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Fox Quarterly Autumn 2023

Earning Trust In Luxury Travel

Luxury Travel and Lifestyle PR

Filip Boyen, the luxury hospitality consultant, senior advisor for Corinthia Hotels and global ambassador for Forbes Travel Guide, reveals how hotels can earn the trust of their guests, and what they need to do to maintain it

Inspiring trust is not about appearances or how you look. It is about what you do and how you treat people. At the end of the day, our job in hospitality is still pretty simple: make the people who come through the door a little bit happier when they leave than when they arrived. Here are six of my top ways that hoteliers can inspire trust to ensure that guests have a reason to return.

Create emotional connections

Emotional connections are formed through trusting and connecting with people. You don’t go back to a hotel because you like the bed or love the shower; those are not emotional connections. So much of what we value at Forbes concerns the emotional type of service. By that we mean how clients are made to feel. It’s not about bringing the coffee in two minutes. It’s about how the coffee is served. Is there eye contact, is there interaction, is there a relationship established between the employee and the customer? 

Service should feel genuine, natural and spontaneous. Counterintuitively, these are skills that can be taught. Staff need to have confidence, which comes from treating them with the same respect and dignity that you treat your guests. Once that happens, your employees will feel valued and empowered and they will now begin creating truly memorable moments for everyone. 

luxury travel lifestyle pr
To show that next level of personal service, Velaa Private Island (pictured) has an 8:1 staff-to-guest ratio. Each villa has a dedicated butler, allowing them to get to know each guest personally, meaning all needs and met and personal preferences are catered for seamlessly

Trust travel advisors

When online travel agents took off, everyone said that travel advisors would be gone in two years. But they’re getting stronger and stronger because their clients trust them. A whopping 74% of HNWIs book their trips through travel advisors. Why? HNWIs want to talk to somebody who can speak intelligently, has specialist knowledge on a destination and creates a value proposition. If something goes wrong, they’re on call 24/7 and they will fix it.

Valerie Wilson, who is one of the world’s iconic travel advisors, would call me direct when I was GM of the Bora Bora Lagoon Resort. She would tell me a client’s preferences and ask me to write a welcome card on her behalf. She knew her client would get special treatment, including being greeted by me in person when they arrived; the HNW guest will always prefer receiving personal attention from the GM over the usual welcome amenities. Another time she phoned me to say that her client had a problem with his bathtub. The client never had to go to reception because he trusted Valerie to sort it out.

luxury travel lifestyle pr
Virtuoso is a global network of the most trusted travel advisors and travel brands specialising in all things luxury. Pictured is Aqua Nera from Aqua Expeditions, member of the Virtuoso network

Keep guests’ data safe

Every guest now trusts that their personal and financial data is being taken care of. But is that actually happening? Assured Cybersecurity in hotels is not a subject we hear about very much because it is only the publicly traded companies that must disclose information when something goes wrong. Private companies usually keep it under the radar. 

General managers often tell me that cybersecurity is their IT department’s responsibility. A lot of GMs don’t understand the risks that are involved, but believe me, if something does go wrong, it very quickly comes up from IT to the top floor of management and you’re going to pay more for repairing reputation damage, reimbursing your clients and giving away God knows how many free holidays than you would have for done for cybersecurity. I truly think that hotels should be doing more to protect and safeguard their guest data.

But find out as much as you can about them

At the same time as guarding private information, though, hotels need to know as much about their guests’ interests as possible to deliver an experience that wows them. You can’t, of course, ask the guests themselves or invade their privacy, or trust will be lost. One of the most popular training courses we do at Forbes is called ‘golden nuggets’. We teach staff how to have conversations with guests to extract information without them feeling like they’re being interrogated. 

I recently stayed at the Four Seasons in Dubai and the pastry chef had crafted a book for me out of white chocolate. One page was a picture of Bora Bora, another was of Peru, where I spent seven years as managing director of hotels and trains for Orient Express, there was another page from my days and CEO of Small Luxury Hotels of the World and the front was me on the (chocolate) cover of Forbes magazine. No one had asked me a question about any of this. The GM told me that his guest relations department does all the searching online and then work with the pastry chef to create these personalised and memorable moments.  That’s impressive!

Keep it local

Hoteliers should be facilitators who enable clients to discover the very best local destinations have to offer.. Inevitably, hotels have third parties providing experiences. I always used to get any third-party personnel into the hotel and trained to the same level as the hotel employees. If a guest stays in my hotel and pays a lot of money for experiences organised by a third party and one of them goes wrong, it’s the Hotel’s responsibility: they were booked through the hotel and they need to have the same level of service as the hotel. 

Twenty years ago, we tried to get guests to spend every penny within a property. Now they want to experience the destination. A lot of clients are now asking not only what are properties doing to protect the environment but, more importantly, what are they doing to support the local communities and how is their money being spent? There should always be a level of charity and good causes that are being supported so that guests can trust the hotel is giving back to the local community and feel good about their stay.

mountains in the UAE with luxury hotel resort with luxury pool. lots of green tress and grass luxury travel lifestyle pr
For example, as one part of JA Hotels & Resorts’ Sustainability Vision, the group is heavily invested in supporting local communities in the regions they operate, participating in initiatives and events that create widespread and lasting impact (Picture: JA Hatta Fort Hotel)

Loyalty points

Loyalty can only be earned, not bought. Take the recent rises in room rates especially in resorts. Clients are starting to object to these sometimes outrageous rates.  People are starting to feel ripped off. For rich people, it’s not about the money – they question where the value proposition lies. That’s how they became rich in the first place! When I speak to GMs, I tell them to be careful. They might have short-term gains because there are some people who will pay the higher rates because they’re desperate. But what happens to the clients who have been loyal to you for years? It’s difficult to regain trust if you overstep the line. There are thousands of beautiful properties out there and you only get one shot to impress.

I was once staying at Raffles Istanbul and in my bathroom I found a handwritten card from the butler that said, ‘Dear Mr Boyen, while I was unpacking your luggage I noticed that your toothpaste was running low, so I took the liberty of replacing it with the same brand.’ What did that cost the hotel? Five minutes to write the card and $5 for the toothpaste. It was such a thoughtful and gracious touch and butler knew he was empowered to do that, and it created an emotional connection with me. Needless to say,which Hotel I will chose when I am next in Istanbul!

Article written for Fox Quarterly, the luxury sector ezine by travel and lifestyle PR agency, Fox Communications

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