Building Your Hotelerati, or Promoting Your Hotel Personalities

People buy from other people, not from corporations. This mantra – or any other version of it – has existed for almost as long as the craft of salesmanship itself. And it makes sense, too. We build rapport far easier in person than over the phone or via the internet. Furthermore, human beings are genetically programmed to constantly read faces and facial expressions as a means of analyzing social cues or forming emotional bonds with the opposite party. We mentally connect with and remember faces much quicker than with objects, places, symbols or words.

This makes it hard for companies, which are inherently faceless. It also explains why corporations spend billions of dollars each year in advertising to try to develop a ‘face’ that people will recognize. More recently, particularly with regard to the widespread adoption of social media, companies have started to promote select employees to publicly, and often effectively, represent their brands through their individual accounts.

For instance, instead of responding to guest requests on Twitter through the company’s generic handle, select managers will reply on behalf of the hotel. A guest asks a question in the comments section of a recent post on a resort’s Facebook fan page and a manager answers through his or her own profile instead of through the resort’s administration account. These seemingly miniscule changes go a long way to furthering the rapport between hotels and consumers by gently amplifying the degree of personable communications.

As places that serve a multitude of public functions and services, hotels and resorts should be especially receptive to the idea of promoting members of the senior staff to the status of ambassador or public relations correspondent. This isn’t anything new, though, and indeed I’ve been a proponent of heightening face-to-face, passive marketing tactics like this for years. (I consider it ‘passive’ and largely experiential as well because its effects aren’t straightforwardly quantifiable and direct calls-to-action aren’t often applicable.) Rather than repeat what’s already widely known, let’s take it a step further and transform your executive team in celebrities.

Celebrity Theory
Why are we so interested in the daily minutia of the lives of celebrities? Why do we care about gossip like who a person we’ve never met is dating? For some reason, there are a plethora of magazines, internet sites and television news programs devoted to just this. An iota of this ‘news’ is actually fascinating, another slice serves as part of a grand self-promotion strategy and the bulk of it is pure, unadulterated crap.

Living in the age of media bombardment also means living in the age of celebritydom. We have immediate, and bordering on invasive, looks into the lifestyles of the rich and the famous. It’s reached the point where it’s near impossible to avoid these sorts of ‘titillating’ details. Moreover, some people will do just about anything to be of renown and to be identifiable by the public. But why? What would drive someone to seek out fame at all costs? More importantly, why are we so enamored with celebrities?

Much has been written on this topic of recent, coming from people far smarter than me who are active in fields like psychology, anthropology, economics, biology and sociology. Although the findings are varied, the most common conclusion is that celebrity bestows people with a certain degree of exclusivity. Dishing on celebrity gossip makes you appear more knowledgeable. Spotting or meeting a celebrity tells people that you are attending the proper events, traveling to the right destinations or dining at the best restaurants. And being a celebrity? Well, you are in for a lifetime of sycophants jockeying for positions in close orbit just to feed off your aura.

In a world with over seven billion people, it’s becoming progressively harder for any single person to be totally unique or exclusive in some way, shape or form. All pessimism aside, it’s the truth; you’re competing against seven billion people trying to do the same thing! Celebrity, even in as innocuous a form as a name drop or a prominent hotelier refashioning his Facebook profile, is used by all of us to make ourselves feel special and important.

But the idea of celebrity encompasses more than just actors, athletes, musicians and the British Royal Family. There are also local celebrities – people who are well-known and cherished within their own communities. These can be mayors, multimillionaires, police officers, critics, doctors, journalists, restaurateurs or barbers – anyone who has a well-regarded reputation that extends beyond the immediate circle of family, friends and friends of friends. This is where hoteliers should aim to harness the power of celebrity, not all the glitz and glam that comes with the more high profile counterpart.

Hotelerati

Knowing the why behind celebrity can help guide you in the ways of elevating your own in-house personalities to the status of local celebrities. By doing so, you will greatly expand the attention that your ‘hotel faces’ can command and further the level of trust with which consumers view you. Of course, no concept should be without a catchy or contrite buzz phrase to describe it, hence I concocted the word ‘hotelerati’ to denote these staffers, stylized in the same vein as other Latin adaptations like literati, illuminati and glitterati.

As an aside, put your consumer shoes on for a moment and ask yourself: Has the presence of a particularly friendly or charming hotel manager ever influenced your choice of hotels? Moreover, when was the last time you heard a person lauding a great executive they met while at a hotel? As it pertains to celebrity, we are not only attempting to raise the clout and renown of our properties, but we are also transforming specific employee positions into ‘features’ and key selling points. And while the idea of celebrity infers a strong sense of individualism, it’s best to think of your hotelerati as a team culture composed of strong personalities, all managed through well-defined tasks, regular meetings and long-term objectives that everyone can get behind.

