Going Beyond Expectations

By Christian Scholtka

There are two reasons for working in hospitality: host and guest. My primary principle has been to engage in love, kindness and compassion that will trigger endless guest satisfaction and have a very positive effect on EBIT.

1. Guest-Focused Hosts

My hosts receive my primary care. I work and communicate with them all day long through modern technology systems and dedicate a large amount of time to their necessities and desires in each and every way. The hosts hence started to spend more time with guests, comprehending their inner most dreams. There is simply more time for me to be with my hosts and our guests since I started to shift my management from standards by the desk to host management on the floor a few years ago. The compliments I receive every single day range from, “Your staff are so well trained.” and “Miss Thanh is so wonderful.” to, “We have never seen such caring people in a hotel.” The hosts appreciate this kind of support and professional guidance. Their passion and compassion are directly passed on to our appreciated guests at any time. All I do is to invest my time in my hosts. This is the way I create guest-focused hosts who are appreciated by the guests.

2. Heartfelt Love

There are only 5 seconds to show a guest in the first impression that we are caring. All of my potential hosts practise the very simple 5-second guest first impression moment before being hired. Either I feel warm and inspired by the applicant or feel nothing at all. I love to feel the warmth of a heart during a conversation. There are 5 additional questions on my top priority list, which give the applicant the chance to show their natural warmth and loving kindness, and some common selection practices, before I respond with a letter of appointment.

The way a guest feels heartfelt love is a very complex matter, yet a beautiful smile, fine grooming, and articulate communication by a warm and caring person make a huge difference on a vacation at their home away from home. The way the idea is shared with my hosts is like this: “Close your eyes, travel and reach a divine destination where you are delighted and welcomed by a person so loving and caring that you never want to leave.” This message clicks quite powerfully. This tender loving hospitality continues until after the guests have left. My hosts follow up after the guests have checked out and engage in emails to highlight the blissful moments the guests experienced.

On another occasion, a host of mine took a honeymoon couple on a motorbike around the town some years back, invited them for sugarcane juice because they had never enjoyed this refreshing sweet drink and brought them back to the resort. The wife did not know that my host had arranged for a candlelight dinner on the beach. She was so thankful in the lobby next morning that tears were welling and welling in her eyes. Their friends came to stay with us one year later.

3. Knowing Their Dreams

A recent guest email addressed so many questions that they helped us to sketch a guest profile so powerful we are now able to suggest services and activities based on their input. I had personally emailed the guest for feedback on a recent visit, and was able to convey their detailed responses to our team, who appreciate the personal touch in crafting a truly unique experience for our guests. This part of emotional hospitality is one of my host’s key strengths. All we have done so far is to respond personally and quickly with the answers the guest required, and additionally services were suggested that we felt the guest would enjoy. This particular guest has already complimented us many times prior to arrival. Thankful words we received so far from this particular guest are “this is a wonderful suggestion, and thank you for the proper arrangement, to we are now really looking forward to meeting you in person.” A very dedicated Guest Experience Maker will take care of very high guest expectations from the moment the guest arrives.

4. Reconnection to Nature

I find that the guests we receive like to get back to nature. Most of our guests live in hectic cities, have stressful jobs, and have limited time to unwind. Luxury guests love natural products from nearby communities, which support sustainability. A guest of ours informed my host that he loves our natural reservoir concept, which is to filter the water on site, bottle it up, and sell it in the restaurant. Half of the funds are donated to projects where people have no access to clean drinking water. Other guests are so inspired by the craftsmanship of our facilities that they talk about it all day. And, a simple bamboo straw makes a big difference to guests. They become aware of 500 million plastic straws that are used in the USA every day alone.

My guests enjoy the beauty of a prime stretch of a white sand beach, and they enjoy the pleasure of listening to a gently flowing, natural stream during a wellness treatment; of tasting the balancing flavours of healthy cuisine; of touching the ground with bare feet; and of engaging in a cooking class in the organic vegetable garden. Our guests appreciate simplicity, for example, there is no plastic in our villas except for the IVD systems and a hair dryer. All the products we use are natural and reusable. Even our Christmas trees are built of spare wood. A guest commented that this is a “brilliant idea for my home as well.” The villas are built around trees and rocks, and the natural landscapes are protected. In this way, all of the villas and swimming pools are unique.

5. Authentic Engagement

Experiencing the authentic nature of Vietnamese people has never been easier. Luxury guests like to receive attention in engaging conversations with authentic people. It is fun to look at our hosts as they interact with guests. Most of our guests usually want to know where they live, if they have families to care for, how they travel to and from the isolated resort, and much more.

