you feel like a human again.