Ms. Orlando

Group Meetings

The Discipline of Luxury Touchpoints are Not Just for the Leisure Traveler

By Dana Orlando, General Manager, Hotel Ivy

"It is attention to detail that makes the difference between average and stunning" - Francis Atterbury

Group business is a wonderful driver of market share in all tiers of our industry. The ability to understand the details of luxury touchpoints can be an important competitive advantage. I hope to share a few stories and examples of how applying the disciplined approach to crafting luxury touchpoints can create tremendous energy, increase group market share and achieve authentic guest engagement.

The reasons I love leading luxury hotels and resorts are many. Hotel companies are continually seeking to understand and define what the discerning traveler desires and how to deliver at a level of creativity and consistency that exceeds expectations. I like to define touchpoints as any product or moment experienced by the guest, specific to a hotel or resort landscape. Our goal, as leaders, is to understand what these touchpoints or opportunities for interaction are and then to architect the experiences at an elevated level at every one of these defined opportunities. The best international luxury hotel brands have done a tremendous job of understanding touchpoints that pertain to the individual leisure traveler.

I will discuss how applying the same disciplined approach to creating luxury touchpoints for the leisure traveler can create magic for the meeting planner, corporate or incentive group, and their individual participants. When the brilliant sculptor, Michelangelo, was asked how he carved the masterpiece known as David from a raw slab of marble his answer was simple. He said, "It is easy. You just chip away the stone that doesn't look like David." It is with creating truly memorable experiences for groups choosing to invest their time and money at a high-end hotel or resort that we exceed their expectations and cultivate loyalty. Our quest is to make the group experience, as a whole, and for each individual, a masterpiece. We "chip away" to create this experience with tools known as luxury touchpoints.

There are, literally, countless opportunities to focus on, especially as it pertains to the exceptional execution of a meeting or event at a luxury hotel. The most basic touchpoints include an immaculate hotel in addition to hiring and training hotel employees that are friendly and understand what it means to have the heart of a servant. At the luxury level, there is an expectation that hotels be in unique destinations with a strong sense of place.

Our group clients expect to see touchpoints that include a higher quality of linen, china, glass, silver, and culinary creativity. Technology, fast, easy to use Wi-Fi, and state of the art audio visual, are a must. As important as these are, I would like to share three touchpoints that are often overlooked, but can create very loyal group guests for life: Empowerment, "procovery", and discipline.

Empowerment

Earlier this year, a repeat guest at the hotel I was managing at the time shared with me a concern he had related to service he had been experiencing. He told me that our hotel was as beautiful as ever. His room was clean. The food and beverage were exceptional and he could actually see where our team members were following the rules and marking off the boxes on their checklists. The concern he shared with me was that as good as everything was, he was frustrated because our team was forgetting the importance of just saying "yes".

They were not demonstrating empowerment. The team was so busy with their checklists and the day to day tasks of running the hotel that they were forgetting the power of doing everything within the confines of being legal, moral, and ethical to take care of our guests. There are countless articles, podcasts, and books describing the different approaches to creating a culture that is truly empowered. Whichever strategy you choose to take with your operation, it is essential to your group guests that all team members are properly trained on how to say "yes" to their guests whenever and as often as possible. At every group pre-con and during every daily pre-shift, leadership should be instilling the spirit of true empowerment into their operations.

Procovery

Empowerment is an essential element of operations important to world class group business execution. Many of the best hotel brands around the world have varying levels of empowerment they afford to their teams. Often times, hotel team members predominantly apply these levels of empowerment in an effort to recover after something has gone wrong with a group. This can prove to be expensive and does not always garner the overall level of service our groups deserve. Several years ago, we had a group at the hotel. This particular group was paying a healthy average rate and, rightfully so, had high expectations for their event. Coming into the event our team followed the usual protocols. They followed their checklists carefully. Resumés were reviewed and operations were in alignment.

