Janice Raycroft looks at those little details that can be added to improve the guest experience.
From photos of kettle crisps to rubber ducks, from nicely wrapped choccies to even fluffy toy seals, all manner of goodies can be found being praised on social media. Cooing tweets and ‘thank yous’ on sites such as TripAdvisor reveal that these were gifts to hotel guests or spa visitors.
What’s more, many of these not particularly expensive items bear the embroidered or printed on names of the establishments, providing eye-catching free advertising alongside the glowing testimonials.
There’s no doubt such gifts can prompt not just positive reviews of premises which ‘go the extra mile’ but lead to repeat and new business. They can also provide an additional revenue stream when sold in hotel shops or via receptions, particularly during the festive season.
This month we’ve been talking to some of the experts in the field and those who provide ‘behind the scenes’ services which keep guests coming back for more and telling others about their experience.
Take, for example, Minnie Arslan and her highly experienced team at Spot Raiders drycleaning and laundry service based in North London for more than 30 years. The people most likely to be in awe of their work will never meet them – they are hotel guests perhaps relieved that a wine spill on a treasured garment has swiftly vanished or that a tear in the hem of a dress needed for a dinner has been invisibly repaired. In other jobs, lost buttons are matched, intricate bead stitching repaired or alterations made.
“We work for everyone from five star and boutique hotels to some pubs and restaurants,” says Arslan. “There’s a lot of work constantly coming in from the hotels because a cab delivery of a garment there and back from the City and West End is no problem. A lot of the time we are ‘fully booked’, but somehow extra work is always finding its way here!”
The in-house tailors and specialist cleaners are used to ‘doing it all in a jiffy’ and making everything seem ‘easy-peasy’ on same-day and next-day services, she adds. “We know the hotel guests will be very pleased, but really it’s all about keeping the housekeepers happy. So, you also get calls from them to help with emergencies such as they just need 30 sheets turned round or they can’t sell the rooms.”
While guests may appreciate the almost secret work of the Spot Raiders team, other finds which delight them are far more obvious. For instance, from personalised gift boxes to individual chocolates, the mouth-watering treats from Whitakers Chocolates, run by the same family since 1889 in Yorkshire, have people coming back for more – and taking home gifts for others.
Marketing manager Gemma Whitaker let us in on some of the new products and flavours set to be launched from the start of 2020. Eye-catching truffle spheres, available for retail and catering, will come in three flavours: orange, sea salted caramel, and English mint, while new chocolate hearts will include the option to choose bespoke flavours. Their popular chocolate Neapolitans will also include a new flavour for 2020, salted caramel.
As for us, the pick of the bunch just has to be the luxury gift boxes of truffles in gorgeous flavours such as raspberry and champagne, soft caramel, cappuccino, salted caramel, coffee cream, gin and tonic, lemon cheesecake and raspberry cup. Whitaker says: “These are popular with the very high-end hotels and the box lids can be coloured to fit the corporate image, personalised with a foil-block message and include luxury ribbons.”
Both alcoholic and non-alcoholic versions are available to suit guest preferences and Whitakers make sure they tick all the ethical boxes for both clients and the people they serve. The chocolates are not only Vegan Society assured but scrupulous work has ensured that from 2020 the whole range will comply with Fairtrade standards.
Those who admire the sheer artistry and innovative collaborations of Liz Marsh and her floral design team working from New Covent Garden Market might be surprised by the source of some of her inspiration – TV’s The Dog Whisperer! Marsh became fascinated by how he taught dog owners that a lead should be used not to control, but to communicate when dogs were entering ‘The Red Zone’ of aggression. “It ’s about transferring that energy into something positive and I realised the connection to people. It doesn’t matter how rich or poor you are, if you’ve had a bad or tiring journey travelling to a hotel or conference you arrive in a fraught state of mind. With the right floral décor to greet you all that changes. Many people are unaware of the impact of floral décor. Studies have shown how it can reduce workrelated stress by 80 per cent and increase productivity.”
You can see how this encourages frazzled hotel guests to relax into the ambience. Some of her displays are virtually works of art with a plaque which draws the viewer to find out more. And when they reach their room a floral display here can also work wonders: “When we enter a room we are drawn to the ‘high energy’. Most of its contents are furniture, but a vase of flowers will catch the eye.”
When bespoke arrangements are required for a particular guest Marsh likes to know a little about them as no two clients are the same and their values – perhaps an interest in sustainability for instance – can be defined within the craftmanship.
The same approach applies to installations for themed events, weddings and weekly contracts for everyone from those with a minimalist ethos to grand hotels where lavish exuberance is a keynote theme of the brand.
The little touches which make a difference can come in the cutest forms, so it’s easy to see why some of the treats produced by Maidenhead-based BC Softwear stay in guests’ memories and go home with them. We talked to marketing manager Laura Johnson about their huggable little teddies: “At this time of year they can come with an optional Santa hat – it’s a lovely find for those staying in family suites, but the adults seem to like them just as much!
“They also make handy gifts for parents enjoying a break to take home. No guilt about the stay! For hotels they provide an additional revenue stream at reception or in-house gift shops as they stand out as a souvenir of the stay. “Increasingly we are producing bespoke items for hotels, such as mini bathrobes in family suites. Gift items don’t have to be expensive, for instance we supply small fitness towels. Then there are fleecy blankets which subtly build on the brand as they look super in the room as throws.”
BC Softwear have engaged with housekeepers in an environmental initiative of seeing all plastic packaging removed from the comfy slippers they supply. Instead they now come with a simple paper wrapper. Johnson reveals: “We understood the caution because people want to know the slippers are clean and new. But guests ‘get it’ because they look out for environmentally-friendly and ethical products. It allows hotels to demonstrate that they, too, care as a business.
“Perhaps best of all it means that we’ve been able to remove 50 tonnes of plastic annually from our packaging!”
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