The Luxury Guest Experience, Part 2: An Evolving Sector

In the second part of our roundtable discussion, our experts consider where the luxury guest begins and ends and what the future has in store for high-end hoteliers.

Note: Please click here to read part one of this Roundtable feature.

We ask three experts to share their advice.

Our Expert Panel

  • Mitzi Gaskins
    JW Marriott Hotels and Resorts, vice president and global brand manager
  • Anthony Saint Claire
    Ruthin Castle, owner
  • Anne Blackburn
    Sidona Group, customer experience director

Hotel Industry Magazine: Where does the guest experience begin and end?

Mitzi Gaskins: We believe the experience begins the moment a guest visits our website or calls one of our hotels to make a reservation. The process should be simple, accommodating and, most importantly, make guests feel excited about their visit – whether that’s for the first or hundredth time, for business or for pleasure.

Anthony Saint Claire: I think that the guest experience starts from the moment a guest hears or reads about Ruthin Castle. From the moment a guest starts to make an enquiry, we try to provide a personal and attentive service which make the booking process efficient and convenient and which continues through the booking period, throughout the entire stay and afterwards when we keep in touch.

Anne Blackburn: Over the phone you can identify if the trip is for business or pleasure and deliver on that experience. It might shape the tone or nature of the correspondence, a glass of bubbly to celebrate something on arrival, romantic music playing in the room, a gift like a silver photo frame for a silver wedding anniversary, and so on.

How many places ask your needs before you arrive? Lots of hotels think they’re good at this, but most are not in reality.

Hotel Industry Magazine: With this in mind, is it becoming more or less complex to capture and act upon guest preferences?

Anthony Saint Claire: Technology makes it much easier to record guest details and preferences, but the level of detail and widening range of preferences increases the complexity of the overall process.

Anne Blackburn: Yes, technology should be making this easier. The trick is to ensure you are asking the right questions and sharing this information across the organisation in a useful, actionable way. It’s important to ask what you are going to do with all that information. What are you asking your guests and how will it help you to understand them and deliver an experience? It’s a waste of time collecting mounds of data if it’s of no use. So, the technology is in place, but it all falls back to a human element in the end.

Anthony Saint Claire: We encourage and welcome guests’ direct feedback and react to it where appropriate. For example, we offer comment cards in guestrooms and try to elicit verbal feedback during the stay and at checkout. We also monitor indirect feedback on the many social media and internet review sites now available – although these are often less constructive than direct feedback.

One of the most difficult challenges is the tendency – particularly in the British – to internalise feelings instead of expressing them openly and constructively. Guests sometimes comment negatively by simply not returning, without expressing any dissatisfaction in a way that could be addressed. Our team work towards overcoming this by encouraging guests to express themselves whilst at the hotel.

Hotel Industry Magazine: Looking ahead, how do you think the luxury guest experience will evolve in the next five to ten years?

Mitzi Gaskins: Overall, the customer base is shifting from the once dominant Baby Boomer generation to a mix of Boomers and GenX and Y. This change will be a factor in the evolving luxury market, bringing with it different perceptions and tastes for décor, service style, and technology. Think less formality, and more self-service options.

Travellers want everything from their itineraries and restaurant choices, to their turndown service and honour bar items to be special. To that end, we will continue to grow our partnership strategy – as we have with incredible brands like Christie’s, Aromatherapy Associates and Keri Glassman – to create exclusive experiences for our guests.

There is a trend around being both globally relevant while also “local”. While we cater to a global luxury traveller, we are also attuned to creating indigenous property experiences.

Anthony Saint Claire: Throughout the industry, not just in the luxury segment, there is a intensifying demand for higher quality, faster service and lower prices. Apart from this I believe that in the luxury segment, guests will search more for a richer and more distinctive experience. We are seeing an increasing number of people looking for something different that is much more emotionally fulfilling.

This is one of the reasons we have built on our ancient Royal Welsh heritage and location to bring our guests an experience that is unattainable elsewhere. In addition, with people continuing to travel widely, we are now incorporating service cultures from other territories, but trying to interpret these with a degree of Welsh character which adds to the guest experience.

Actionable Intelligence: Advice from our panel

Listen to your guests. They will tell you what they want. If you are accommodating, responsive and always dedicated to raising the bar, they will keep coming back.
Mitzi Gaskins, JW Marriott Hotels and Resorts

Have the highest possible level of staff training and reward those who excel.
Anthony Saint Claire, Ruthin Castle

If you’ve done your research and really listened to your customers’ needs, then there are choices to be made. If you focus on the customer, then there will be a financial payback.”
Anne Blackburn, Sidona Group

Note: Please click here to read part two of this Roundtable feature.


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