As can sometimes happen, errors occurred during this group's event that triggered the need for our team to apply their tools of empowerment in order to recover from the mistakes that had occurred. In this particular case, the expense, though the right thing to do, was rather high. We took a look at the entire year and annualized the costs we could track related to empowerment dollars spent on post group recovery and were rather surprised at the total expense. We worked collaboratively as a leadership team and made some changes in how we operated. These changes created a process we termed "procovery".

We asked a simple question and took action in answering it. What if we took a percentage of the dollars spent recovering and empowered our teams to spend these dollars "pro-actively discovering" details about the group and its individual participants in order to creatively architect their experience? Every morning our leadership team conducted their operations meeting. The expectation was that they would have reviewed their resumés, arrivals reports, and individual notes in order to learn as much about the group and its participants as possible.

If a group participant requests a room with a view, a common request, we not only made certain that their request was made, we further enhanced the request. They arrived to the room to discover that not only did their guest room have a fantastic view, but there was a hand-written card from the bellman, for example, that read, "please take a moment and enjoy your view. We hope it's to your liking". Upon stepping onto the patio, they saw a thoughtfully placed amenity of fresh fruit or charcuterie with sparkling water and perhaps champagne or wine. If a meeting planner requests a quiet room, she found a hand-written note from one of our spa team members with an amenity of candles, bath salts, a journal or book, and a note that read "Congratulations on planning an exceptional event. We thought you'd enjoy some time to yourself before your event starts".

Procovery is a game changer that creates guest loyalty through emotional engagement. The basic touchpoints of the guests' arrival will be met, perhaps even anticipatory, but now we layer in the opportunity we call procovery to carefully architect the entire experience from arrival to departure. Operations meetings are active, exciting, and fun. Team members compete to see how well they can research and proactively discover the next great moment for a group. Procovery is a touchpoint that helps to improve the group attendees' experiences exponentially.

Discipline

I have been fortunate in my career to work with some of the best luxury brands in the world. It has been an honor having mentors who took the time to share their knowledge of luxury hotel operations. In all that I have been taught, there is one thing that I remember most: Without the touchpoint of discipline a luxury experience is impossible to create consistently. The best operational checklists containing the basic touchpoints of luxury are merely ink on paper without discipline. If there is no discipline in weaving empowerment into our operations every day, every shift, by every team member, we are left with mere moments of random greatness versus a luxury operation run by team members who understand the power of "yes".

Daily operations meetings are mundane and lifeless if each and every leader in attendance does not demonstrate the highest level of discipline in coming prepared with creative ideas and well architected experiences found through procovery. Several years ago, I came back to my desk to find a small pile of debris and a note that said, "see me, you failed". It was a note from my GM. I was mortified. This GM was a tremendous teacher and understood the importance of discipline. He told me that I failed because if he found this debris in the corridors and public areas of the hotel it meant that we lacked discipline across all operational levels of the hotel. Team members, supervisors, managers, executives, all failed to demonstrate the required level of discipline to never miss seeing the details. I have learned that this applies to all we do in luxury. I have come to learn that groups choosing to partner with us deserve our absolute best.

They deserve experiences filled with touchpoints executed with discipline and heart. They deserve luxury touchpoints that create warmth, sincerity, and individual thoughtfulness so great that they long to return over and over again.

Dana Orlando is the General Manager at Hotel Ivy in Minneapolis. With over 19 years of hotel experience Michigan native joined the Hotel Ivy team with previous executive roles, including Director of Sales Group and Catering at The Ritz-Carlton in Philadelphia and as Hotel Manager at the Waldorf Astoria in Park City, Utah. Ms. Orlando has applied a strategic perspective and proven expertise in the development, implementation, and execution of initiatives that maximize operational effectiveness and profitability. She has a passion for building highly successful teams driving KPI growth as well as adapting to and executing new and evolving strategies. Ms. Orlando can be contacted at 612-746-4600 or dana.orlando@thehotelivy.com Please visit http://www.thehotelivy.com for more information. Extended Bio...

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