A great article by Andrea Petersen appeared in the Wall Street Journal Travel section last week outlining the “Hidden Ways Hotels Court Guests Faster.” The article focused on all the ways that different hotel brands are trying to dazzle their guests with an excellent first impression.
Hotel industry executives (myself included) were likely to be very interested in this article as we often talk in this business about the importance of that first impression (or creating “a sense of arrival” as many in the industry refer to it.) It is for this reason that, upon arriving to a luxury hotel, you are often greeted in the lobby by a friendly face, an offer to assist with your luggage, and sometimes a welcome beverage or a refreshing chilled towel to help wipe away the stress of travel.
The guest room is another place where first impressions are thoughtfully considered. In luxury hotels, guests return to a room with the bed invitingly turned down, with chocolates or flowers on the pillow, the lighting and temperature conducive to relaxation, and soft music playing on the bedside radio.
The examples Petersen lists in her article include the receptionists at the Trump Hotel in Chicago coming out from behind their desk to greet guests with a handshake, DoubleTree Hotels doling out warm chocolate-chip cookies at check-in, or the Peninsula Chicago leaving deluxe welcome amenities for their guests’ children.
These are all great examples, but the ironic thing about all of this attention on the “sense of arrival” is that it probably doesn’t make much of an impact on the guests’ overall experience. Psychology research shows that people don’t really remember experiences by how they begin, they remember the peak moments, and then they remember how they end.
An example of the research that supports this “peak-end” theory, is the work on colonoscopy patients done by psychologist Daniel Kahneman. Kahneman found that after a painful colonoscopy treatment, patients would forget about the overall duration of the pain they experienced and would instead remember their experience based on the peak moments of pain and on how it ended.
A patient whose colonoscopy lasted an agonizing 25 minutes, for example (Patient B), would rate the experience better and would happily come back a year later for his follow-up appointment, as long as the treatment ended with less pain. Another patient (Patient A), who only had around 8 minutes of total pain, wouldn’t come back next year because he remembers the pain of how the experience ended.
So hotels should be thinking much more about the “sense of departure” than they do about the sense of arrival, because this is how their guests will remember them. The helpful bellmen, tropical welcome drinks, and chocolates on pillows will be completely superseded by the guests’ experience of schlepping their own luggage back down to the lobby, waiting on line to check out, and haggling over discrepancies on the bill. This is the part that hotels need to get right.
We’ve all heard of the importance of making a good first impression, and it’s probably good advice. But your lasting impression is your last impression, so think about that one twice.
(Note: yes, the rhyme was intentional :-))
References and recommended reading:
Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, Fast and Slow. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
by Jeremy McCarthy