Guest Blog: Language and Hospitality, a Student's Experience

March 2, 2018

people-2593251__340-1.jpgAs I opened the hotel’s large golden doors, I was astonished at the beautiful interior. The lobby was eerily similar to the many renovated lobbies in Anthony Melchiorri’s TV show Hotel Impossible. But beyond the décor, what was most surprising, was the front desk’s customer service. Before I was even seven feet away from the front desk, I heard the woman say: “Hello Sir! Welcome to International Hotel! How can we best be of service to you?”

I was just a lowly student with a foreign face, but that didn’t matter to her. She was ready to help. It was a demonstration of her commitment to cross cultural hospitality. Being only 16, I was both astonished and impressed that the employees took me seriously. Regardless of location, the most successful hotels effectively make the guest feel as though they are the number one priority. 

From the outside looking in, this was just a small hotel in the middle of Beijing, China. In China, bigger usually means better, but even here, the staff cared, despite the language being spoken.  I am currently a high school junior from Massachusetts, but last summer I took a course in Hotel Operations and Management at Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration to further my interest in the industry. Following my class at Cornell, I spent three and a half weeks in Beijing, studying intensive Chinese (after two years of high school coursework).

Coincidentally, right outside the window of my apartment in Beijing stood this hotel, the International Hotel. I decided to test the skills I had learned at Cornell with a visit. My goal was to see if the hospitality matched some of the larger American chains such as the Marriott, Hilton and Wyndham. Before I was even on the hotel’s property, I was greeted by the doorman in perfect English asking me he could help me with anything. I was truly shocked at how perfectly the doorman handled me, the guest. As I learned at Cornell, the Golden Rule, treat others as you would be treated, is crucial to the effective implementation of hospitality. In this case, the doorman truly treated me the way he would have wanted to be treated, had our positions been reversed.

In my mind, when customer service agents relate to me, as a guest, it makes conversation easier. While in China they weren’t literally speaking my language, the positive end result was the same. I wanted to return to the hotel as I felt better better about the experience. I might have learned theory in my course, but the practice of communication was far more important.

In addition to the Golden Rule, the 20–10 rule was also in full effect: When a guest is 20 feet away they deserve eye contact, and within 10 feet, a verbal greeting and a smile. In today’s world, especially in the hotel industry, much of work done at the front desk is done via the computer. However, when a guest approaches the desk, they want to feel as though they are the priority, not the employee’s work. A hotel with exceptional hospitality, will already make eye contact with you before you arrive at the front desk, rather than keep you waiting, and eventually clearing your throat for some attention. Perfecting this rule allows a guest to feel taken care of, and that the employees are truly there for them: the customer. 

A large part of my summer training focused on the legendary Four Seasons chain and their laser focused reliance on four pillars: a warm welcome, focus, efficiency, and intuitive / personalized service. These pillars indicate how completely the Four Seasons company is built on hospitality and customer service, regardless of their geography.. So, to see a non-chain hotel in the middle of Beijing try to operate like a Four Seasons sends a pretty strong message. Their service demonstrates how universal hospitality has become. As hotels across the globe strive to implement good service indicates that you as the guest should always be taking into account a hotel’s service prior to booking a room. Don’t convince yourself that hospitality should only exist in upper scale hotels.

So why do I keep mentioning words like hospitality, cultural communication and customer service?  It’s because these are the defining features of a hotel. What separates a good hotel from a bad one isn’t the price, rather it’s the way the customer service personnel make you feel and that feeling has much to do with language.  Hospitality should truly matter more than the price. Today’s world is quite fast paced, and it is the moments when we get to stop and relax that truly allow us to feel the happiest. A hotel with great hospitality will take care of all the essentials, allowing you, the guest, to sit back and relax. Whether you are staying for a vacation or for business, your hotel can define your trip. 

Bradley Stoller is a high school student at The Rivers School, in Weston, Mass. He enjoys traveling, language study, meeting new people and is considering a major in general business and/or hotel management.