Certain roles within the property hierarchy make for the perfect hotelerati to flaunt about onsite and online. Start with ones that are already somewhat in the spotlight like executive chefs, golf pros, general managers, spa directors or concierges. Then, look to cultivate, or dare I say, celebrate the diversity of your hotelerati by empowering others who regularly interact with guests like front desk clerks or bartenders. The ‘Employee of the Month’ concept shares many similarities with this. A third option is to recruit external celebrities who are tangentially related to your property – the famous interior designer hired for your latest round of renovations or an acclaimed nutritionist who contributed on the restaurant menu design.

Here are three examples to clue you in on what to look for. First up are your bartenders, who are best thought of as ambassadors to your restaurant. Good barkeeps can do a lot with a “What do you recommend?” question thrown their way. Not only can they surprise patrons with some well-crafted mixology but they can nurture a more homely atmosphere by cutting in at the right moments, playing the middleman by introducing different groups around the bar and livening the spirits of all through a vivacious attitude. Are popular bartenders worth promoting beyond the four walls of the restaurant? You bet!

Next up is the resident golf pro. For decades, people in this role have been sought out for lessons and course advice, but now with the power of social media and content management systems, these pros have the opportunity to connect with a far larger audience. If you have such people on staff, encourage them to embrace their avid fan bases through regular updates and posting insider information – those little factoids that can only come from someone who knows the course inside and out. Beyond this, ensure that guests know a golf pro is available for a quick chat, whether it’s through rich website copy or on-property signage.

Third but not least is an especially rare case but nonetheless significant for the overall point – an acclaimed executive chef at a Michelin-rated restaurant within a hotel. It goes without saying that attaining a Michelin star is an incredible feat and the chefs who reach this echelon are nothing short of geniuses in the kitchen. This genius is something that you should celebrate, starting with simple pursuits like food pictures on Instagram or Pinterest and extending to well-curated pages on the website and prearranged magazine interviews.

Keys to the Hotelerati Kingdom
There’s a big difference between being a fully attentive servant who’s able to complete requests flawlessly and a team member with local celebrity status. It all comes down to personality, of course, so let’s break down some of the characteristics or skills that you can imbue your staff with to heighten their hotelerati presence.

The cardinal trait all budding hotelerati must have is the desire to give value to visitors. This goes above and beyond simply being amenable, responsive and anticipatory to guests’ needs; it means tactfully going out of your way to maximize the guest experience. And much of this ‘value’ isn’t what we typically ascribe to the word in the form of complimentary gifts, rewards, vouchers and other physical objects. Let that extra value that you give come from within – from the personality of your team.

For instance, humor is a form of value – you are giving people the gift of laughter. Although this isn’t really something you can teach (apart from sending people to improv classes), what you, as a manager, can do is provide your team with a loving, comfortable environment to allow for a staff member’s goodhearted qualities to shine through. A stressful workplace isn’t conducive to humor, nor is hostility from colleagues and bosses.

Building on this notion of intrinsic staff characteristics that you can hone rather than produce out of thin air, another value-add is speaking with authority. Guests are arriving from all the world and they may be slightly timid (especially if they aren’t native speakers), fatigued from a long flight or confused as to ebb and flow of the local environment. A strong voice and confidence from property employees reassures such visitors and reduces stress. And the great thing here is that this can be trained! Educate your staff on proper body language, and then quiz them thoroughly on hotel operations, attractions and happenings in the region so that they have the up-to-date knowledge base to underpin a commanding presence.

Somewhere on the spectrum between humor and confidence lays the mercurial and mysterious trait we call charisma. It’s something that indeed all celebrities of some renown do possess, and it is something that your hotelerati should strive to bolster as well. Charisma can be taught to a degree via instruction on proper body language, vocal tonality and charm. Two other forces that help define one’s charisma are humility and compassion – both I cannot emphasize enough as pillars for any solid customer interaction. You must be able to empathize with guests’ plights and have enough modesty to apologize when necessary.

I’m not suggesting that these minor adjustments will transform each team members overnight, but imbuing your hotel with a strong culture of personalities will work in the long-term towards building a community of new and returning guests to your hotel. This is particularly critical if you can fathom that the oldest members of the tech-fluent Generation Z will reach the age of majority in five years’ time. They are growing up in an age of internet-born celebritydom and they’ll soon be looking to hoteliers for personal connections as they start to travel the globe as independent business and leisure travelers. Aim to gradually convert select hoteliers into hotelerati and watch this rising tide lift the profile of everyone else associated with the property.

(Article by Larry Mogelonsky, originally published in Hotel Executive on June 15, 2015)

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