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Decoding Cultural Tourism

It’s not just having a sense of place, it’s creating a deeper a connection by empowering staff.

Friday, October 30, 2015
Cherryl Marie
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Guest satisfaction is top priority because their happiness translates into room bookings, positive ratings and ultimately, a healthy revenue stream. If you’ve heard the saying, “put the horse before the cart,” than let that be your rule-of-thumb when considering how to be more strategic in both internal staff gratification as well as consumer happiness. Take a few pointers from some of your fellow hotel biz colleagues on cultural tourism and why educating your employees and understanding your culture is critical to the success of your destination.

Culture can mean a handful of thing though, but we’ll focus on two definitions. Culture is “the set of shared attitudes, values, goals and practices that characterizes an institution or organization.” Every organization, corporation and company, no matter how big or small, share a certain culture that when managed properly, is demonstrated in their external communication and behavior towards their customers and partners. In the world of hotels, a mission statement often exemplifies the essence of not only the brand but the people behind it.

Mike White, General Manager for Ka’anapali Beach Hotel in Maui, shares the 50-year-old hotel boasts a mission statement created by its employees. “Our mission statement has the heart of our staff members and they’ve really taken ownership of their home-away-from-home.”

Allowing your staff this opportunity, or at least the chance to speak up about the company’s core values, shows them that what they have to say is important too. When you can show your team members that their opinion truly matters, it boosts morale and overall wellness of the individuals who run and operate your property. Include them in decision-making processes. No one wants to work for a company that doesn’t find worth in its staff’s thoughts and feedback. If you have employees that love who they work for, they will take really great care of your guests.

White is credited for helping develop the hotel’s Po’okela Project, a program designed to enhance employees’ understanding of the Hawaiian heritage and its values so that visitors will have a more enriching and enjoyable visit. Conceived in the 1980s, the program teaches both front and back-of-house employees the values and culture that make Hawaii so unique.

“With 70 different classes featuring a variety of topics, each session holds an intimate group of about ten employees during their paid time; we don’t expect them to come in after hours. This not only shows them that we are committed to making them better employees but better people in general,” said White.

Instilling strong and common core values amongst team members also increases employee loyalty to your company and decreases your turnover rate.

White, who’s worked at Ka’anapali for more than 28 years, runs a full, yet close-knit house of team members. At just under 300 on his staff, the property has had the same owner for 25 years. Since the program’s inception, the hotel’s annual labor turnover has been reduced from 27.4% to an annual rate of 7.5%.

Another way to boost overall employee morale is engaging and encouraging groups to participate in philanthropic efforts. Be proud of them and let their accomplishments be heard through newsletters. Post photos from events on internal boards and celebrate them for giving back.

“Through activities such as the Hotel Association Charity Walk and Maui’s United Way Campaign Fund Drive, we’ve raised over $780,000 for our community,” said White.

Also educate your guests about your destination’s unique history. Year-over-year, we recognize the increased popular demand of activities that “school” guests and that when marketed right, packages with an interactive component do exceptionally well, especially amongst people traveling in groups.

White explains that guests have often commented on the hotels employees and their willingness to share their knowledge of Hawaii. “That along with various classes - lei making, history classes, surfing and so forth - encompasses the overall experience.”

Give your guests stories to bring home with them. Make sure they know what makes your culture and region different from anywhere else. Get with your marketing team to see how you can draw attention to such classes and make sure these offerings are prominent on your website, in-room print materials and through social media channels.

Now let’s take a look at our second, yet similar definition of culture: “the customary beliefs, social forms and material traits of a racial, religious or social group.”

We spoke to Jonas Schuermann, General Manager and Area Vice President of Operations at Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong, to get his insight. Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group runs 44 luxury hotels worldwide and is most easily identified by its logo, the fan.

With locations around the globe, the hotel group has to be smart about maintaining their culture while appeasing and adjusting to the cultures in other countries.

“Our hotels and resorts are encouraged to develop their own personality with a distinctive sense of place, thereby reflecting the best of their city or country,” said Schuermann. “Our history and legendary service standards that began here [in Hong Kong] are implemented in our hotels worldwide, via our group-wide standards we know as ‘Legendary Quality Experiences.’ These are rolled out at every property and regularly tested and measured through guest surveys and mystery shopper programs.”

No matter the location of your property, always remember your brand’s origin and have it reflected in your best practices, marketing efforts and most definitely through your team members’ engagement with guests. To cover all grounds, educate all staff of your brand’s culture while also ensuring they have a sufficient understanding of the culture and ways of the region in which their hotel is located. Many hotel groups host regularly recurring employee conferences to get to know team members in other markets. As long as you are mindful of the customs within different institutions and social groups, and as long as employees use good judgment on how to treat international guests, your property can master a perfect balance of brand awareness and smart, respectful guest interaction and communication.

Another tactic for hotel groups running multiple properties is to seek bilingual employees during hiring seasons or as an alternate, encourage employees to study the primary language(s) of their region.

“As a hotel servicing an international community, our colleagues speak both English and Cantonese,” said Schuermann. “Languages spoken by our guests are of course reflective of our key markets, including the US, the UK, Europe and Asia-Pacific, including China.”

Hotel groups are encouraged to strive for excellence and always exceed guest expectations. Create a business model that differentiates you from other hotel operators. If your brand has properties in the world’s most high-volume cities for travelers, then you’re already doing something right – the key is to maintain a fresh, innovative approach to customer service, while making sure not to manipulate your brand’s integrity.

What about the locals? For a hotel to develop a truly successful status, it must appeal to the local community. Develop a local outreach plan amongst executives, marketing and communication departments and consult with front and back-of-house staff; after all, they are residents who would know best what it takes to draw them into a hotel in their neighboring areas.

White shares that local traffic for Ka’anapali is very high. “Our Sunday brunch is well known and has lots of local and mainland food. We don’t require wristbands. We don’t limit people. Our F&B outlets receive about 15% of their revenue through locals.”

For Schuermann and MOHG, their F&B outlets are also most credited for drawing in locals. But he also speaks on strong brand loyalty among residents. “Many of our guests have gotten engaged, married and brought their children and grandchildren to celebrate in the hotel.”

But just because your hotel isn’t located in what you might consider an “exotic” setting, know that your options are still endless. In 2013, nearly 70 million international travelers chose the U.S. as their vacation destination – Mexico, the UK, China, Brazil and Australia all in the top 10. To overseas travelers, the US is a goldmine of historic landmarks, sites and attractions worth traveling hours for.

Take it from some of America’s most famous hotels to lead by example.

The Grand Hotel in Mackinac Island, MI., which was originally built in 1887, is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, driving tourism to its location to indulge in Victorian furniture and customs like “afternoon high tea.” In New York City, hotels peppered throughout the bustling urban metropolis capitalize on all the things that precede its reputation. The Algonquin Hotel’s “Simply New York Package” features a tour to Empire State Building and Statue of Liberty as well as a double-decker bus tour. At The Paramount, its “New York City Girls’ Weekend Package” lures in fans of the well-known TV series, “Sex and the City.”

Excellent customer service is a universal expectation in the world of hotel management. Integrity and honesty can be translated and understood in any language. So no matter what dialect your country speaks, no matter what traditions you might have and no matter what attractions or traditions your destination is renowned for, always remember your origins and instill that culture in your staff. Let your genuine compassion for employees be transparent to your guests and allow that dedication to transform into the best service they’ve ever received from a hotel.

Cherryl Marie
Hotel Interactive® Editorial Division
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