Mr. Modak

Guest Service / Customer Experience Mgmt

The Golden Art of Hospitality

By Ashish Modak, General Manager, LUX* Belle Mare

A few days ago while talking to an acquaintance, the conversation took us to discuss the roles and responsibilities of a hotel manager. The young man was very eager to understand the role of a General Manager of a hotel and the qualities required to be successful.

Years ago, I remember in one of my internship interviews for a leading hotel chain, the interviewer asked me a very simple question - 'Do you think hospitality is an art or science?' While I had answered what I thought sounded most appropriate on that occasion; the question has always remained with me. That I cleared the interview means I must have said something which resonated with the interviewer, it seems! What exactly is managing hotels like? For an onlooker it is a simple mathematical equation. Selling rooms and meals to achieve the bottom-line objectives of the business. While absolutely true, as all shall agree with me, it is not that simple.

Ensuring that maximum rooms are sold at the optimum price through the correct channels realising a desired mix of clientele willing to spend at least the budgeted spend at the hotel and getting the clients to really enjoy their stay and doing all of the above through a large team of individuals working with you - makes hotel management sound like a complicated mix of several algorithms. And indeed it is complicated. In today's times, where customer has plenty of choices, where supply tends to exceed demand and where economic conditions are affecting general spend for the consumer - leisure travel business has become more complex than ever before. Add to it the reach of social media, which can propel your property to great heights or bring the hotel down in no time!

How do you work in such a scenario and ensure you come out on the top? I remember reading a very interesting quote from John Wooden, the basketball legend somewhere - 'Don't let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do?'

What am I exactly implying? Simply put, a hotel manager needs to focus first on things directly under his control and set them right rather than worrying about things outside his / her direct control. Let me elaborate. Amongst the very many things that a hotel manager does, lies a very easy sounding difficult task - The General Manager of a hotel ought to shape the culture of the place he manages. The Cambridge dictionary defines culture as 'the way of life, especially the general customs and beliefs, of a particular group of people at a particular time'. And this, the general manager ought to do in a comparatively short span of time. Developing a particular style in the team is extremely important for this then displays the style the manager wants his hotel to portray. It is then only natural that the manager establishes a culture in his resort that he relates with and wants his hotel to reflect. How does he do it? By simply living it himself and displaying the values he stands for 24*7.

Every hotel has its own set of organisational values and guiding principles. These need to be followed but in addition to these, the manager needs to bring in his element of style to the place. I have seen a few different styles of management culture in different hotels over the years. One can walk in to a hotel, feel the vibes in the place, interact with the staff in various areas of the hotel, make his / her observations in a few hours and later upon meeting the manager - very often the assumptions of what kind of a person the manager might be come through very clearly. Of course every hotel manager is supposed to be hospitable, courteous and well versed in his role - this goes without saying! But it is the unspoken virtues, which come to the fore in a few minutes of interactions.

Personally, the style I am most comfortable with is the one where you remain genuine, yourself and simple. Holidays are meant for people to relax, unwind and rejuvenate and what help besides a top-notch product are the friendliness, genuinity and sincerity of the team. These come through with a very hands-on approach of the manager and a commitment to live by these values day in and day out. Here in lies the beauty of the age-old hospitality and this can be viewed with two perspectives, which complete the picture.

The Guest Perspective

There were times when red carpets were rolled out for every guest and each person walking in to the hotel was made to feel like Royalty. Every word said by the guest was considered a gospel and every attempt was made to fulfil his requirements. All with an elegance and a genuine desire to provide the very best. It was an age of personal contact; an era when mobiles, WebEx meetings, urgent conference calls and deadlines for administrative work didn't intervene between you as a manager and your guests. A period when time stood still if the guest experience so required. A period when the ancient Sanskrit verse 'Athithi Devo Bhava' (Guest resembles God) was truly believed in and everything else came second to the guests needs and desires.

Where does this take our discussion? The modern day adaptation of the above for managers to practice would simply be - Doing all the above (keeping in mind changed times and expectations of guests) and focussing on personal contact and building relationships for a life time with guests through sincerity, genuinity and humility. Meeting every guest in the first 24 hours of them arriving at the resort makes a huge impact. Giving time to every guest and sincerely thanking them for their stay with you shows your intent and without intruding in to the guest's personal space, developing a bond which then takes the relation beyond commerce to one of friendship and which then lasts for years to come. Being bogged down with office related matters cannot be and should never be an excuse.

The Team Perspective

What is done for guests ought to be done for the team. Is it easy? Most certainly not but with a focussed approach, it is definitely doable. Knowing the names of the team members from both heart of house and front of house areas makes a big difference to the team. Every human being loves the sound of his / her name the most and being addressed personally goes a long way in relationship building. That the manager cares to call me by name and finds time to say hello to me makes a huge impact on the team members. Next comes reaching out to the team. How many of us make it a point to celebrate achievements and special occasions of our team members with them?

All it takes is a phone call or a text message being sent on a birthday of the team member or sincerely complimenting the team member when some one in his family achieves something very dear to him / her. These are small acts of kindness, which go a long way in building bonds with the team. There is no alternative to being a leader with a high emotional quotient. Next on the list is the attribute of fairness. The team watches leaders closely for every decision they make and look for fairness in their decision making process. Of course, successful leaders need to reward special acts of the team in a special way but reprimands in particular need to be fair and transparent. Acts of kindness, displaying transparency and being reachable go a long way in building bridges over otherwise seemingly wide trenches.

Hotel world is unique for it is an industry where both production and service are managed at the same place and at the same time. It is a 24*7 business and this is what makes it interesting. The role of a manager demands that he is available at any time of the day or night and that he comes across as fresh and sincerely interested in them to both his team and guests. This keenness displayed should not be fake as the other person can gauge it fairly quickly. Hotel business is a people's business after all. Once you get it right, the rest of the business aptitude is acquired and learnt with time.

The art of hospitality is not an art. It is a way of life - A way of life where one spends a long time working with people and enjoying what he does. You meet People with different backgrounds, different thinking patterns, different perceptions and different expectations all the time and my simple belief says - Be yourself and enjoy what you do and you shall definitely develop your own unique golden art of hospitality!

Ashish Modak is the General Manager of LUX* Belle Mare, the flagship resort of LUX* Resorts & Hotels and is based in Mauritius. The group operates contemporary luxury resorts in the Indian Ocean where it has 8 properties and 2 resorts in China. The group is also launching its first resort in the UAE in 2016 and is on a steady expansion plan. Mr. Modak can be contacted at +230 042 2000 or ashish.modak@luxbellemare.com Please visit http://www.luxresorts.com/en/hotel-mauritius/luxbellemare for more information. Extended Bio...

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