Travelers are taking shorter trips more frequently. They are trying to experience as much as possible, presenting opportunities for hotels to monetize by tweaking services, offerings and positioning.

Guests have more options than ever when it comes to where to stay and what to do - and most importantly, they can usually get what they want at a price that they feel comfortable paying.  So what can hotels do to get guests spend more?

At the Questex Hotel Management Thailand Summit (HMT 2019), I had the pleasure of moderating a panel discussion where I posed my panelists the questions “What can we do to get guests to spend more on us, and how can we ensure that we deliver them the experiences that they want and need?”

Hoteliers often talk about creating authentic local experiences for guests. Okay great - so what does that actually mean? Does it mean sending guests on a boat ride up a stinking river - because heck, one demographic of locals do it? Does it mean taking a bus as you cough out fumes in traffic, or eat on the street as the sun beats down on the raw meat supply that was purchased earlier at dawn?

Jonathan Wigley CEO, Absolute Hotel Services, and Sanjog Modgil, VP-Hospitality & Hotels, G.P. Group said that ‘luxury’ means ‘freedom’. Guests should have the freedom to do what they desire to do. U hotels offer 24hr room-stay service. That means that if a guests checks-in at 3pm on Friday, then they can check-out at 3 pm the next day. Offering this little extra could mean the world to weary guests.  

While we talked about ‘extra’ amenities and add-ons, some of us are still yet to get the basics right. Things like free and fast internet can kill our guest experience Sanjog mentioned - oh yeah, and don’t limit the amount of devices.  People usually travel with a minimum of 3 devices.  Stop being so tight.

Christpher Stafford, Chief Operating Officer, 137 Pillars Hotels & Resorts also shared with us that apart from creating experiences such as local artist exhibitions that locals together, showcasing Thai artists to guests in his hotels, he felt that our industry could do more if our staff could really learn the art of conversation, which leads us to one big problem that we are facing now - shortage of quality staff.

When I interview hotels about their unique selling points, most hotels highlight on their ‘Thai Hospitality’.  You know what - it’s all too often that ‘Thai Hospitality’ disappoints me. Just because we smile a lot and do things with an outwardly gentle manner, doesn’t mean that we are actually providing you good service. Jonathan said that ‘hospitality’ is ‘hospitality’ - it is an entity that is either good or not good, and applicable to everyone in the industry around the world. He suspects that the ‘Thai Smile’ truism is possibly nothing more than the result of a successful marketing campaign, and that ‘Thai Hospitality’ has a lot of catching up to do. Everyone agreed that Thai hospitality has a distinct element of compassion, however a lot of the time, that element alone isn’t enough. Kevin Wallace. CEO, T&T Hospitality, with hotels in Vietnam said that if we compare growth in Thailand vs Vietnam, we can see that Vietnam is growing twice as fast, and people are hungry and eager to learn.

All agreed that at some point we will need to seriously do something that will attract more quality staff who will be able to deliver exceptional experiences; someone who knows the art of conversation, and who have above-average English skills.

I delved further, asking about what things might inspire guests to spend more apart from service. While Jonathan is a true believer in outsourcing spas and dining, Lily Udomkunnatum, Managing Director, Burasari Group was adamant that the way to go was having an in-house spa - using her own properties’ spas as examples of success. The dining scene should be considered carefully, because we are in a city full of Michelin star restaurants, and you will be going head to head with those guys.

With the Chinese and Indian markets on the rise, these hotels are doing more and more in order to adequately cater to these lucrative markets. Our panelists agreed that it’s not about the nationality per se, but rather each traveler should be looked at as an individual economic entity. High-end guests will usually want the same things no matter what the race. Some things to note are; while European families are okay to leave their children in kids-club, Asians feel less comfortable to be physically distanced from their kids, and would rather have kids with them while they dine as very often, they will also have nannies on hand to help.  The subsequent letting their kids run riot can get out of hand and may be a cause of annoyance for other guests. Sanjog mentioned that when it comes to Indian guests, they don’t necessarily require Indian food for breakfast.  They want the luxury of the western breakfast.  Lily interjected that this however was quite different for Chinese guests, who will need a menu that does indeed cater to them.

Before leaving the stage, we all seemed to agree on one thing - that at the end of the day it comes down to one very basic thing, which is service. Before we go off talking about top of the line amenities, world-class bedding, or an Olympic-ready gym, if you break down the majority of the bad comments left on Trip Advisor and other review sites, the majority of complaints will come down to slow or unsatisfactory check-In, room quality and hygiene, bad breakfast and slow internet - and for resorts, maybe bad pool-side experiences.