I recently found myself on one of the world’s great scenic train journeys aboard the Indian-Pacific train. Stretching from Perth to Sydney in Australia, the train features the longest straight line of track in the world. Although I just did half of the journey, and got off in Adelaide, I had plenty of time to observe and think and a few thoughts about the nature of travel and the hospitality industry struck me almost immediately.
As I sat in the lounge car of the train one morning, I eavesdropped on a brief conversation between the dining attendant and some guests. The attendant had a beaming smile and seemed genuinely happy to see the guests. They chit-chatted for a few minutes before finally being escorted to their table. The encounter wasn’t necessary. All the attendant had to do was show these people to their table and her duties would have been completed. She didn’t do that though, she did a lot more and in the process added another level of luxury and comfort to the passengers’ travel experience. That’s when it hit me, what the hospitality industry lacks today more than anything is hospitality.
I like luxury hotels and for my partner and I it’s a big part of the travel experience. I don’t always stay at these properties though of course, and more than the nice beds and fancy soaps, the biggest difference between luxury and non-luxury hotels isn’t anything tangible, it’s the spirit of service and hospitality that exists there. As travelers, we are so used to near constant abuse and neglect that anytime someone whose service we have paid for is actually nice to us, we consider it to be a special experience. Flight attendants lead the way in this move towards the surly, at least in the United States. Gone are the days of a friendly smile, or even a polite acknowledgement. I’ve had more experiences of benign indifference from American flight attendants than I have friendly greetings, and it shouldn’t be that way. They work in travel, and while they sometimes profess otherwise, their real jobs are to make us happy.
It’s not just their fault, the rise of the business hotel, and budget accommodations in general has created a class of hotel employee that doesn’t consider hospitality their career, just a job to pay some bills. That’s one of the major differences between different levels of hotels, that feeling of employee belonging, empowerment and pride. Once this was lost, the hospitality went with it and we’re left with what we have today. A hospitality sector that isn’t very good at hospitality and a generation of travelers who believe that the height of travel luxury is to be acknowledged by name with a smile.
Sadly, that’s probably not going to change anytime soon, although some people are trying. Airlines like Virgin America and JetBlue are well known for outstanding service no matter one’s class of service and quirky hotels like Kimpton go well above what they’re asked at a decent rate. They’re not the best in the world, but they’ve trying to bring back a little joy to the travel experience, and hopefully their competitors are watching.
There will always be people who just want the cheapest flight and the cheapest hotel and don’t care about service or hospitality. But I don’t believe they’re in the majority and more than ever I think travelers want the entire travel experience, from start to finish to be as enjoyable as possible. That is why I sincerely hope the hospitality industry considers bringing back a little hospitality to their business.
What do you think? Should the hospitality industry be more hospitable?