Back in the summer we booked a holiday, like everyone else who could, in the UK. We went for a combination of city-break and coastal walking in N Ireland and I eagerly scanned the travel websites looking for options. Quite a few hotels popped up with deals. This was looking promising, a real treat, a bit of an indulgence and a long time since I had been to a hotel for leisure rather than work.
So, it was a bit of a downer to read about health and safety protocols. Now those who know me would tell you straightaway that I’m not a daredevil and I don’t take risks and I don’t want a hotel or a restaurant to be openly flouting the regulations by jamming my table right up next to that of my neighbours’ or by having its staff lean right down to explain the menu to me without wearing a mask. I absolutely want hotels and restaurants to take care of their staff and their customers and to be good citizens and follow the rules.
But it does somehow take the shine of things to be constantly reminded of the downsides of the hospitality experience during Covid rather than talking up the positives of the experience they are about to offer.
One hotel had taken the principle of positioning of all its health and safety protocols as benefits to guests. I was informed that the rooms had been decluttered, the menu had been simplified and the mini-bar removed! I get it, I totally get it but if that was what they had done I did wonder whether it was worth them mentioning any of it at all. When we unlocked the door the room seemed as just as full of cushions as hotel-rooms normally are, and when we went for dinner it still took me just as long to make my choice of dishes as it normally does. And to be honest I don’t normally drink the mini-bar dry (not at those prices!) but I always like to think I might channel my inner rock star, mix all those miniatures up together and party the night away.
I understand the need to soothe and reassure and I understand that might entail some explanation of the reasons behind any prevention measures taken but sometimes this can go over the top.
I had a nagging feeling that many of the measures were actually cost-cutting in disguise. One hotel was not cleaning rooms until after the 5th day of your visit, and another had removed the customary tray of tea and biscuits. I appreciate that there are risks, but I’m not sure that all these measures are really anything to do with hygiene. If they are I’d rather the hotel did not trumpet its adherence to health and safety if it means a reduction in service levels but instead left a discreet message on a card explaining the new cleaning protocols and suggesting I pop down to the restaurant or rang room service for a cuppa.
The last thing in the world I want to do is gripe, this is really is a matter of life and death and livelihoods and my heart goes out to all those companies in the hospitality industry clinging on by their fingertips and all those hospitality staff staring down the barrel of redundancy (and I should say that we received exceptional service from individuals in every single place we stayed) but I can’t help wondering if there might be other ways of making the best of the situation and I’m directing this to the Head Office and the Customer Experience guys rather than the staff at the coal face dealing with grumpy customers like me.
It seems to me that so often the focus is wrong.
You don’t need to draw attention to everything you are doing unless it’s essential (ie the one way system) and there may be other steps you are taking that you don’t have to mention in the first place or for which a discreet notification is all that’s required.
Sometimes it’s worth just letting the experience speak for itself.
I am left with a better impression of M&S because their hand sanitizer smells gorgeous (although sadly you can’t actually buy it in their stores) or by the knock on the door and the glass of prosecco brought to us by the Shipquay hotel in Derry (which I do want to call out for its exceptional service all the way).
I’m even more impressed by the waiters and bar-staff I have come across who still smile at you over the top of their masks and a big shout-out to the wonderful lady manning the till at John Lewis who leaned over (but still distanced!) and said to me, ‘thank you so much for coming to see us today.’
As ever the best possible service you can receive from any company is to deal with a person who is efficient and friendly but still behaves like a human being despite all the rules and restrictions that surround us.
And the best possible response from us as consumers is to thank them very much and behave like a human being too.
It’s what’s going to get us all through the next few months…
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