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INSPIRE Summit ‘19: Emotionally Connect with Guests or Fall Behind

It was my honor to attend the INSPIRE Summit 2019, hosted earlier this month by the International Luxury Hotel Association (ILHA) in Miami. The luxury hospitality conference gathers hotel visionaries from around the world to share key insights and thought leadership. Needless to say, I came back with some amazing takeaways. The underlying message of this year’s event was loud and clear: the future of hospitality lies in creating an authentic and guest-centric signature.

Hotels need to emotionally connect with guests and pick up on their cues to make them feel right at home.

This message is one the hospitality world has begun to explore in the last few years, and it will certainly continue to be front and center. Aside from that core concept, several talks and sessions offered new ideas. Below are some of the most important messages I gathered from this impressive event.

The Price of Sustainability

This talk from Dan Hostettler, President and Group Managing Director at OHM Collection, explored balancing the cost of the guest experience versus the cost of the employee environment. He discussed how the care and comfort of associates is paramount for providing the highest level of personalized service possible. A property he brought up as an example is Ocean House, based in Rhode Island. The hotel is the only 5-star resort in the state and is named one of 13 most luxurious properties in the world by Forbes. It’s also home to the state's only five-star restaurant and spa. This property creates a family atmosphere for new team members to grow and benefit from mentoring. I loved Hostettler’s point that true, high luxury is about creating both a premium guest experience and opportunities for new associates. I’ve also explored this idea as the hospitality world continues to look at how the employee experience is the new customer experience.

Modern Luxury Service and Hiring the Right Talent

Dan Flannery, Senior Vice President and Managing Director at EDITION Hotels, discussed hiring the right talent as well as his brand’s three pillars for a solid foundation. Looking for talent is not just fishing by throwing a rod out into the waters, he argued. You need to hunt for the right talent like a shark and capture the best people who fit your brand. I love the fact that each associate must memorize the EDITION ideals to be a part of this prestigious brand. Flannery also described EDITION’s concept of the “Black Business Card” that employees can earn, incentivizing them to be present with the brand and create a personalized experience.

How to Build an Emotionally Intelligent Guest Journey

Jaclyn Riley, Hospitality Brand and Marketing Communications Consultant, was the emcee of the event who inspired us by talking about how hotels and restaurants can find their “cool factor” to create authentic and emotional connections with guests. I couldn’t agree more when she stated that an authentic guest journey begins before your guests even arrive. Making a personal connection prior to guests’ arrival is critical to setting the tone for their stay with you. As you continue to look for cues and create experiences that guests wouldn’t expect, you create personalized moments that become positive memories. You’ll create loyal fans who tell everyone about you and the authentic connection they had with your brand during their visit.

“If you don’t take care of the guest, someone else will.”

Colin Cowie, CEO of Colin Cowie Lifestyle, explained how to create a blueprint for success as well as a sustainable customer service culture. The message was clear: if you don’t create an emotional connection with customers, they’ll move on to the next product or hotel. Over the years, I have emphasized this point with my own team to build highly successful leaders. Colin also mentioned that you should create “proactive service” as opposed to “reactive service” and to look for opportunities to delight each guest.

How to Generate Best-in-Class Employee Satisfaction and Retention

Tricia Taylor, Executive VP and GM, and Denise Bober, SVP of HR for The Breakers, spoke about the fundamentals of taking care of your team. While I am familiar with this topic, I enjoyed hearing them reinforce the idea that an outstanding guest experience starts by hiring the right people and creating an inspired workforce. Part of this effort requires taking care of the well-being of each associate. These points hit home for me because I have always told my teams that “family is first.” Everything else will then fall into place. Family values have shaped and rebuilt the Breakers Palm Beach resort. Tricia and Denise also shared best practices for how the property’s unique business model has established a high-trust, high-performance work environment that generates best-in-class satisfaction and retention.

I’m grateful to the ILHA and team members under Barak Hirschowitz, President and Founder, for the opportunity to attend this unique event. I’d like to extend a personal “thank you” to Sharon Hirschowitz, Global Head of Media and Communications, as well as Patricia Walton, Director of Partnerships, for making me feel welcome and a part of the family. I’m already looking forward to next year’s event!

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