An Eye on West Africa


If I see one more hotel claiming that it is offering “hospitality redefined”, I shall scream. 

It is normally in the ‘bush-est’ of establishments that you see this claim, in hotels which have been built by an owner with a ‘professional’ team that doesn’t have a clue as to what hospitality is all about. The architect probably visited a hotel once – maybe even stayed in one – and to him it’s just a big house with lots of bedrooms. He then proceeds to waste an enormous amount of the owner’s money on a design which just does not work.

These sorts of operators seem to favour the following principles:

  • The further the kitchen is from the restaurant, the better
  • Either the staff need absolutely no facilities at all, or bedrooms are provided for staff to sleep in when they are on the night shift
  • TVs are placed in all areas, clearly for the benefit of the staff
  • The reception desk is built to a height that puts the guest firmly in his or her place
  • Light switches are placed where you would least expect to find them
  • Bathrooms are placed on the outside wall, instead of on the corridor wall, so the first thing you see when you open the bedroom door is the toilet

And then they ask me to find them an international operator for this, this …… “redefined” hotel.

Then the hotel opens and presents to its customers what it refers to as its “restaurant”. It’s typically a most uncomfortable area, with hard floors, metal chair legs, the brightest of lighting, the staff TV at full volume, and a tabletop strewn with “amusing” pieces of cheap Chinese plastic, flowers and toothpick dispensers. Then you get the menu and its pages and pages of “mouth-watering” dishes, but there’s nothing available except meat and fish. Once you get over that… oh, never mind.

I’ll tell you how to “redefine” hospitality in these hotels. It is, first, to build a hotel that follows the basic principles of design, which have been developed over many years to ensure that the guests’ needs are met, that he/she feels comfortable, and both physically and mentally secure. Second, it is to provide a service that has as its core focus the needs of the guest, the guest who is paying for that service, and the guest who you want to return. Time and time again.

It puzzles me that people pull out all the stops to provide hospitality when an aged parent comes to visit them at home, yet these same people change completely when they are in a hotel environment, providing services to guests who pay their wages. A lack of training doesn’t help, of course.

After almost 40 years in the industry, I am yet to find any rocket science or brain surgery involved in building hotels and running them.  It really isn’t difficult to get it right. And there really is nothing to “redefine”. Go back to basics, invest in knowledge, and keep investing in that knowledge for ever. That way, your guests will want to come back. Time and time again.

Oh, I nearly forgot – it’s January, so a New Year’s resolution is in order, isn’t it?  Here’s mine for 2013: never more assume that a hotel restaurant menu is anything more than a part of the décor. It’s a tough one, I know, but let’s give it a crack and see if we can keep our stress levels down. Wishful thinking, methinks.

Trevor Ward – MD: W Hospitality Group