Little touches make for a big welcome

It's the little things that add warmth to any experience.

Throughout the years I have visited many, many establishments, both in South Africa and abroad, and it’s those special little touches that make some establishment more memorable than others. Being a woman of the computer age, I thought I’d start this article by doing a little bit of research on the internet to see if I could find some truly unique “little touches” that I haven’t come across before. I opened the search engine page and typed in “little touches” + hospitality. The search results that were splashed across my screen were pages and pages of guest comments all saying things like “Thank you for your hospitality, the little touches made all the difference”.

Well, okay, the proof was thus there for all to see – the little touches ARE important. What is more, they are important all over the world, in establishments big and small, luxurious or humble. In fact, they were more appreciated in the simpler establishments where the rates were lower and where guest expectations were perhaps also not quite as high.

There are many arguments against the “little touches”, but surely the most touted one must be cost. Have you ever thought “with the rates I charge I can’t afford it”? This is a common misconception, so you need not feel awful when I tell you that you are WRONG! The truth of the matter is that we are talking about “little touches”, not “luxuries”, and yes, there is a difference.

Don’t get me wrong, “little touches” can be luxurious and in many establishments they are, but they NEED NOT BE. “Yeah right” you say. Well, let me explain:

Years ago there was a little establishment in Cape Town that was a winner in its category in the AA Travel Guides Accommodation Awards Programme. The property was small and relatively simple and they offered their guests the same sort of amenities offered by most other establishments in their category.

The one big difference was that they highlighted every little detail by placing a single ivy leaf next to it or on it. So, their plain white towels were displayed hanging over the side of the bath bearing a single ivy leaf. The cups placed next to the kettle were adorned with a single ivy leaf in each saucer. When they turned down the bed a single ivy leaf was placed on each pillow. You get the picture. The ivy leaves were like little love letters saying “this is for you”. Simple, yet so effective. Now, let’s calculate the cost... um, nothing!

In fact, I’d go as far as to say that “money isn’t everything”, certainly not in this case anyway. I have stayed at 5-star international hotels with ALL the luxuries that have absolutely NO personality. So, how do you get “personality”? Well, the answer is right there – the biggest part of the word “personality” is “personal”. Whatever you do, make it “personal”. Ask yourself what you can do to set yourself apart. Look at your guests, look at your budget, look at your talents and look at your natural resources and find your inspiration there.

You must agree that it would be a travesty if every establishment did the same thing, as this would take the novelty out of the gesture, so originality is the key.

This is why I hesitate to get too specific, but in case your creativity has taken a holiday without you, just consider the following ideas:

  • Don’t skimp on the bath goodies – this is an easy way to be personal and let’s face it, few people bother with candles and lovely smelly stuff when they’re at home. Personalise it further by leaving a little note alongside to say that you hope they enjoy a relaxing stay.
  • Invest in some beautiful paper and a pair of craft scissors to create a decorative pattern edge. Print little notes, sayings, poems, quotes, trivia about the establishment or area etc and keep them in a file. Place at strategic points around the room. This sounds like a lot of work, but once you have a few designs all you need to do is reprint whenever you need extra. Guests will enjoy this non-intrusive way of communicating (so much more personal than a brochure full of do’s and don’ts) and your ‘notes’ may well end up in scrap books around the world! Have fun with it – establishments that have done this have found that their notes often end up being the conversation starter between guests at mealtimes.
  • “Tailor-make” the guest experience – ask whether they’re on holiday or business or are celebrating a special occasion. Businessmen will appreciate a news - paper and an energy bar to take to their meetings, tourists may like some informative brochures, a bottle of water and some sunscreen (why not get sample size ones from your amenities supplier – both Hotel Amenities Suppliers and Mitras Amenities stock sunblock) and special occasions carry a host of traditions to draw on for inspiration. Some of the most successful establishments keep a file of guest preferences and ensure that repeat visits are tailored to that specific guest, right down to food preferences, allergies etc. (Hint: some reservation systems allow you to store this information electronically for easy retrieval.)
  • Make a few extra muffins at breakfast and make a “padkos” parcel for departing guests, especially if they are embarking on a road trip. They’ll love you for it.
  • Change something small in the room every day. The cabin attendants on cruise ships are very limited with what they can do to spruce up a standard (and often quite small) space, yet they have made an art of either arranging the towels or the scatter cushions on the bed in a different way every day.

No matter how big or small the gesture, as long as it’s something personal and different, it will be noticed and appreciated.