In the hospitality industry there is much to be learnt and shared with our international partners. In the current climate never has the Far East been so easily accessible to our own travellers. It’s also clear that our style of hospitality is appealing to them. Here Chester King, chief executive at Stoke Park and member of Hospitality Experts, shares his experiences.
In our industry we are acutely aware of the importance of our history and heritage. While around us people perhaps take this for granted, as owners of historic properties we exploit and utilise stories of the past to our advantage, while also embracing traditional British ideals.
Our history is of course a key draw to the international tourism market, and visitors from the Far East and the USA especially, love to explore and learn what hotel properties hold in the past.
Being CE at a historic property, Stoke Park dates back more than 900 years yet manages to combine the traditional feeling of a country club with contemporary facilities – and as a consultant working extensively with the Chinese market, it’s safe to say it is these traditions which they are learning from and trying to adopt.
Professional service with personality
It is easy to get caught up in the factual history of a property, and this is of course a draw which we will discuss. However, it is important to remember our traditions and eccentricity as a country are also part of this heritage.
This comes across well in our service, and is something the Chinese are keen to emulate in their delivery of hospitality. Of course professionalism is always key, but what we learnt in the UK is to the have the confidence to show our personality. Staffs in the UK are allowed to share their own character with the customer during their periods of interaction, and are encouraged to do so. When we approach a table it is vital here to obtain a level of engagement from the guest and create a sense of familiarity, whilst always maintaining high quality service. This behaviour works well to create a bond that can deliver long-standing relationships and therefore repeat business. We often hear people commenting on the great service they received from a particular staff member and this is what hotel and hospitality businesses are aiming for.
Such levels of engagement are an aspect of what we offer that the Far Eastern market is keen to master. They want to encourage this friendship between the customer and the employee that goes over and above the normal relationship, because it is part of the character of British service and hospitality that keeps people coming back to a property.
Central to our national pride and heritage is the Royal Family. In terms of hospitality the draw is clear, but what the Far East and Chinese particularly enjoy about the Royal Family is the pomp and ceremony that surrounds the Windsors. This is where we can share our ability to create exciting celebrations that are enjoyed nationwide. We perform with style these events, yet incorporate everyone into the celebration creating an inclusivity rather than exclusivity.
This is reflected in the Far East, but with a more military feel. What we share with them through consultancy is how to relate these events to the hospitality industry in traditional ways, from gathering around one screen to enjoy an announcement to sharing a celebration by having bespoke events.
What we also share is the incorporation of our history into the delivery of service and hospitality. In the UK we do well at embracing our past in terms of traditional afternoon teas being available and styling the décor of our properties in keeping with what they may have been or been part of in the past.
Prime examples of places that do this exceptionally are former country or stately homes. Stoke Park, of course, has a recorded history of more than 900 years and was used as a private residence until 1908. Much of what we see on the estate today is owed to John Penn, who died in 1834, and was a soldier, scholar and poet. While we now offer the most contemporary and up to date facilities for our guests, we do so while still enjoying and sharing our estate’s history.
We see many occasions also returning, such as the rise of afternoon tea as a popular event. In this way international guests enjoy being a part of the history, not simply a bystander. They take part in what they know is a traditional past time and feel connected to the history individually.
Managing to draw these aspects of the past into the current day and future of a business is key in the Far East, whether they look to reflect their own history or utilise that of another and that is what we do so well.
Traditions other than occasions are also continued in our industry, for example the high quality appearance of staff in the UK is another key value the Chinese and Far East enjoy about our service. Again there is some element of character in how we dress. For example we may embrace a tradition such as countryside dress, but at a high level establishment our staff will be looking tip-top.
The first point of contact at many a high-end hotel is the concierge. It is essential they are turned out and at their best at all times. We often see their role as one of assistance but it is also the first impression guests receive of the property whey they are to be staying. Historic hotels will often embrace the typical uniform of head butler for this position and in London we definitely see a steer towards the most formal doorman complete with cane, top hat and tails.
Most customers will expect immaculate presentation from all staff, at all times, but while reflecting the heritage and character of the business – and again this is something the Chinese are keen to echo.
The regulated level of service in the UK is important to the Chinese model for the future. Having set Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) in our businesses we understand the need for people to receive an expected level of service consistently. Consistency is key and this is achieved by setting in place these logistics and systems.
Central to this is the need to ensure excellent customer service. Staff are informed what is expected of them and they then achieve that at a base level, more often going over and above that. As hoteliers we know this consists of contact points, how to react in certain situations, and so on, and this uniformity and clarity is something the Chinese are putting in place across their hospitality businesses.