I have now lived in Vietnam for 6 years. There have only been two couples in all these years who did not appreciate social conversation. Almost all of the guests appreciate it very much when you spend as much time with them as they like. Some conversations last from just about 1 minute up to 3 hours. The length of time depends on the guest and my creativity to be with them, although my hosts mind their wish for privacy at all times. Many hosts including myself become friends with many guests. While there is a professional line, there is much authentic engagement. We behave naturally in our conversations. The guests love this authentic attitude so much. The information we elicit is carefully selected and discussed in internal team meetings to create even better guest experiences.

In this way, a host of mine recently organized a dinner in our natural wine cave for a family of 5. This experience was so overwhelming to the guests that they were ever so grateful and repeatedly thanked for the proper arrangement until departure.

6. Making Use of Unexpected Moments

We are very often rushing from one end of the resort to the other to meet up with guests. Then suddenly a guest appears out of nowhere. My hosts stop, catch up, and walk with the guests before we head off to our original destination. Luxury guests love it when my hosts interrupt their plans and help the guests in each and every way. “Thank you ever so much for showing the way,” have been words to a Guest Experience Maker of mine last week who was on the way down from our Dining by the Rock restaurant. He walked up again to show the way, not once, but three times within 20 minutes because many guests were simply enjoying the company.

This simple principle is part of luxury hospitality in the sense that guests likes attention. The more unexpected moments hosts see, hear, and feel, the better my host is enabled to learn from the guests, and to craft experiences and to create revenue by upselling services. It is certainly easier to ask a guest to participate in a paid service when we dedicate our time to the guest than just asking the guest to spend money without having spent time to learn about them.

7. The Emotional Touch

I am proud to share that many guests whom I bid farewell become emotional when they leave because of the heartfelt service. Simple touches can be some ice-cream for early arrivals when the villa will not be ready for another 20 minutes, a bunch of fruit for children who are sick, a glass of warm water instead of cold for guests from China, a sundowner for guests who love sunsets, and an upsold bottle of Champagne with strawberries in chocolate dip sauce on top of a mountain with a 360-degree panoramic view over the ocean.

Honestly, most guest sojourns go according to profound plans. They let us know when there is a service gap, and this is an opportunity to turn an unpleasant guest experience around by adding extra value, by making time to be with them, or simply to hold a conversation with them. Every guest is different. The management of the differences is partially an art.

Luxury guests love it when we touch their heart by creating life-long lasting, memorable moments. A third time return-guest hiked with me the other day and shared that although he had hiked here before, it was special to him to go once again to enjoy the rock formations with me. He was so touched when he received a picture of the hike upon leaving the resort.

8. An Unexpected Surprise

A guest during the Lunar New Year approached me and informed that he would like to organize a birthday cake for his friend, and that he was willing to pay for it. I showed my gratitude to his wish and informed him that we had already made the arrangement for a birthday cake. I requested to share the time to set it up. He was so surprised and speechless.

A daughter of a friend of mine booked with us not knowing that I worked there. Out of a conversation with the guest and thinking how to surprise somebody who has everything in life, a Guest Experience Maker of mine organized breakfast on the beach for them. The reward was a waterfall of compliments for the team until departure and afterwards.

9. Profound Perfection

I had never imagined to work in a resort where guests spend US$1,000 per night. There is no room for error. The team works around the clock to offer impeccable products and services. My hosts find that simple words, such as “Good morning, (guest’s name)”, are very well received. The relationship starts from there. No matter what kind of activities or services the guest selects, everybody in the team always goes the extra mile to facilitate extraordinary delivery. Luxury travellers are intelligent and they know what they pay for is what they should receive. Certainly, the expectations are profound perfection.

A guest that we welcomed some years ago was a critic. The private Pool Villa he booked was below his expectation although he received all the information prior arrival. We upgraded this hotel chain owning family to a Spa Villa. Then, a call. There is one tile broken by the seating area outdoors. This family of three received then an upgrade to a Deluxe Beach Villa where the child received sweet chocolate surprises upon arrival to the villa. My hosts took so well care of this family during the entire sojourn that we received US$500 for our annual host party at check out. The little boy hugged my hosts time and time again.

Christian Scholtka

Christian is a star, currently based in Vietnam. He has worked for 10 years in South-East Asia, including the opening and successful management of guest service at Fusion Maia Da Nang, a Conde Nast-listed hotel, and at MGallery by Sofitel. He is currently working at Six Senses Ninh Van Bay in a key role in Guest Service Management.