Haute Service Makes a Hotel Hot

WHAT MAKES A HOTEL HOT THESE DAYS? If you look at the trends over the past few years, a key contributor to a hotel's "hotness" is a nightclub where young celebrities are photographed by the paparazzi as they're led out the back door by their bodyguard, having imbibed just a little too much.  Ruthanne Terrero, Editorial Director

Huge spas also are vital to a hotel's hotness, and it's preferable that they advertise potions and lotions that have been branded by designers who have heretofore slapped their names only on expensive purses and jewelry. A vibrant pool scene where beautifully tanned guests in high heels and bathing suits that aren't actually meant to be worn in the water are lounging about in private cabanas equipped with Wi-Fi, minibars and iPod docking stations doesn't hurt either.

There are more subtle ways for a hotel to generate good buzz. If the property is the only game in town in a remote location and it infuses a shot of sophistication and luxury into the destination, that's hot. A seductive design can also make a hotel an alluring draw for cool customers. The Cove Atlantis has done exactly that, giving The Bahamas a new customer base of Gen-X and Gen-Yers, who are impressed by its towering ceilings, mystical music, demure lighting and fabulous use of bringing the outdoors inside, and I'm only talking about the lobby.

Infinity pools, vodka sommeliers and rooftop lounges with white-clad lounging beds are ingredients that go into a hotel that has a good vibe going for it, while sometimes just out-and-out, over-the-top luxury furnishing and fixtures can propel a property to the top of the "chic" list.

Service is Key

I would argue, however, that all of these costly amenities will fall flat if management doesn't back them up with stellar service. In fact, some of these features can even be downright irritating and pretentious if there's no evidence of a good general manager on the grounds or if the staff considers itself to be so hip that it's downright rude to guests. We saw that phenomenon occur in the early days of the boutique hotel when inexperienced managers were erringly trying to emulate Ian Schrager and W's Barry Sternlicht; we were treated to black-clad front-desk employees who were too hostilely hip to raise their heads even to make eye contact to welcome a guest, who, by the way, was supposed to feel fortunate to even have stepped foot in the hotel. I hated that scene, and I'm glad that those properties practicing that philosophy have gone out of business or returned to being office buildings or youth hostels or whatever the structures were that their nascent developers had carved them from.

What is making today's hotel scene dynamic is a reenergized focus on service. It's no longer cool to snub a guest; in fact, many hotels have empowered their employees to intuitively service their clientele, to remember and to act on their preferences and to fulfill their needs immediately.

Are you training your staff to do the same thing? When you hear one of your agents on the phone telling a client "no," do you explore exactly what that conversation was all about? Often, when a customer asks a question, they're not looking for a yes or no response, they're seeking a solution. If they've requested whether or not your agency knows of any deals to the Caribbean, they're really telling you that they want to get out of town and head to some place warm. Once you've empowered your agents to truly hear what a client is saying, you can add your own hip amenities that will make your agency hot. How about creating a lounge of your own for them, where they can enjoy luxury amenities as they leaf through brochures of the travel products you offer? All you need is some posh, comfy furniture, subtle lighting and some premium beverages to serve them (maybe even a vodka sommelier?). By the time you're ready to meet with them, they'll be ready to book their trip right on the spot!

For our list of what we consider to be the latest "Hot Hotels," see page 58. Visit us at www.travelagentcentral.com/hothotels to let us know if you feel we've left out your favorite properties.

RUTHANNE TERRERO, CTC EDITORIAL DIRECTOR

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